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. understand this

    God has made his rules and he has set those rules from the beginning of time and they will happen he wont just change them for you all of a sudden, he will however help those who are patient and brave through his tests. The problem with people is they want to comprehend the ability of God with their limited brains. You cannot understand everything He created and did but you should be able to appreciate it and it should humble you and remind you of his existence.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Eric G.

      Sorry, but several logical faults with your post.

      "God has made his rules and he has set those rules from the beginning of time and they will happen he wont just change them for you all of a sudden"

      Argument from as-sumption: First, you will need to define what "rules" you are referencing. Then, you will need to prove that those rules were created. Then, you will need to prove that your God created the rules, and when.

      "The problem with people is they want to comprehend the ability of God with their limited brains."

      More argument from as-sumption: You will need to provide verifiable evidence to prove that your God exists before you can claim attributes of your Gods abilities.

      Point is, you need to provide evidence. Science has verified evidence to support it's theory of why we have earthquakes. Your lack of ability to understand the evidence does not invalidate it, nor allow you to insert a different hypothesis (god did it) without supporting evidence.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  2. Brian

    If God exists why then all the suffering? Don't give me the 'free will' cop out argument. If God exists and cannot relieve suffering & war than God is impotent and not really a God. Nature and Science are the only truths.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Andrew

      in egypt, God means nature. and since most religions came out of Egypt, Judaism (Moses was trained in the arts of the pharohs) then the modern religious idea of God is possibly wrong. and in no way reflects its original ideas.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  3. GOD

    Hi this is god, i really made religion to weed out the lesser humans, it was a joke that went to far
    so now throw out your bibles and read some math and science books. and please just stop
    gathering in groups to make yourself feel better about trying to believe in something that made
    no sense to start with. i mean come on a boat with 6 million animals on it . i thought you
    would get that was a joke from the get go

    March 20, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  4. ib42

    When will people realize that this guy, a bet selling book maker and seller, and all 'spiritual' teachers like him, are just groping in the dark like everyone else? They feel self important only because of the sales of their books, and the media approaching them to comment on situations like this.
    They are charlatans, but will never admit it.
    Just don't buy their books, and start using your own mind.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  5. Jonathan

    The atheist's belief system: "If you believe differently than I believe, you're stupid."

    The religious fundamentalist's belief system: "If you believe differently than I believe, you're going to hell."

    Both systems are equally fundamentalist.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Bob

      the difference being one is based on jokes on humanity and other is based on the best facts we have at a given point in time.

      if you knew an adult that thought Santa was real, you would make fun of that person.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Eric G.

      @Jonathan: As an atheist, I would like to address your use of the word "stupid" in your evaluation of the atheist position. While I cannot, and will not attempt to speak for all Atheists, I would offer a different options for your description of the "average atheists" position.

      If you "believe", you do not base your world view on evidence that can be verified. If you do not base your world view on verifiable evidence, your world view cannot be based on fact.

      I base my world view on evidence. Evidence does not require belief. Evidence does not care if it supports what you believe or not. The verification of evidence is the path to truth. "Belief" is the as-sumption of truth without, or in spite of verified evidence.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • rodriguezintexas

      The atheist belief system: "Think."
      The theist belief system: "Don't think."

      March 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • airwx

      @ Eric G. you demand evidence that can be seen..."If you "believe", you do not base your world view on evidence that can be verified"....

      Please show me physical evidence of the 5th – 11th (or more) dimensions. Quantum postulates much, but cannot prove by your requirement that these things exist.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Eric G.

      @airwx: Are you refering to string theory? If so, the math to support the theory only works with 11 dimensions (10 + time). I would agree that the jury is still out on string theory, but verifiable evidence does exist to support it. The evidence can be verified in theory, just not in practice yet. The Hadron will help, but they are a few years out.

      All that being said, you did not address my question. Do believers consider faith a path to truth?

      March 21, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  6. John Sharp

    I am so tired of the people with silly mythological beliefs dominating the cultural conversation. Keep your simple minded ideas of how the world works to yourself. The worst part is these same people want to force others to adhere to their almost childlike or should I say "faith based" belief in a very ancient and contradictory man made book.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Bob

      To me, people that have "faith" are just the worker ants of humanity, made genetically to just "believe" what they are told by authoritive figures ( or who they perceive as ), of course then there are the people who hold on to religion because of some past trauma.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • rodriguezintexas

      Me too. They go "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" and insist that we are supposed to quietly accept it. We go "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" and they say we are angry, intolerant and damn us to hell!

      March 20, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  7. b4bigbang

    What does "prove" or "proof" mean? Is it the same as evidence? Is there a difference?

    March 20, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  8. Jeff Bertram

    There is no god. Everyday events prove this. What kind and benevolent god would allow mass muder in his name? Why would a god that loves his creations commit mass murder? The answer is obvious! Why does this rediculous belief continue to contaminate reality. I chastise the media for even entertaining this non-sense.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • jampalm

      Jeff why do you take the time to read and reply to the non-sense as you say? Jeff God said we are not to murder . He never agrees to murder. Murder is premeditated , it can be physical emotional or mental . It comes in gossiping or slandering. So what you are saying about God is a form of murder. However God allows killing and that is out of love or protection. If some one breaks in your house putting your family at risk by all means Jeff, KILL him. That is out of love for your family and protection for them. To catch the person. ties him up and kill him later is murder. There is a difference between the two.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  9. Jonathan

    I have seen the burden that inner-city clergy carry in this country. Most of them work tirelessly to make their beighborhoods a better place. I have worked side-by-side with young and elderly church-goers alike in homeless shelters. I've been cared for in times of need by fellow parishoners with absolutely no strings attached.

    I'm not saying that atheists do not care for people. All I'm saying is that I wish they would spend less time being angry and trying to 'disabuse' other people of their own beliefs, and more time trying to make a real difference.

    And BTW – I've yet to receive the response 'Why don't you go kill yourself" from ANY Judeo-Christians on a discussion forum. I have received such responses from atheists. Really? REALLY?? This is the world-view you would like others to adopt?

    March 20, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  10. RickK

    Earthquakes, volcanoes, disease, suffering.... A look back over the major events in human history – natural and social – shows a few examples of joy amongst a sea of misery.

    How would a world without God look different than the world we see today?

    "The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."
    - Richard Dawkins

    March 20, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  11. David

    The blind leading the blind...the usual foolish explanations given by so-called spiritual experts who don't know the God of the Bible nor His Grace.
    The other experts can be excused because of total ignorance, but F.Graham has no excuse for his stupid politically correct reply to the initial question. This apostate is just like his father Billy, the well liked political figure who's a friend to all.
    What sham and what lack of knowledge and truth.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  12. b4bigbang

    Jesus is risen.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • rodriguezintexas

      Have you ever even used your mental ability and cognitive function to independently examine if Jesus ever existed? Use your own brain, don't borrow someone else's.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • airwx

      @ Rod....you argue from the first four dimensions.....prove that God is not in one or more of the other seven claimed by (current) science. Personally I find it hard to conceive of the universe containing an odd number of dimensions and would not be surprised to find that there are 12 or more.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Maybe


      It is *possible* that there is a 'first cause' (God), but even if so, we know nothing of its attributes or properties, wants, demands, emotions or rewards, other than natural laws. Jump from a tall building without mechanical assistance (or a freak thermal draft/soft landing), and you will splat. Is this the 'desire' or 'punishment' of gravity... only poetically.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  13. I believe

    God lives. He did not cause this disaster–but his influence brings hope, help and compassion to this tragedy.

    Science == God

    When we really understand our universe and perfect our science, we will find God.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  14. Lisa

    May God have mercy.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  15. b4bigbang

    Easter is approaching

    March 20, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • ib42

      get your wallets out. Your free will bestowing god is going to make you very greedy. But, it's not your fault.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Don

      You mean the Feast of Eostre? The feast that was co-opted by other religions, among them christianity?

      March 20, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • rodriguezintexas

      Yes. The feast named after the Ishtar who descended from Heaven in a giant egg which landed in the Euphrates River at the sunrise of the first Sunday after the vernal equinox which cracked open to reveal the bare-breasted goddess of fertility. The same goddess whose followers would impregnate virgins to upon their altars and die eggs with the blood of the sacrificed babies who were born out of the previous year's celebrations. The same celebration that the Catholic church sanctified and adopted into Christianity. Yes, Easter is coming. Let's celebrate!

      March 20, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  16. b4bigbang

    Jesus is risen, we'll be celebrating that soon.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • rodriguezintexas

      This is exactly why theism is dangerous! All the major monotheisms of the world are anticipating (and even looking forward to) the apocalypse. They sit and watch and say, "the end is near" and are, in a very sadistic way, happy because this means the long-awaited messiah is on his way. (And some even believe they are special enough to be magically rescued before it all comes down.) Here's an idea...how about using THIS life to do all you can to make THIS world a better place instead of sitting and using prophecy as an excuse to do nothing. We can make a difference, you know. Afterall, unlike the figments of our imaginations, we actually have hands, feet, brains and willpower.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • airwx

      @ Rodguiez We are......and what may amaze you and a lot of other persons....Christians can think and they also believe in science answering questions about our universe. My faith has never been swayed by science, only re-enforced by it.

      March 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  17. lho

    Hi, This is God. Why don't you all stop posting here and just get a life! You're all bugging me.
    How about another earthquake? Will THAT make you shut up? LEAVE ME ALONE!

    March 20, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  18. Jonathan

    One thing I've noticed about atheists is that they're very interested in EVERYONE ELSE acting like Christians.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • bobsroad

      Funny thing about religious people they like to dictate morals and ignorance, and gather in groups to prove a smart idea wrong

      March 20, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Jonathan

      Another thing I've notice about atheists, when they complain, 'Why can't everyone just be reasonable,' is their complete lack of understanding of human beings.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Don

      One thing I've noticed about the gullible (thiests) is that they lie about anyone who doesn't believe exactly as they do.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • jampalm

      Jonathan there is no such people as atheists, the fact that they use the word God and its meaning is saying they beleive. An atheist would have to know nothing about God or gods. This is why these people what ever they call themselves are so confused and always are upset with people who beleive that there is. Their problem is being upset with God.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  19. Butchy

    You are all too funny...Did he exist or didn't he exist?...Alot of good comments here on both sides however trying to prove something that was written in a time when the people didn't know where the sun went at night and that the world was indeed flat. Also speaking with a burning bush now a days would get you in mental facility....It is hard to prove/disprove something that is intangible or perceived. God supposingly gave us free will so he is directly responsible for the creation of the nuclear plant and since God created the earth, he is directly responsible for the earthquate...As far as proving any of this it is impossible as it is to prove that you existed a second ago...

    March 20, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • bobsroad

      god created the nuclear plant ?, last i checked it was humans

      btw if someone doesn't believe in your 2000 year old fairy tale , what you said means nothing

      March 20, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Andrew

      LOL, they didnt beleive the earth was flat. a falt world means the word (the people in it) have no vertical path. it doesnt actually mean the physical world was flat. infact many old temples, cathedrals etc had sphere representations for planets, hermetic ideas aswell knew they were sphere, but both sides of the debaite are both ignorant, religious people follow preachers, athiests follow scienctists, never questioning the person who they follows ignorance.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • LouAZ

      Hey, there are lots of politicans that apparently still speak with burning bushes all the time.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  20. J

    god does NOT exist. If so, when was the last time that god allowed Manna to fall from heaven? People around the world are dying of starvation and god is not permitting the precipitation of Manna on those who need it.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Andrew

      Who said the modern concept of religon is anything close to what it was, its like people that take Plato's cave literally, thier own ignorance makes false concepts. At least in Egypt etc, God is the same word as nature. From my research, (I study them all) peoples ideas on it today is very ignorant. And in my humble opinion, both sides of the arguement are fighting over misunderstandings, so thier will be no victor, only endless battles of egos and ignorance.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • jampalm

      Manna is still falling you are just not in the right place.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:06 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.