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. Mick

    "Natural disasters are acts of nature, not acts of God."

    Once when I was in kindergarten I started hitting a kid with my lunchbox, and when he asked me to stop I told him it wasn't me hitting him, it was the lunchbox. That lame excuse was no more childish and silly than Kushner's quote.

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

      good one. 🙂

      March 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  2. b4bigbang

    Is this thing gonna post correctly?

    March 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  3. Havin Fun

    I simply considered the ideal of perfection and drew the best conclusions I could. Perfection would have no need to create anything, being already perfect.
    And unchanging also means that there is no need to create or to change in any way. No universe was created by a god that does not change, that does not do anything. To do is to change. To be perfect is to need nothing, do nothing.
    I am not a parrot. I think about these things with as few preconceptions as possible.
    You might try some critical thinking someday. But that requires logic, reason, and perception. Not really what religion is known for, sorry.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  4. Eric G.

    A short physics lesson to help you to understand some of the posts on this blog...........

    Light travels faster than sound.
    This explains why some people may appear to be bright, until you hear them speak.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Havin Fun


      March 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  5. geckopelli

    You poor dumb fools.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  6. Adam

    Religion. Safe house for ignorance.

    Prayer – Getting on your knees and doing nothing.
    Action – Getting off your knees and making a difference.

    If your imaginary god decides who lives, who dies, when they die, and how, why should we bother with medicine and doctors? Instead of paying for health insurance, shouldn't we be paying for prayer insurance?

    March 20, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • hi

      god can only help you, if you help yourself

      March 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Brian

      They did just that in the middle ages....Royalty brought the prayers of monks (in bulk) to offset their sins.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  7. b4bigbang

    I'm having trouble finding my posts. Gotta go do something anyway. Be back in a few minutes.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  8. Julia

    How sad that so many religious people care so little for their souls that they will blindly accept any translation, any interpretation, and anything like that concerning their religion yet refuse to consider that their souls supposedly hang on the question of accuracy and honesty in the things they believe.
    Lack of proper scrutiny of their own beliefs shows a deep lack of responsibility. Brainwashed believers aren't good for much.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  9. marco

    Everyone is free to have their own beliefs. Because of things like this, I believe there is no God.

    March 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  10. b4bigbang

    Your point has been raise by theologians in past, but not from a stance of unbelief. God didn't need us or the universe but he chose to create. Which of Man's philosopies are you drawing from to make your statement?

    March 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  11. tallulah13

    Perhaps instead of questioning their faith, people would be better off making sure they are prepared in case a natural disaster strikes their area.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  12. lola

    SANTA CLAUSE please help me, and bring me lots of GIFTS!!!!!

    March 20, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  13. ib42

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

    That is the most ridiculous rationalization I have read in a very long time..yet so common among those who want to appear wise and 'holy', whatever that is.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  14. LouAZ

    We need some new god(s). These old ones just havn't delivered any of the Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men stuff , and seem to indescriminately kill and injury people randomly with earthquakes and asteroids falling from the sky and ice ages. Humans have been praying and sacrificing and giving money and giving money and giving money to those that say they know this or that god(s), but nothing really seems to change. Out with the old god(s) !

    March 20, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Eric G.

      I agree. History shows that gods are replaced because societies evolve to the point that their gods are no longer relevant.

      Personally, I think that the difference between now and the past is that society has no need to replace these gods when their irrelevance causes their death. This is the last set of gods that humanity will have to endure. They will fade away as myth and superst-ition. Humanity no longer needs to use supernatural "gap filler" to understand our universe.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  15. lola

    I don't get it , why fool yourself???? There is no God!!! I thought that people are more advanced and should know by now that these stories were created to have order on this earth, that people wouldn't start killing each other like animals, people 2000 years ago did not have a set of moral beliefs, someone had to step up and write all this stuff. And since it was spreading in one country the news travelled to other places as well, how do you think christianity and islam appeared, there were simply sects as today is scientology, they just became bigger and through the hundreds of years got spread out. Bottom line ... before believing so blindly, read a history , analyze a world a little, even though you were raised this way, think, think, think....for yourself. Otherwise, Santa Clause is coming to town:)

    March 20, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • JoeLib

      You're positive there is no God? Can you prove it? You are no better that than the blind faith believers. And you say think think think... I think you need to think think think....

      March 20, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Katie

      You have no idea what He's done for you.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  16. MicheleUSA

    There is a spiritual war going on. Satan wants crud to happen and God doesn't. But all the crud in the world can't covert someone's heart to follow Satan. Look at the book of Job. God allowed Satan to destroy nearly everything in Job's life. Satan was trying to get Job to say bad things about God. Job wouldn't. Nothing could deter Job's faith. Look at Jesus Christ. he suffered immeasurably through no fault of His own. He was an example to all the future generations that crud happens. God allows Satan to and sin to happen. But, in the end, no matter what crud happens to the faithful, they will not deter in their faith. God wins. God is merciful. Crud happens this is earth, not heaven. Love one another. Show compassion. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Satan will continue to destroy. But with all the destruction that Satan attempts, Satan is defeated, when despite the hardships Satan creates, there are people that still won't curse God and still have faith in God and see God's glory. Tough times when things make no sense, can make people actually FIND God not curse Him! And man, that must really tick Satan off! So, Satan causes crud, to tick people off about God, then it backfires on Satan. God is Supreme.

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

      So God wants no one to die and everything to be bunnies and lolipops and good times? Must be fun in your life everytime anything goes wrong you blame Satan and not yourself...OOPs I stubbed my toe...."That tricky Satan wants me to be limping today"...or maybe you get in a car crash because you did not get enough sleep?...Guess that's Satan keeping you up at night hiding under your bed...

      March 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  17. sp

    The answer lies in Bhagavat Gita. God is everywhere and in everything and is part of us. We need to see God's presence everywhere and He is beyond time.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  18. Jack

    Look around you and you will see perfection. So God did create everything and never was human or walked the earth. But even if you lose faith a times, think about it, when you are in pain or need mercy, who can you turn to, not a human. So always bet on God. Pray even if you lose faith to God the One and Only, and maybe you will get lucky, because for sure, no human will answer you or ever try to help you. So bet on God.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • WolfyF

      This must be "Jack in the Box"?! A tiny thing, your "God" created those viruses (HIV, ...), cancer to kill people with no mercy. Jike! Better quarantine you (in a box) or you will spread! 🙂

      Grow up, bet your parents to live longer to take care of you. They are the ones who deserve your love, trust, respect the most.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  19. eddy

    I don't know if "god" exists. By that i mean, "God, our loving father". Was there a creator of our earth & the universe? Possibly I imagine, I mean, it's as good as any theory out there. But what i struggle with mightily is how millions of people claim that the truth of life, its meaning & its essence, is found in the Bible. If everyone that claims they believe in Scriptures REALLY believes in them, they wouldn't question "where is God in these "earthly" tragedies". A "REAL" believer really never dies, right? I mean, one has a short stint here on this earthly plain, very rarely over 100 years, right??? Thereafter, provided you REALLY, REALLY believe, which is apparently the only prerequisite & entry ticket into heaven, its eternal life in total peace, right? So, encountering good fortune or extreme tragedy here on Earth, it's just a temporary thing for "true BELIEVERS" anyway. I reason that, if there REALLY is a loving God, he knows what he's doing & why he's doing it to each of us down here. and if we all REALLY believe in eternal life with our "Creator, the loving God", then how come we're not in such a hurry to "go up there with him forever, in what promises to be far better than life on Earth"???

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

      You are so right and I have never heard that more effectively and insightfully worded. God never promised peace on earth (Luke 12:49-53), in fact in the Bible He warned us that this life would be hard. But what He did give us through Jesus Christ's death on the cross is the promise of an eternity spent with Him in heaven. That gift of salvation is worth more than anything to me because I could never earn it for myself, that peace, that security......When I was younger I used to think about committing suicide because I wanted so badly to be "home", anywhere outside of the world we live in. Back then I didn't know what I meant by "home" but now I realize that I was referring to being with God. The defining moment of my life was when I learned to grasp the idea that God loves me as a Father. That incredible love revealed through Jesus is all that I need to get me through. I want to let you know that I'm praying for you, that you'll experience that same love and that God will answer your questions by opening the eyes of your heart (Ephesians 1:18). He is awesome.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  20. Grace Marie

    What I find so astonishing about the bible is the fact that even though it was inspired by God thousands of years ago...it speaks to me today as if someone who knew me intimately was writing it. It addresses the very trials, joys, problems, emotional issues I am dealing with in 2011. God has healed me of so much in my life. Healing that no man, no psychiatrist, no self help, no intellectual could heal me of. He literally gave me back my life. I was living in darkness and was in such a bad place that I couldn't even laugh, literally.
    He restored my mind and gave me back my life. Everything in my life without God has been meaningless, dark, self centered. With God, my life has joy, meaning, beauty, great relationships, love. If you only knew the living God, Jesus Christ. You would not be blind any more. You would fully understand how real He is and how the bible is the perfect manual for life.

    March 20, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • You Idiots

      James 1:13

      March 20, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Grace Marie

      Can I give you a little suggestion? Quoting scripture with the screenname of "You Idiots" really isn't a very good witness.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • sachin datt

      if you look closely, it is not God, who helped you. It is the community who stand by the construct of Christ who has helped you.
      Its the fact that a big population of the world respects those who believe in him. It is the backing of this large community that has helped you. The construct Jesus is just a symbol of this communal togetherness. What has helped u is this togetherness.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • truth2power

      Man made god in his own image.
      And back when the bible was written man was a VERY nasty, poorly educated and fearful creature.
      Even more so than today.

      If there IS a god it is nothing like we are.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Wayne

      " Everything in my life without God has been meaningless, dark, self centered. With God, my life has joy, meaning, beauty, great relationships, love"
      One of the most self centered statements I've ever read. Like most religious zealots, it's all about you.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • HerpDerpGod

      Timothy 2:12

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

      Very scary.

      March 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • C. Read

      May God continue to be with you Ms. Grace Marie. We SURELY need Him in these very difficult and trying times in which we are living. And may God be with all those who are truly calling out to Him with a sincere and repentant heart–especially the desperate and poor souls that have been affected by this horrible disaster.

      Only by God's grace (genuine favor upon our lives) can any of us be saved from the wrath that is to come upon this world.

      March 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • rodriguezintexas

      "He restored my mind and gave me back my life. Everything in my life without God has been meaningless, dark, self centered. With God, my life has joy, meaning, beauty, great relationships, love."

      Really? So if "God" wasn't in your life, nothing would bring meaning or happiness? Not your family? Not your friends? Not your service to others? Not a good book? Not a vacation to your favorite destination or an adventure to see something new? Not gaining knowlege or developing a new hobby?

      Wow. That makes me sad for you. Not only that your life is so horrible, but that your view of yourself and your life is so horrible. But wait! Since in reality God doesn't exist, how you then explain any happiness in your life at all right now? Hmmm...maybe it is because it is YOU who determines your own happiness and creates meaning for yourself. Much better to give credit to a figment of your imagination though, so go right ahead...

      March 20, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32
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.