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. Sean

    People who don't want their beliefs laughed at shouldn't have such funny beliefs.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  2. Bob Dobbs

    Grown-ups with imaginary friends worry me.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  3. Philip Jackson

    Rabbi Kushner is quoted as saying god is evident in " 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 Rabbi is engaging in an insult that is common to too many religious people, the idea that you have to be of faith to be motivated to do good things, to empathize with those who are hurting, to have morality: "how can people do such things if god were not at hand?" Sheesh Rabbi, good people do good things that's how. Some good people are religious and lots aren't so get down from your high horses all you preachers, you have no exclusivity on being good or moral or empathetic that's all part of human nature. That's human NATURE. (An occasional apology for the incessant suggestions to the contrary would be very nice too)...

    March 20, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  4. Ed

    What did God do during that eternity before he created everything? If God was all that existed back then, what disturbed the eternal equilibrium and compelled him to create? Was he bored? Was he lonely? God is supposed to be perfect. If something is perfect, it is complete–it needs nothing else. We humans engage in activities because we are pursuing that elusive perfection, because there is disequilibrium caused by a difference between what we are and what we want to be. If God is perfect, there can be no disequilibrium. There is nothing he needs, nothing he desires, and nothing he must or will do. A God who is perfect does nothing except exist. A perfect creator God is impossible.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  5. Kathy

    What is so different about natural disasters today as opposed to the beginning of time. There has always been natural disasters. There has always been wars and rumors of wars and natural disasters and there always will be. Just as we are never going to control terrorism regardless of how much military force we use, neither can we control natural disasters. I do wonder at times if God does have the power to control the universe why there is no intervention when natural disasters like this one happens. He created the heaven and the earth, why not protect it from some of the horrific disasters that continue to destroy its beauty.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  6. reeta

    HI, It is surprising that in all the comments from various regious representives have given, we have so many similarities in what we believe and what we understand. Sadly a CNN reporter ignores a Billion Plus population of the world who are most compasssionate -(Hinduism) in representing the views of faith leaders/ reps. Buddhism started as an offshoot of hinduism and has borrowed heavily from hindusim. If you don't know, read a relevant book American veda to get the religious perspective on all these beliefs > Cheers

    March 20, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  7. Gary H B

    Wake up people this is the 21st century. Belief in a magic man in the sky is rediculous.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • John Simmons

      What happens when you die?

      March 20, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Jeff

      When you die your dead, it's just like before you existed.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Rick

      Jeff, for your own sake, I hope you are right. If you are in deed right, then when we all die NOONE will be right or wrong, we will just stop existing – there will be no "I told you so"... HOWEVER, if we (Christians) are right, then there are going to be a WHOLE LOT of upset people saying, "Dang, that dude on the CNN web site was right. There is a Hell, and it SUCKS!" I have NOTHING to lose, but EVERYTHING to gain.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  8. John Simmons

    God does things for a reason, the reasons we may not know but being a Christian I believe and trust completely in Him.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  9. Overmann

    This 'Religion' section on CNN seems a bit one-sided. I think the occasional skeptical viewpoint would be appreciated by the free-thinking audience, which includes me. For example, let's hear more about how God doesn't seem to care enough to intervene in the event of an earthquake, or is powerless to.

    "Atheism means to deny that we have a source or an origin."

    Of course we have an origin – I merely contend it was neither intelligent nor divine.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  10. joe

    god is in the same place he's always been: nowhere. he doesn't exist. if he did this would not have happened. to think otherwise is nothing more than silly nonsense.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Rick

      You, sir, know nothing of the Bible if you believe this to be true. If you want to profess truth, then at least know both sides of the story, not just your side. I was on your side once... trust me, it is MUCH better over here...

      March 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  11. annie

    Many religious leaders do not know why God permits natural disasters....

    Disasters Are Nearing Their End
    EARTHQUAKES, wars, famines, and disease—these are some of the things that Jesus foretold would mark “the conclusion of the system of things” in which we now live. (Matthew 24:3, 7, 8; Luke 21:7, 10, 11) Of course, those events are not acts of God. Neither Jesus nor his Father, Jehovah God, is responsible for them.

    But God will be responsible for what the foretold events presage, namely, the coming of God’s Kingdom—a heavenly government in the hands of Jesus Christ—and the destruction of all who reject Jehovah’s sovereignty. (Daniel 2:44; 7:13, 14) Thereafter, earth will be made into a haven of peace, where there will be no fear of natural disasters. In a complete sense, God’s promise will be fulfilled: “My people must dwell in a peaceful abiding place and in residences of full confidence and in undisturbed resting-places.”—Isaiah 32:18.

    Quoted from: http://www.watchtower.org/e/200709/article_02.htm

    March 20, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • jsh

      so true!

      March 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • John Simmons

      Right on brother!

      March 20, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  12. Jimbo

    God didn't build any nuculear power plants as far as I know. We did. God didn't build any houses in low lying coastal flat lands prone to sunamis. I think that is you check out your modern concepts of geology, we live on a liquid earth that is constantly in flux. Earthquakes, sunamis, hurricanes, mud slides and hail storms are all a part of our natural enviornment. God doesn't have to be the cause of these things. When an airliner crashes we have to remember that people are not designed to fly. People build airplanes to get places faster. God didn't do any of this. He gave us the freedom and ability to do it ourselves. The challenge is to find the grace and love of God in the middle of all these man-made catastrophies. This is the ultimate journey and discovery in life: The exploration of God's eternal plan and purpose. There are no dogmatic answers here. There is just a continual revelation of higher intelligence and higher purpose that, I hate to say it, but ultimately reduces mankind and all his technological achievments to the level of apes and monkeys. Ironic isn't it that reason has put forth the theory we evolved from apes. From God's perspective, we still are.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  13. Cherri H.

    People only look for God when disaster strikes.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • John Simmons

      This is true

      March 20, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Rick

      "People" is a very generic term being used. I "look" for God every morning when I wake up while I do my Bible reading and prayer time, throughout the day at work or with my family and at night while I am relaxing and enjoying life... A Christian "looks" for God all of the time.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  14. Mell


    March 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  15. Jimbo

    I have never heard such foolishness in all my life. "Professing to be wise, they became fools..." is how the book of Romans puts it. We live in the most foolish times imaginable. Men who God created with reason have reasoned God right out of their hearts. The funny thing is God has given them the freedom and right to utterly reject Him. You ask, where is God? He is still God, willing to be searched out and discovered by any and all who have it in their hearts to search him out. You find God by faith not reason. "The things of the Spriit of God are foolishness to the natural mind..." If you are natural and of the earth, when you die, you will return to the dust you were made from. When you are spiritually alive, you will live on Spiritually with God. The choice to believe or not to believe was never forced upon any of us, at least not by God. If athiesm is the way, it is the way of dust and ashes, of that you can be guarenteed. If Jesus is the way, the promise of eternal life and eternal purpose endure. As for me and my house, we will choose faith. But I will also give my life for your right to not believe. God gave you that right and who am I to agrue with God.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Sean

      People who take religion seriously did not pray for Haiti due to the fact most of them partake in Voodoo. That is a fact. Another fact is the words Moral, Morality, Ethics, or Ethical appear no where in the bible. Numbers 15:32-36 show just how moral God is.II Kings 2:23-24, murdering of 42 children. Exodus 34:6-7, Leviticus 26:14-38, even jesus was not so nice, Luke 12:47,48.....Mark 14:3-9.....John 2:15....Matthew 19:12...... Truth is we could all argue back and forth, but reality is thousands are dead, im sure many many more will die soon. We could talk about how just god is or how fair he is, but then again we wouldn't have that lovely little bashing babies against boulders story. I went to sunday school , wore my sunday's best and thought of giving my life to the church, but I thought better of it because I read the parts of the bible you don't read at church or in prayer sessions, now I am an Atheist, I have read all of the arguments Ontological, Cosmological etc... Think of Jesus as Socrates, he was a threat to the romans, and how cozy they had life handled so they killed him, now Jesus was a jew......he was placed in a tomb not of jewish law........ the Jews took his body and buried it in a jewish cemetery. Hence the resurrection , compare Jesus to Attis, Antigonus, Cyrus, Mithra,just to name a few. remember all religious arguments are just circular no matter what side your on, believe what you want and love It doesn't make you a bad person. beLIEve

      March 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  16. Semiahmoo

    Atheism: arrogance at it's best

    March 20, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Kyle

      Because it is more arrogant to claim to know what you don't (gods will) then to admit you don't know.

      March 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • MarylandBill

      Ah, but the point is we don't know God's will. If you had bothered to actually read what the various ministers actually wrote, you would have realized that. Atheism, great at proving what religion isn't is wrong.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • JustPlainJoe

      Ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise. Think and you will not know but rather learn.
      Anyone claiming all the answers is very likely wrong.
      Only religion attempts to make those claims.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
  17. Da King

    OK now I know what I am dealing with.
    Da King

    March 20, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  18. Max Pargament

    You know what I think Poseidon caused the tsunami. Because I think all monotheistic religions are wrong 😛

    Its 2011 people we live in an age of technology and science. Start acting like it. Its the people who don't understand science and don't care to learn what it has to offer that keep the religious faction strong in this country.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • MarylandBill

      Despite your opinion, science and religion are not incompatible. If your statement were true, then all good scientists would be atheists, and that is not even close to be true; yes many famous scientists are atheists but many famous scientists are often famous more for their opinions than their science.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Rapp

      Are you really that out to lunch? Start reading and you will find countless people of science who are also people of faith. But then again, I have yet to find any skeptic who has bothered to read anything outside their own narrow point of view. It makes it tough to "talk" with people who are so narrow minded and ignorant.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • John Simmons

      Check out ORIGINS podcasts on iTunes!

      March 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • cocopuf2

      That's it. Man is getting better and better. So, who needs to know our creator? A false analogy?

      March 20, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  19. B.D.Kuchera

    One thing I know, is that God is not the destroyer. But then you get to the place of, if He allowed this, he must agree with it. Is He a God that just walked away and let the crap hit the fan? Or, is He working through people. The spirit of love is the Holy Spirit. God is love. And, the Holy Spirit is part of the heart of the father and the expression of his son. Jesus works in and out of people all the time. I think we live on a crazy planet. It's a wild ride here. Think of Jupiter and its storms. Would we expect anything less? When it comes to the sorrow, we know that He cries with us, for if it was time for him to return, time would have stopped. Does He not move his hand with love in people's hearts? While that comes and goes for everyone, it stays at all times for Christians because it is our purpose. It does not make us better -it makes us last in the little things that can turn into big things -not the big things that eventually end up in History books. This one certainly is for the books, and it is one of the greatest heartbreaks I have seen. And, they'll keep coming. But, read Matthew 24:6 if you are interested. This is part of the timeline of history. It'll keep coming, but what it isn't, is God's punishment. And, He is moving. Right now. Through the limitations of people. Jesus Himself was limited. The Holy Spirit is here and he can move all over the Earth at the same time. Jesus was God, but He absolutely became limited when He became human. The perfect example is his existence -He could only work precisely in the location where He was. The same goes for us with the Holy Spirit in us. We're limited, but it's still God working -in people -all over -on a grand scale.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  20. Twinbeech

    Delusion: a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of a psychiatric condition.

    All religions require delusional thinking to survive.

    We are all alone on this planet. Nobody is coming out of the sky to “save” us.

    If we can conquer our delusions we might save our little blue dot. If not, not.

    March 20, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Henry Rhodes

      The problem is that God is not the Lord. The Lord is what is. God is what we want him to be. The Lord is not always what we want.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • John Simmons

      Check out ORGINS podcasts on iTunes!

      March 20, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • MikeG

      The world would be a lot safer and free from constant religious strife if only much of it's delusional religious heretics would cast out their delusional godly beliefs. I agree with the author, the only religion that is not delusional is Buddhism!!

      March 20, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Mavent

      That's what I love about Atheists: they never let an opportunity pass to be d0uchebags.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • cocopuf2

      What if you are wrong and this is your own delusion that explains why God is not here to listen to you? Perhaps this could be too impractical for you. lol

      March 20, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • sleepytime

      @Mavent: So if a religious person uses a horrible tragedy as a platform to espouse their views that'd perfectly fine with you, but if an atheist simply disagrees with that person, than you call him names? What an interesting double standard you live by.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
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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.