Where is God in Japan?
March 20th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Finding faith amid disaster

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Around the world, people are still struggling to come to terms with the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which have left more than 8,000 dead, thousands more missing and hundreds of thousand others homeless. The threat of a nuclear crisis only adds to the uncertainty.

In times like these, many people find comfort in their faith. But disasters can also challenge long-held beliefs. The CNN Belief Blog asked some prominent voices with different views on religion how they make sense of such suffering, where they see inspiration amid destruction and how they respond to people who wonder, “How could God let this happen?”

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author whose books include “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”

Whenever a disaster like this occurs, I go back to the Bible, to the First Book of Kings. Elijah, in despair over the situation in Israel, runs to the desert, back to Mt. Sinai to find the God of the Revelation to Moses.

"And lo, the Lord God passed by. There was a mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. There was an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake."

To me, that is the key: the Lord was not in the earthquake.

Natural disasters are acts of nature, not acts of God. God cares about the well-being of good people; Nature is blind, an equal-opportunity destroyer.

Where is God in Japan today? In the courage of people to carry on their lives after the tragedy. In the resilience of those whose lives have been destroyed, families swept away, homes lost, but they resolve to rebuild their lives. In the goodness and generosity of people all over the world to reach out and help strangers who live far from them, to contribute aid, to pray for them.

How can people do such things if God were not at work in them to lend a counterweight to a natural disaster?

The Rev. Tesshu Shaku, chief priest of Nyoraiji Temple, a Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land sect of Buddhism) temple in Ikeda City, Japan

Buddhism is called a religion with no god. So we don’t think God caused this, according to the Buddhist way of thinking. We think of the law of cause and effect, searching for a cause. It is the same approach as science. The cause of this earthquake is the friction between the North American plate and the Pacific plate.

The Japanese are more focused on relationships as opposed to faith, feeling the pain of others. I have witnessed this at the time of the Hanshin Awaji earthquake. [In 1995, the Great Hanshin earthquake on the island of Awaji killed about 6,500 people.] There were many people who came to the affected area to help and volunteer.

There is a word, “earthquake children,” for people whose perspectives were affected by the disaster. They became very active in community service or became Buddhist monks. So people will be more spiritual, feeling the pains and joys of others.

The Rev. James Martin, Jesuit priest, culture editor of America magazine and author of “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything”

For the believer, there is no satisfactory answer for why we suffer. Each person has to come to grips with that. It’s not as if some magic answer can be found. But the idea of God suffering along with us can be very helpful.

The Christian believes that God became human and that God underwent all the things we do. Jesus on the cross cried, “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” Christians do not have an impersonal God, but a God who understands what it means to suffer. People can relate more easily to a God who understands them.

Where is God? God is right there with the people who are grieving and sorrowful. In my own life, when I have felt great sorrow I have trusted that God is with me in this and that I’m not facing my struggles alone.

Oftentimes people become more religious in times of sorrow. They find that they are able to meet God in new ways. Why? Because when our defenses are down and we’re more vulnerable, God can break into our lives more easily. It’s not that God is closer, it’s that we’re more open.

Dr. Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances

These sort of natural disasters become the collective responsibility of all mankind to mobilize our compassion and resources to ease the pain of the people who have suffered.

This disaster is not the result of any sins of these people; we need to be clear that there is no belief that these victims “deserved” it for any of their actions. Rather, Muslims see these kinds of tragedies as a test from God. Muslims believe that God tests those he loves, and these tragedies also serve as a reminder to the rest of us to remain grateful to God for all our blessings and cognizant that we must support those in need.

These kinds of calamities should push us in positive ways. They should strengthen our faith in God and in his goodness. We attribute the things we don’t understand to his limitless wisdom and comfort ourselves that he is with us and he loves us, so there must be some meaning in what has happened, even if it is beyond our comprehension here at this time.

We are trained by our faith that every suffering, whether big or small, brings us closer to God’s mercy and forgiveness, to the extent that the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said, if you are walking and feel a thorn pierce your foot, you should know that even this little bit of pain brings you divine blessing and God’s forgiveness. These times of suffering give us an opportunity to demonstrate patience and faith, and therefore, become closer to God.

Every natural phenomenon challenges us as God’s trustees on this Earth, showing us that we should continue to study and explore ways of safeguarding humankind and all creatures from being subjected to this kind of devastation. It is the collective duty of all humankind to put resources in this and advance our understanding of how to respond to these disasters in a scientific way.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writer and activist who founded the Unified Buddhist Church in France, and Plum Village, a Buddhist community in exile

As we contemplate the great number of people who have died in this tragedy, we may feel very strongly that we ourselves, in some part or manner, also have died.

The pain of one part of humankind is the pain of the whole of humankind. And the human species and the planet Earth are one body. What happens to one part of the body happens to the whole body.

An event such as this reminds us of the impermanent nature of our lives. It helps us remember that what’s most important is to love each other, to be there for each other, and to treasure each moment we have that we are alive. This is the best that we can do for those who have died: We can live in such a way that they can feel they are continuing to live in us, more mindfully, more profoundly, more beautifully, tasting every minute of life available to us, for them.

Sam Harris, author of books including “The End of Faith,” and co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, dedicated to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values

Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.

The only sense to make of tragedies like this is that terrible things can happen to perfectly innocent people. This understanding inspires compassion.

Religious faith, on the other hand, erodes compassion. Thoughts like, “this might be all part of God’s plan,” or “there are no accidents in life,” or “everyone on some level gets what he or she deserves” - these ideas are not only stupid, they are extraordinarily callous. They are nothing more than a childish refusal to connect with the suffering of other human beings. It is time to grow up and let our hearts break at moments like this.

The Rev. Franklin Graham,  president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization

I don’t believe God does want this to happen. I don’t think it was ever God’s intention.

We know that there are going to be storms in life. No matter what happens we need to keep our faith and trust in almighty God.  And I want the people of Japan to know that God hasn’t forgotten them,  that God does care for them and that he loves them.

We care and God cares, and we’re standing by them.

CNN's Carol Costello contributed to this report

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Belief • God • Japan

soundoff (1,886 Responses)
  1. rafael

    What do you know, another blowhard named Graham.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  2. HisOwn

    Dear Lord, Please have mercy on all the souls here who are in darkness, and who's hearts are hardened. May your loving light show them the truth. Forgive them father, for they know not what they do. Please continually shine your love down upon them, that thier hearts will be filled and thier lips will sing a new song of joy and peace, that only you can give them. Amen.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @hisown Your exercise in the sort of hypocrisy Jesus condemned, ie your public prayer, reeks of sanctimony and insincerity. Do you really think that god favors this sort of behavior?

      March 20, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • eli

      Thanks for the laugh, I needed it.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  3. Zappa Z

    It takes more faith to NOT believe in a god and instead believe in one's self and the human race. It also takes much more courage to NOT believe in fairy tales of gold bricked roads and lollipops in the afterlife and instead pursue a life of intellect whilst trying to find the a truth of existence; celebrating being and the end of being. Fear of the unknown drives fools and cowards to religion.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  4. John Whelan

    Ummmmm....God's love is unconditional. He loves all....the good and the bad. It is wrong to say that "God cares about the well-being of good people." He cares about the well being of ALL!

    March 20, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  5. Christine Cox

    Why did evolution stop with us? If we evolved from the chart we're all taught in junior high science why did the process stop with us?

    March 20, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • rafael

      No one said it did. Fail!

      March 20, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • F-Dawg

      Um. It hasn't stopped.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Oscar16

      Who said it stopped? All in God's time. Our idea of time is based on our planet: earth's rotation around the sun, the rotation on its axis, etc. God's time is not based on OUR planet.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  6. LEB

    Oh, so God is in control of everything... except for bad things like earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and other natural disasters that cause massive human suffering. Well, isn't that mighty convenient?

    March 20, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      After God created the world, he turned it over to Adam to do with it as he wished. Since that time, the world has not belonged to God, but to Adam and Eve and their descendants. Adam and Eve then disobeyed God and messsed things up. The world has been messed up ever since. God has a solution for this problem. He sent Jesus into the world to redeem fallen humanity. Jesus won a legal victory on behalf of fallen humanity when he shed his blood on the cross. However, not all the benefits which Jesus purchased on the cross have been put into effect. The total process of redemption is not yet complete. Each individual chooses whether they want God's will in their life or whether they don't. God intervenes on behalf of those who want his will in their life. He allows those who don't want his will in their life to do as they please up to a point. Then, he let's them learn the hard way. Humanity has been learning the hard way for thousands of years. All the suffering of humanity since the creation of the world has been caused directly or indirectly by humanity's rebellion against God. The final battle between Good and Evil is yet to take place. This battle is described in the book of Revelation. After the final battle between Good and Evil, there will be no more suffering for the redeemed, only for those who refuse to repent.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      @Person of Faith
      Adam and Eve is a myth! stop spouting that nonsense please!

      March 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  7. Jack Watcher

    Easy answer to where god is. God is in your head. Your imagination. God is a remnant of earlier times when mankind was weak, unintelligent, and afraid. God is vestigial idea. Much like the appendix is a vestigal organ. God was needed once to get us through the cold dark nights. To explain why the sun came up, the seasons changed. Now we are all wiser (well, some of us are) and the imaginary guy in the sky is not needed. Except for those of us too weak or unintelligent to stand on our own. Grow up people.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  8. Patricia

    As long as we cling to these religious beliefs, mankind will never evolve.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  9. Refugee from Glennbeckistan

    As soon as someone produces emperical, reproducible evidence that their god exists then we can worry about some god causing or allowing anything to happen anywhere.

    March 20, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Elijah already took on this assignment. The prophets of Baal tried all day to call down fire from heaven, but their god couldn't hear them. Elijah was able to call down fire from heaven, because his God heard him.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Dan

      do you require that same proof in your quest to determine our first president? "emperical, reproducible evidence?" Not everything is a scientific question.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  10. Muneef

    That higher power they worship is what we. Muslims call Allah,(God).
    That higher power choose and sent messengers,inspired them scriptures to teach us, what was that for?

    Al-Baqara sura 02:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    And verily We gave unto Moses the Scripture and We caused a train of messengers to follow after him, and We gave unto Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs (of Allah's sovereignty), and We supported him with the Holy spirit. Is it ever so, that, when there cometh unto you a messenger (from Allah) with that which ye yourselves desire not, ye grow arrogant, and some ye disbelieve and some ye slay? (87).

     Al-E-Imran sura 03:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    It is not (the purpose) of Allah to leave you in your present state till He shall separate the wicked from the good. And it is not (the purpose of) Allah to let you know the Unseen. But Allah chooseth of His messengers whom He will, (to receive knowledge thereof). So believe in Allah and His messengers. If ye believe and ward off (evil), yours will be a vast reward. (179).

    Al-E-Imran sura 03:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    And lo! of the People of the Scripture there are some who believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto you and that which was revealed unto them, humbling themselves before Allah. They purchase not a trifling gain at the price of the revelations of Allah. Verily their reward is with their Lord. Lo! Allah is swift to take account. (199) O ye who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allah, in order that ye may succeed. (200).

    March 20, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Christians do not worship Allah. Christians worship the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in HIm should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

      March 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • vfl

      same God/Allah/Yawhooo/ same fiction stories with different slants. flying horses... magical trees .... talking reptiles.. drinking blood.... eating flesh...... father killing daughter and burning her virgin body so God/Alllah./Lord can smell her flesh burn.

      Sure.... easy to believe...

      March 20, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Muneef

      The Message;

      Al-Anaam sura 06:
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
      Yet they ascribe as partners unto Him the jinn, although He did create them, and impute falsely, without knowledge, sons and daughters unto Him. Glorified be He and high exalted above (all) that they ascribe (unto Him). (100) The Originator of the heavens and the earth! How can He have a child, when there is for Him no consort, when He created all things and is Aware of all things? (101) Such is Allah, your Lord. There is no God save Him, the Creator of all things, so worship Him. And He taketh care of all things. (102) Vision comprehendeth Him not, but He comprehendeth (all) vision. He is the Subtile, the Aware. (103) Proofs have come unto you from your Lord, so whoso seeth, it is for his own good, and whoso is blind is blind to his own hurt. And I am not a keeper over you. (104) Thus do We display Our revelations that they may say (unto thee, Muhammad): "Thou hast studied," and that We may make (it) clear for people who have knowledge. (105) Follow that which is inspired in thee from thy Lord; there is no God save Him; and turn away from the idolaters. (106).

      March 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  11. HeIsGod

    Reality is a friend of mine, god is not...

    @ Al – REALITY is TEMPORALLY your friend for NOW, when you die, REALITY will still be there with you, but it will become your WORSE nightmare. My reality is this, GOD IS MY FRIEND FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.

    March 20, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  12. top secret


    March 20, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  13. Palangkaraya

    Forget God. There's no such thing.

    March 20, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Dave

      Palang... to categorically say "there is no God" is idiotic. You cannot know that unless you have information that no one else possess's, which, I highly doubt.

      If you do not beleive, simply say so.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • rafael

      The only difference between Palang and you is that you are an atheist when it comes to one less god. Let's quit the fairy tales.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  14. Jordan

    Why do you people fight over religion, what difference is it going to make? really?

    March 20, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Tommas

      Umm, we live in a democracy and people vote based on what a few thousand year old book tells them to do.

      March 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Patricia

      It makes no difference Jordan; it is just another way that we put walls between us, seperate into groups and pidgeon-hole ourselves into categories of us and them.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  15. Thade

    Where is god? I can't see him. Maybe he's hiding under the bodies. Or maybe he's hiding under thee piles of shoes in the holocaust museum.

    March 20, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Mike

      Where is "God"? The same place as the WMD's.... NOPLACE!!!!

      March 20, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • at

      Well said.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  16. Useful_Quote

    'To those who believe, it isn't necessary (to prove divinity). To those who don't believe, it is just pointless' – A rough recollection of the foreword from the Novel 'Miracle' by Irving Wallace.

    Very true, indeed.

    March 20, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • rafael

      Translation: to those who have been brainwashed to believe in fairy tales, the brainwashing is powerful enough to overcome evidence, reason, reality.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  17. greg

    "Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could..." 🙂 – Sound of Music

    March 20, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  18. Cathy Scott Pollard

    To Sam Harris,
    You do not leave enough "choices",You're "choices" are "narrow" indeed, Our G-d foretold of such events, does that mean He caused them? You silly person, NO, He Foretold "these are the beginning of sorrows" I do not want to invite more hatred and controversy.

    March 20, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • F-Dawg

      What would your other choices be?

      March 20, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Glynn

      Another antiquated christian troll sounds off.... The arrogance and seemingly infinite ignorance of the christian followers never ceases to compound the misery of the heartbroken with barren promises of "GOD's love".... No one with ANY common sense would believe such tactless nonsense...If my child had just been washed away to their unimaginably painful death and some christian were to even attempt to console me with speak of "gods infinite love or this is a "test" from god" that person would very abruptly and violently cease to exist,,,,,

      March 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  19. SRinSCarolina

    Proof? what is enough proof that there is God? So many arguments here, 'There is,' and then "There isn't.." but what are teh parameters? No one ever says, "I will believe when..."

    March 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • 3rdMLNM

      Here is the ultimate Proof that GOD actually exists, He is REAL, He is IN CHARGE, now and forever!
      Because He created this Universe and His Word in an ultimate and superior "Mathematic Language;"
      please, see and verify it with your own eyes now here:


      So after this, if anyone can come up with a "Mathematically Perfect and Awesome" Message that would be equal to this (you can seek help from any persons on earth, or from any extraterrestrials in heaven), then you can convince me that God actually may not exist and all Religions on earth are definitely man made!

      Otherwise, please, immediately see and recognize now this one and only real GOD (of Abraham, and Moses, Jesus, David, Muhammad) and surrender yourself to Him, that you may be happy and safe, wherever you are, now and forever!
      (*All natural disasters are a reminder and a test from this one and only real GOD, that this World is a temporary place, in which disasters like this has occurred and will occur; but there is already another parallel universe that is disaster free for all of His sincere and good hearted servants. So all of us should immediately recognize this one and only real GOD, and reform ourselves with His excellent Teachings, to be happy, considerate and good persons here, first of all, and also to enter into that perfect parallel universe, immediately at the time of our departure from this imperfect one, thereafter, at the end of our life span here!

      March 20, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  20. HeIsGod

    The LORD is awesome, even in the midst of disasters. For us who are rooted up in His will and word, we FEAR NOT, for He is with us and if we happen to die with others in the midsts of disaster, we are safe with our Father God.

    March 20, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Grace Marie


      March 20, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Mike


      March 20, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Justin Miyundees

      because you say so.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • GodtheLord

      People forget about God all year around....but when a disaster comes then we are seeking God, and questioning why we are going through tough times... if we dont seek God in our good times, why we want Him to respond when we suffer..?

      March 20, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • WhoKnows

      Maybe god was on vacation when this happened.

      March 20, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Glynn

      Another antiquated christian troll sounds off.... The arrogance and seemingly infinite ignorance of the christian followers never ceases to compound the misery of the heartbroken with barren promises of "GOD's love".... No one with ANY common sense would believe such tactless nonsense...If my child had just been washed away to their unimaginably painful death and some christian were to even attempt to console me with speak of "gods infinite love or this is a "test" from god" that person would very abruptly and violently cease to exist,,,,,

      March 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      HeIsGods' comment is filled with such vapid stupidity that i couldn't stop laughing

      March 29, 2011 at 11:59 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.