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Where was God in the Philippines?
A flood survivor is surrounded by debris on the Philippine island of Leyte.
November 11th, 2013
11:16 AM ET

Where was God in the Philippines?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor

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(CNN) - The disasters are always different and often devastating. But the questions they raise are hauntingly familiar.

In the days since Super Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines on Thursday, survivors are frantically searching for lost family members and international aid groups are springing into action.

Officials say the death toll may rise to 10,000 in the heavily Catholic country. Meanwhile, many people are asking: How should we make sense of such senseless death and destruction? Was God in the whirlwind itself, as the Bible hints, or present only in the aftermath, as people mobilize to provide food, water and shelter?

These questions may not be new, but we keep asking them, perhaps because the answers remain so elusive.

For many Americans, a paradox sits at the heart of their thinking about natural disasters. According to a survey taken after 2011's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, most Americans (56%) believe that God is control of everything.

But more Americans blame hurricanes, earthquakes and other storms on global warming (58%) than on an angry and punishing deity (38%), according to a 2011 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

“These kind of questions about God being in control and there simultaneously being suffering are the kind of things that keep seminarians up at night," institute CEO Robert P. Jones said in 2011.

"They’re thorny theological issues."

READ: Typhoon Haiyan: Survivors in Philippines face grim struggle as death toll rises

The Bible's Psalm 107 says that “For (God) commands, and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves thereof. ... He turns rivers into a wilderness, and the water springs into dry ground."

But, as the poll shows, most Americans have moved past the idea that God causes natural disasters, wrote Stephen Prothero, a frequent CNN contributor, in a 2011 column.

"When it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, our authorities are geologists and meteorologists," Prothero said as he rode out Hurricane Irene on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. "Most of us interpret these events not through the rumblings of the biblical prophet Jeremiah or the poetry of the Book of Revelation but through the scientific truths of air pressure and tectonic plates."

For atheists, storms like Haiyan are proof that God doesn't exist, author and activist Sam Harris said.

"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," Harris said after Japan's tsunami. "Take your pick, and choose wisely."

God may or may not be in withering storms, but many religious leaders say they sense a divine presence in the aftermath, as people across the world mobilize to lend a hand.

Rabbi Harold Kushner is one of the most famous names in the realm of theodicy, a branch of theology that tries to explain the unexplainable: why a good God would allow bad things to happen.

After Japan's tsunami, Kushner called nature "an equal-opportunity destroyer," making no distinctions between sinners and saints.

But Kushner, author of the bestselling book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," said he sees God's hand in the resilience of people whose lives have been destroyed and in the "goodness and generosity" of strangers who donate and pray for the survivors.

READ: How to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan 

That still leaves a tricky question, though: Why do humans suffer, sometimes terribly, in the first place?

There's no good answer, says the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and best-selling author.

"Each person has to come to grips with that," Martin said. "It’s not as if some magic answer can be found. But the idea of God suffering along with us can be very helpful."

Muslims, on the other hand, see stormy trials as tests from God, said Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances.

"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," Syeed said.

Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, whose native country remains in Haiyan's path, said such storms remind us that our lives are impermanent and the importance of treasuring each moment.

"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," Hanh said.

Stephen Prothero, Jessica Ravitz and Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Asia • Atheism • Belief • Bible • Buddhism • Christianity • Death • Ethics • Faith • God • Islam • Judaism • natural disasters • Philippines • Prayer

soundoff (3,827 Responses)
  1. Russ

    “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"
    A great Shadow has departed," said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”

    ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

    November 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      I find it very reassuring that Gandalf is out there and keeping us safe from evil. His words of wisdom fill me with joy. The way he gave Bilbo a chance to shine fills me with hope. It is a message to all people, and I don't think mankind would have morals without that message. I have read many books that talk about Gandalf's magic and how he saved us all and it has to be true because it's in a book.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • Russ

        I find it deeply ironic that you mock literalists.

        November 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  2. Phil

    The Bible doesn’t teach that God is behind the natural disasters we see today. God’s judgments as described in the Bible are quite different from natural disasters.

    1-God is selective. The Bible says: “Man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.”—1 Samuel 16:7.

    2-Jehovah reads the hearts of individuals and destroys only those he deems wicked.—Genesis 18:23-32.

    3-God sends warnings first, thereby giving those who listen to him the opportunity to escape.

    Natural disasters, on the other hand, strike with little or no warning, and they kill and maim indiscriminately. To some extent, mankind has made such disasters worse by damaging the natural environment and by building in areas prone to earthquakes, floods, and extreme weather.!!!

    November 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      infantile slave mind

      November 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
      • peterfrohwein

        God loves you too.

        November 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  3. Lee

    LOL druggies and weak-minded people who think they are "alive" because a sky god from the middle-east, born out of the bronze age, commands it so.
    Y'all are a joke. Go to AA meeting so y'all glorify your life stories with each other and those who still believe in the supernatural aka Jesus.
    People in the Philippines are dead because we are all dying the second we're born. The only way to balance out being alive is death...
    If we're all equally born, we must all equally die.
    Living forever through magic (souls ascending into a higher plane of existence) or through technology (transferring brain into a computer) is baloney.
    If you were born, you must die. And that is simply why people in the Philippines died....that and climate + low education + crappy location.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  4. lifelonghockeyfan

    "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," That sums it up pretty well and the res of the opinion does nothing to contradict it.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  5. The mullet

    What does God have to do with any disaster? I'm sick and tired of people saying stuff like "This was the will of God" NO IT WAS NOT! God (if you believe in him or her to some people) does not wake up in the morning and say "I'm going to kill or punish or make suffer a bunch of people" We do that ourselves. If God exist and he created the vast, vast, vast universe what are we to him? We live on a planet that's alive and we treat it like we treat each other.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
    • niknak

      What does god have to do with scoring a touchdown?
      I am sick and tired of watching football games and everytime someone scores they thank god for it letting them do it.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
  6. Margaret

    The same place god always is during these kinds of tragedies...on vacation.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  7. Phil

    The Bible doesn’t teach that God is behind the natural disasters we see today. God’s judgments as described in the Bible are quite different from natural disasters.

    1-God is selective. The Bible says: “Man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.”—1 Samuel 16:7.

    2-Jehovah reads the hearts of individuals and destroys only those he deems wicked.—Genesis 18:23-32.

    3-God sends warnings first, thereby giving those who listen to him the opportunity to escape.

    Natural disasters, on the other hand, strike with little or no warning, and they kill and maim indiscriminately. To some extent, mankind has made such disasters worse by damaging the natural environment and by building in areas prone to earthquakes, floods, and extreme weather.!!

    November 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Ctrl + C - Ctrl + V

      Nice effort.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • G to the T

      Book of Job – Yahweh most definitely IS in charge of weather.

      November 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
  8. mathews

    An after 1000 years , the Narnians said "Aslan does not exist" "He is a myth" and "Will Aslan rescue us in times of trouble? " "why do we feel so much pain and hurt – surely if Aslan was real he would not let this happen" – The Chronicles of Narnia, The last Battle

    November 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  9. SLB

    Atheist blame the Creature for these disasters...But the fact is that many of the big industry and business men are atheists, and its their fault way the ecosystem of the earth is getting destroyed...What about all the Scientific progress? Not able to defend our planet from these kind of disasters??

    November 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Sorry....the creature? I blame the weather.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Colin

      I honestly think the collective IQ of the planet dipped when you made that post. It is quite possibly the stupidest thing any human being has ever said in any language. One day, I expect it will be in a museum.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'But the fact is that many of the big industry and business men are atheists, and its their fault way the ecosystem of the earth is getting destroyed'

      arent many on the political right that stand against changes to counter the ecosystem being destroyed religious followers?

      November 11, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  10. USER-301

    Where was God? – That was God! People will some day come to understand that God (Energy) is more in favor of the planet than the mere life that exists on it. These people did nothing wrong to call on the storm from God. Things happen and they will happen again and again. We never know the time nor the hour only meaning you must be right in your heart and mind all the time.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  11. Chloe K.

    This article has NO PURPOSE on the MAIN page of CNN. Inappropriate.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Akira

      It generated page views, which generates revenue. Not hard to figure out the motivation.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  12. pat

    Let's look at atheist "logic" for a moment.
    'If God existed, then bad things would not happen. Bad things happen, therefore God does not exist.' <- This is the kind of tripe that you're trying to use to convince people there is no God? This is idiotic logic that words simply have no description for. What intellectual giants you are.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Colin

      I know of no atheist who employs that logic. Try "ther eis no reason to believe in something for which there is no evidence."

      November 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      hey pat, you know revilers, or haters, are barred from heaven right? better change your ways before its too late.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      You have the argument backwards.

      Natural disasters happen. As a believer you claim that nothing happens in the natural world that is not the will God – it is his creation. Therefore you conclude natural disasters are the will of God.

      I conclude that your God must not be very 'nice'.

      I simply say natural disasters happen.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • John

      Agreed, that IS an idiotic argument. Or would be, if anyone used it. I believe it is called 'a stolen argument' to say if A then B, and if B then C, therefore A > C.- when the problem is, A itself is false. I never conceded god exists, let alone the silly presumption that if god did exist then 'bad' things would not happen. Maybe it is the other way around, 'bad' things happen ONLY BECAUSE god exists-and they would not if god did not.

      Here is what you cannot argue with: an intelligent all-powerful being that can choose, does what they DO like to do and not what they DON'T like to do. Therefore any all-powerful being called god must LIKE to wreak havoc on people. Test them with fire, or whatever, or maybe it is just fun, like kids with a magnifying glass and an anthill. Hell, I'D do a better job of not being deliberately and perhaps pointlessly cruel. Go on, Pat, tell us again it is all HIS plan, and beyond us, but because it is HIM it must be good. What if 'bad' l is still just 'bad' instead?

      November 11, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
    • Novice Logician

      Actually, the logic is perfect. If the premise is true, the conclusion must follow. Your problem is with the truth of the premise, that is, the truth the statement that "if God existed, then bad things wouldn't happen."

      I agree with you that this premise is not verifiable, because as you've implied, it assumes that God or gods could not be malicious. However, the Bible depicts God as merciful and compassionate. Therefore, natural catastrophes challenge believers to defend the Bible's depiction of God. Unless believers can come up with a good answer, the existence of catastrophes is evidence against the Bible's version of God, even if it is no evidence against the possibility of a God or gods more generally.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Sure, and Christians think a book named Jesus created the Bible out of seven days, right? This is fun. How about if Christians think nobody made nothing out of a rib, and then it parted the Red C with a flaming sword made of angels hair with a talking snake. How can you expect anyone to believe THAT, eh? So there.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  13. AEvangelista

    The simple perspective is this: Nature first, religion second. Nature was here first and all living creatures are subject to the laws of nature. Religions are created by man, and are therefore flawed. In this life, on this planet, it's nature first, religion second.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • AEvangelista

      By the way, see my eBook on Amazon/Kindle, "Visitations from the Other Side."

      November 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Akira

      Shouldn't that be "An Evangelista"? I'll pass on that book, thanks.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm |
  14. Seen the worst

    We are not here by accident. Evolution does not explain the creation of the first life only the "evolution" of cells. I do not understand everything in the Bible but I know God is real. I asked God to spare me while bleeding out in a firefight in Iraq. No way I should have survivied. God does not spare us from harm or devastation but he does love each of us and welcomes us to serve for his Glory. God's Glory is the only glory we should strive to exploit. Chrisitians and the USA will help lead the recovery in the Far East. Love you God!

    November 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'Seen the worst' is a glaring instance of the Ignoring the Counterevidence fallacy>/b>.

      http://fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      November 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'Seen the worst' is a glaring instance of the Ignoring the Counterevidence fallacy and also contains a form of Argument from Ignorance

      http://fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      November 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      ' I asked God to spare me while bleeding out in a firefight in Iraq.'

      so those that also asked the same thing and died were what? hated by god?

      November 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      " I asked God to spare me while bleeding out in a firefight" And what, a second later you were completely healed and back in the fight? Not mocking you, but I expect medivac and doctors played more of a role in your escape than God. And He just let your friends bleed out and die all around you because they didn't go to the correct church? I guess it proves it to you in an emotional way, but it's not hard evidence.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • seen the worst

      God allowed me to continue my life by his grace and mercy. If he would have not granted my request it would have been fine. I would be with him now instead of talking to people who will not seek the truth. I will pray for you. Ask God for a sign and see what you get. Jesus taught and continues to teach love for all. He loves you despite your unwillingness follow him and to read his word. What is beyond space? Do you really think it is infinite? Prophecies are unfolding.... Check it out.

      November 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
      • G to the T

        "Prophecies are unfolding.... Check it out." Ah. Enough said...

        November 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  15. lol??

    If yer late you might be fined.

    Hbr 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

    November 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      why post a quote from your book?

      Using the words of someone in the same cult as you, who is just as deluded as you, to prove your point is hilarious!

      November 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  16. Colin

    Christianity boils down to believeing that a being pwoerful enough to create the entire Universe and its hundreds of billions of galaxies impregnated a Greco-Roman Jewish virgin with himself, so he could give birth to himself, then sacrifice himself to himself so that he himself would forgive the original sin of a couple we now all know never existed.

    Just HOW do you Christians swallow this utter bullsh.it? I am seriously curious.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Troll Spotter

      Still spewing the hate? Grow up and get a life.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        but how DO you Christians swallow this utter bullsh.it? I am seriously curious too.

        November 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
        • Troll Spotter

          I don't swallow any kind of Sh-t ty.. Why do you make assumptions about other people? All I meant was stop the hate on each other.

          November 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • lol??

      Jhn 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        why post a quote from your book?

        Using the words of someone in the same cult as you, who is just as deluded as you, to prove your point is hilarious!

        November 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
        • lol??

          Smiling at a dog and baring yer teeth can lead to a dog bite.

          November 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
      • Bible Clown©

        "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" I know many people who have believed in God and then died, so apparently not.

        November 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  17. Leroy

    What? Atheists are now blaming God for this tragedy? No surprises there, atheists find themselves helpless and rather useless when it comes to banding together in providing help in times such as this.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Colin

      Leroy you idiot, ATHEIST means no belief in God. Get it. How can a person blame something they don't think exists. This isn't hard stuff.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Huh? I think your reading comprehensions skills are lacking.
      We don't blame something we don't believe in.
      As for helplessness, the Red Cross-which is purely secular was in there as soon as they could be. It doesn't matter who is there helping or able to help, you set aside belief and disbelief at a time like this and do the right thing for your fellow man....if you can manage to help, wonderful, if not there will always be a next time.
      Lets not go picking these battles at this time...it's rather futile and it does the ones in immediate need of human compassion no justice.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'What? Atheists are now blaming God for this tragedy?'

      er seeing as atheists dont believe in god then no, they arent blaming god for this. They are however asking how this fits in with this supposed ever loving god you keep talking about.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "Atheists are now blaming God for this tragedy?" Don't try to think, sonny, you've obviously got a bit of dain bramage going on there.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  18. Leroy Linux

    There is a reason why God would let these things happen. Part of the journey through Life (this life) is being burdened by this nagging question. Even the scientists who play God can't answer it. We have to continue and have faith nonetheless. Bless the survivors of the storm and may they have a speedy recovery and rebuild an even more beautiful city.

    November 11, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • niknak

      Can you show us which scientists play god?
      I have not seen any evidence of any scientist claiming or trying to be god.

      But just like your particular brand of myth, you have no evidence for that either, so I am not holding my breath.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      meteorologists know exactly why storms happen you tool.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      There are scientific reasons for weather patterns like this, just because you failed science and thus gained a horrible hate for anything related to it does not mean you get to plug an imaginary friend in to it.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      " Even the scientists who play God " What show do they play God on? I'd like to watch that.

      November 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  19. Andrew K.

    "This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes."

    November 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  20. Phil

    The Bible doesn’t teach that God is behind the natural disasters we see today. God’s judgments as described in the Bible are quite different from natural disasters.

    1-God is selective. The Bible says: “Man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.”—1 Samuel 16:7.

    2-Jehovah reads the hearts of individuals and destroys only those he deems wicked.—Genesis 18:23-32.

    3-God sends warnings first, thereby giving those who listen to him the opportunity to escape.

    Natural disasters, on the other hand, strike with little or no warning, and they kill and maim indiscriminately. To some extent, mankind has made such disasters worse by damaging the natural environment and by building in areas prone to earthquakes, floods, and extreme weather.!

    November 11, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • niknak

      Hey Phillycheesesteak,
      Phuck god.

      November 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
      • Troll Spotter

        WOW!!!!!! Very mature.

        November 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
      • Phil

        Niknak – Can you be less rude and more intelligent with your postings?

        November 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
        • niknak

          Why?
          You believers come here everyday and post drivel about your god(s) with zero facts to back it up.
          I am tired of making nice with you believers.

          Until you have some verifiable evidence of it's existence, then it does not exist and I am not going to keep up the farce of letting you get away with pushing your myth on us as fact.

          November 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
        • Bible Clown©

          Wait until he starts up with the "all atheists are stooopid" stuff before you flame him.

          November 11, 2013 at 3:18 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.