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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. Nathan

    This quote by Harris is absurd: "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." A fourth and real option is that God cares deeply about us, but lets bad things happen to good people and allows catastrophes to occur because 1) because he doesn't stop us from exercising our agency to choose right or wrong and 2) because his ultimate goal is the immortality and perfecting of man, not the alleviation of all suffering which may actually be necessary for us to experience to fulfill God's purpose. God does not micromanage his children or the world they live in. How the world responds to said suffering is a measure of their souls.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Sam Harris' statement is completely understandable unlike your mumbo jumbo. Please explain how a typhoon that kills thousands of people fits into your two rationalizations for an alleged god that is not simply a vindictive prick, assuming it even exists, which I do not believe is the case.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • Nathan

        I think I answered this in my post if you read it carefully. All I can say is that I can easily see how tragedies like this can occur and there can still be a God who exists and loves us. If you want to know more than that, I suggest you contact a couple missionaries from my church: http://www.mormon.org.

        November 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
        • HotAirAce

          No, you just tossed out some generic non-sensical bullsh!t. How does allowing thousands to die fit with your crap? What choices did the people in the Philippines make and/or how does their suffering fulfill your alleged god's purpose?

          November 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      its a perfectly understandable response nathan when there are those that claim god intervenes in people's lives on a daily basis.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  2. Reality # 2

    Only for the newbies:

    One answer to the "Where Was God" question:

    From a famous contemporary theologian, Father Edward Schilebeckx:

    From his book, Church: The Human Story of God,
    Crossroad, 1993, p.91 (softcover)

    "Christians must give up a perverse, unhealthy and inhuman doctrine of predestination without in so doing making God the great scapegoat of history" .

    "Nothing is determined in advance: in nature there is chance and determinism; in the world of human activity there is possibility of free choices.

    Therefore the historical future is not known even to God; otherwise we and our history would be merely a puppet show in which God holds the strings. For God, too, history is an adventure, an open history for and of men and women."

    Schillebeeckx was responding to the Dutch citizens who were blaming God for the North Sea storms that destroyed a significant number of levees resulting in a significant loss of life and severe storm damage.

    In other words, god is not is omniscient according to Schillebeeckx. In my opinion, considering the following, there is no god.

    Number of god's creations who died horrible deaths from the following diseases:

    1. 300,000,000 approx.
    Smallpox

    2. 200,000,000 ?
    Measles

    3. 100,000,000 approx.
    Black Death

    4. 80,000,000–250,000,000
    Malaria

    5. 50,000,000–100,000,000
    Spanish Flu

    6. 40,000,000–100,000,000
    Plague of Justinian

    7. 40,000,000–100,000,000
    Tuberculosis

    8. 30,000,000[13]
    AIDS pandemic

    9. 12,000,000 ?
    Third Pandemic of Bubonic Plague

    10. 5,000,000
    Antonine Plague

    11. 4,000,000
    Asian Flu

    12. 250,000 or more annually Seasonal influenza

    November 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • lol??

      They all get a new resurrection body.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        As per JP II and Aquinas, your heaven is a spirit state i.e. no resurrected bodies possible to include that of the magic man Jesus.

        November 11, 2013 at 11:03 pm |
    • Alias

      Maybe if you add old age/natural causes to this list you will see the error in your thinking.
      I doubt it, but maybe.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        A merciful god would not permit disease, pain and suffering and said god's natural deaths would come peacefully in your sleep.

        November 12, 2013 at 8:23 am |
  3. jocelynsophia

    Of course God is Alive and Knows all about this. If people are patient, and ask God for help, God helps. Many times I was in a hard situation, and God always helped me. Sometimes we are tested. Those who stay firm in believing in God, and asking for God's help, will always be happy and they will find the comfort they seek.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      So all the people who undoubtably pleaded for god's help in the middle of the storm will eventually get it...they just need to be patient. And the one's that died or had loved ones that died the answer was "no".

      Wow

      November 11, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • Answer

      The storm front was known days before it landed.

      Why didn't more of you believers go and fly out there to meet your maker? It was from your god wanting you to rejoin him in his kingdom.. why didn't you go?

      Give yourself the excuses of why you didn't want to join with your god today.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
      • lol??

        Ye are gods.

        November 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      ' If people are patient, and ask God for help, God helps.'

      is that before or after their children were drowning and being smashed to pieces by the storm?

      November 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Answer

      @cedar

      It's always "after."

      Then the religious people can give us the same ole excuses they have burnt into their psyche.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  4. Charm Quark

    Topher
    If you were honest and you are not you would admit that no amount evidence would ever let you say anything other than "god did it". This is and always will be your conclusion until you escape the delusion.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  5. GT

    The notion that God floats around the universe, dispensing pain and suffering and / or ignoring pain and suffering as a means to some greater end, or to teach mankind a lesson, is nauseating and ignorant.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  6. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    4 options

    God exists but does not have the power to stop typhoons and is therefore impotent in the matter.

    God exists but refuses to intervene to stop suffering and is therefore complicit in the matter.

    God exists and made the typhoon do exactly what it did and is therefore a jerk.

    God does not exist.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • John

      5th option: God does exist. He did not promise us a comfortable life. He did not promise an eazy life. But, He did promise us an everlasting life. Clearly more should have been done to evacuate people from the area of impact.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        That is covered in option 2 John.

        "God exists but refuses to intervene to stop suffering and is therefore complicit in the matter."

        November 11, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  7. Verdad

    I don't understand why would someone that doesn’t believe in God would propose a question where was God in the midst of a disaster? Daniel, I smell a Columbian Graduate! I wonder what reaction you would have if God did look into your eyes. Would you be petrified or would you poke him in the eye like a bratty kid? I think you would poke in the eye like a bratty kid. Since I believe in God, just a fair warning I wouldn't be testing him. His hand of grace may be lifted from you; and you’ll be totally exposed ailments of this fallen world. But on the other hand my words don't have weight if you don't believe in God. I guess my comment is just an FYI. I will be praying for ya hoping that you'll someday see God eye to eye with a breaking smile, "oops sorry God for what I wrote and said", please forgive me.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
    • Answer

      It's simple: we, atheists, ask you religious people these questions because we want you to understand your mind.

      The mind that you have that denies reality. Denying facts.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
      • N

        Denying facts? Sorry, but disproving God is a fact that logically cannot be.

        November 11, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
        • Answer

          Well then let's have the fervent believers apply their favorites with modal logic.

          They've convinced themselves that modal logic works for them.

          November 11, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
        • In Santa we trust

          As you cannot disprove Zeus by your logic he exists, right?

          November 11, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
        • Redeemed

          Agreed!

          November 11, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • cedar rapids

      'I don't understand why would someone that doesn’t believe in God would propose a question where was God in the midst of a disaster? '

      because it contradicts the believers claim of some all loving deity.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
    • Akira

      Why do you think Mr. Burke doesn't believe in God?

      These kinds of articles crop after very natural disaster. They're a staple of the BB.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Have you considered that instead of us being "bratty kids" that maybe he is an abusive parent?

      November 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
      • I wonder

        Yes, and a trickster one too, who hides in the attic for the child's entire lifetime, but has scattered a few puzzle pieces all across the county with clues about where he is and what his demands are. If the poor kid puts some of them together and thinks it's a picture of Wal-Mart instead the attic, well, he throws that kid in the barbecue for eternity!

        November 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Ted

      Prayers have never, ever had a demonstrable effect on anything, and your god seems utterly unable to show his "eyes", nor do any action at all, in the modern world in any way whatsoever.

      You must enjoy wasting time, Verdad, and you must be very weak and stupid to sustain such delusions as you hold on to, in the face of so much countering evidence, including events such as the presently discussed disaster.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • Answer

      When you constantly pull up excuses to explain your god; the more lies you have to make up to shore up your delusion.

      Explain it to yourself of how you can justify that a storm was sent that part of the world to specifically kill a group of people. Explain it to yourself how you can justify that a god was behind the event. And if it was; then justify the monster that you believe in for sending it. Explain it to yourself then the justification behind why that same god can not protect it's followers.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      No verdad, because the religious claim that their god(s) are omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient and that clearly is not true especially when a disaster strikes, as a god with those attributes would surely have been able to prevent the typhoon or prevent injury.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  8. Athena Saints

    God has something to do with typhoon Haiyan; but human suffering from the typhoon, god has almost no involvement in it. Philippines' situation is simple: corrupt government, bad public policies, bad working culture; therefore, poverty, no money to build strong houses, gigantic typhoon comes, human die. If you ask God why so many die due to Haiyan? God most likely will give you the same answer.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Observer

      Athena Saints,

      So God took no mercy on their incredible poverty and let them be wiped out.

      How loving of him.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
      • Redeemed

        Rather, in His great mercy, I'm sure God gave each and every one of those victims the chance to choose eternal life through His Son Jesus.

        This is a fallen, finite world. God is the One who has rescued us from its effects. He's the reason for every good thing, and thankfully, in spite of that terrible storm there are still good things to come in the affected region.

        November 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
        • sam stone

          why do you feel we live in a fallen world?

          because iron age mythology told you so?

          tell us how free will jibes with the concept of an omniscient god

          November 11, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
        • Rusty Yates

          If anyone talks to Jesus or God tell them I want to kick them into next week, for the hurricane, for letting out their houses to pedophiles, for their torture plans. You tell'em I am looking for them.

          November 11, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
    • Akira

      So what did God have to do with the typhoon? What do you think His role was?

      November 11, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Ummm. . . Your god is not talking, at least not to any sane people.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  9. formidable Foe

    The Lord is angry because His house is beset with intruders.

    Tie your soul to the anchor of the cross, you are not to forget Christ died so you can start anew. Repent and return to the Lord your God. He forgives and forgets.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  10. Knudlr

    It is a real pity that we have religion and something called a GOD!!! So much distruction and killing has been done in the name of GOD and religion and that is what it's for. The leaders cant get you to kill and distroy for them but for some so called higher being you will do what the earthling leaders say the outerspace leader wants you to do. One other thing is that 80% of the people WANT to be lead by the 20% cause they have no clue!!!! and need someone or something to tell the what is real or some kind of answer to a stupid question "what is life about"

    November 11, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  11. camd

    As an atheist since 1950 I do not believe that "storms like Haiyan are proof that God doesn't exist." It is unnecessary to prove that god or anything else doesn't exist. No one has ever asked me for my proof that pink flying elephants do not exist. They, and I, would believe in them if we saw evidence of them, but until that time we assume they do not exist. Same with god.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Pink Flying Elephants do exist! I have flown one multiple times. Of course, it was man-made, mostly from nylon, and relied on hot air from a propane burner, but it was real. Unlike any alleged god.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  12. eric

    God was in your head, where most imaginary figures exist....

    So 2000 more years of silly questions before people wise up?

    November 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
  13. Candace Clough

    56% equals "most Americans",,, what? Is it because you are writing a religious blog, you think you can just say anything and people won't question it?

    November 11, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  14. Godless

    God was where he was supposed to be.. inside the minds of millions of weak minded theists.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  15. Apple Bush

    We are circumvented
    Invented
    Lost then found then lost
    Loud but silent

    November 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Charm Quark

      AB
      You should have sent that to the Grateful Dead, did you?

      November 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
      • Charm Quark

        AB
        Knockin' on Heaven's Door

        November 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        Hey CQ, what is up? Just doing a little poetifyin'

        November 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
  16. Rahul

    I have the answers to all the questions, everyone of them. Most of these issues come from the fact that we interpret religion to be the word of God. Will make a detailed post later, gotto run for now.

    November 11, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Now you tell us. Thanks Rahul.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  17. Drew

    Ask Billy Grahim.

    November 11, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  18. Believer 12

    It's simple, it's a sign of the last days, right!

    November 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Grigory

      Take a look in the mirror, you will see a idiot!!!

      November 11, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • patilla10

      It's actually a sign that we have destroyed what God created – a complete symbiotic planet with each element depending on the other. The Brazilian rainforests, for example, (the "lungs of the earth") have been decimated for commercialism and our vain desires. Long ago, this began to become evident with natural calamities. Other weather aberrations and extremes are further evidence of how we've tampered with what God created perfectly. The vanity of many does not believe in climate change and will not work to correct or mitigate what we've destructed, so you can expect to see further climactic horrors. The oceans are dying because they're warmer, because of radiation, because of sonar, and because of toxins released into them. Jellyfish are taking over because of over-fishing. The whole planet is out of whack.

      November 11, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  19. ala-kat

    You have no true understanding of God if you have to ask this question.

    November 11, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Tell us what you have proved about god. Thanks!

      November 11, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • Madtown

      No one has true understanding of God.

      November 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
      • Godless

        Obviously religinuts do.. otherwise there would be NO God. lol

        November 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Please tell me what your name means! When I read it I imagine a guy in Boston selling pizza by the slice.

      November 11, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
      • Akira

        I love that username. Always have.

        November 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Hey Akira, hope all is well.

          November 11, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  20. TYRANNASAUR

    Where was God in the Philippines?

    Philippines??????

    Are you kidding?????

    He was SUNNING on the French Riviera......he's not stupid....duh!

    November 11, 2013 at 4:46 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.