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. IDGAF

    no where

    November 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  2. dave

    i know these are legitimate theological questions, but don't people get bored? after every earthquake/typhoon/storm/flood, etc CNN puts up a "where is God" article on it's front page with more or less the same content. maybe we can focus on how to help those affected by the disaster first and worry about theological questions later?

    November 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Yup. The message of all religions is to help your fellow man-kind. People who believe in God want to log on to the internet and argue that he is there, while all the while ignoring the message. They should be helping their fellow man-kind.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  3. Atheist Forever

    It's a good thing there is no such thing as "god". If there was such an evil creature, I wouldn't bow down to him if I ever met him. Can't believe that any creature would allow things like this to happen, even though he has the power to stop it. According to christians, there is a reason for this, but it's beyond our meager understanding....just trust in the invisible spirit they tell us. What a great track record we have in doing that huh? Prayer works? Really?

    November 12, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Khan

      Prayers work but you must be in tune with God. You cannot justify this Universe and everthing in it without God. Einstein's theory has proved that time began and before was eternity. This is exactly what God says in the Bible more than 3000 years ago. Reason for calamities is allow all possiblities so that one beliefs without knowing God's existence. If one knows Gods existence than why should humans have a free will and wisdom? The requirements here is to use your free will and wisdom to recognize God's existence and walk towards Him with awe and williingness and not because of any enticements (miracles, etc.) or coercion (use of force to convince). This Universe cannot come into existence without an Almighty Creator – God

      November 21, 2013 at 9:36 am |
  4. Maria Septonen-Franklin

    fred, where were you when your god was handing out reasoning ability, and why does your god need you to bend over and stand wide for him and keep trying to sell others on him?

    November 12, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Atheist Forever

      You see, Christians don't need reasoning, logic, or intellect. They have their imaginary / invisible spirit that makes it all OK in the end....for THEM.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
      • lol??

        occurs 71 times in 69 verses in the KJV

        November 12, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
        • Chris Sadler

          Is that before or after the talking snake?

          November 12, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
        • facepalm

          you're a moron

          November 12, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
      • Khan

        In Bible God provides reasons quite clearly however does not force on anybody to believe. Humans have free will and wisdom to understand these reasons. Some do some dont. Some will be in heaven and some will not.

        November 22, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  5. Don

    One simple method of remembering the word "theodicy": the combination of "theology" and "idiocy."

    November 12, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  6. sirhuxley

    Ok, I'm here to help!

    Where was god?

    You might as well ask, where was Mickey Mouse!

    The two are about the same. Mickey Mouse is an invented character that was designed to make us feel good, and so was "god".

    Now, I know all too well that people don't like to hear the facts of life, but that has no effect on the facts either.

    This is really simple, see? You are born mortal and you die mortal, there is no heaven but what you make of it here on earth.

    Enjoy your moment in the Sun!

    November 12, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  7. zagzaggy

    Here's a list of ways god suggests we kill children (with Bible references):

    Mathew 18:6 Tie stones round their necks and drown them
    Lamentations 2:20 Mothers should eat daughters
    Ezekiel 5:10 Fathers should eat sons
    Genesis 19:24, Leviticus 10:3 Set fire to them
    Exodus 12:29 Just smite them all dead
    Deuteronomy 21:21 Stone them to death
    Joshua 10:36 Use a sword
    Nahum 3:10 Smash them in the streets
    Matthew 19:29 Just abandon them
    Revelations 2:23 Just kill them with "death"
    Deuteronomy 32:24 Poison them

    What a swell guy this "god" is. And then he kills untold thousands in the Phillipines. Oh… and don't forget how he gave us leukemia…. And a little worm in Africa that burrows its way into the eyeballs of children and renders them blind.

    And you religious people really want to worship this monster?

    November 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • Bone


      November 12, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
  8. Bone

    God is dead

    November 12, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  9. bostontola

    When man created the Abrahamic God he knew nothing of solar systems, galaxies, microbes, electromagnetics, information theory, quantum mechanics, etc. It's curious how none of those things are mentioned in the bible, obviously that God would have fully known about all of them and more. This God would also have known that slavery would be abolished, women would become regarded as having equal status to men, etc.

    Instead, the bible says bats are birds, the earth was created before the stars. The bible sets the rules for slavery, the bible declares women subservient to man.

    The only reasonable conclusion is; If there is a God, it's not the Abrahamic/Christian God.

    November 12, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
  10. Terri Christiansen-Morgan

    I once asked Spirit why tragedies happen. Where is God in all of that? I didnt like the answer I received, but it was true. The answer I got was; "Because people respond to tragedy." I wasnt quite sure I understood that and I saw in my mind how when there is an earthquake, a tornado, what have you... People reach out and help each other. People look into each others eyes and have compassion, understanding, love. Things normally absent from everyday life. So my next question of course was when will the tragedies stop? And the answer was "When people no longer need tragedies to feel love and compassion for each other."

    November 12, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Well Duh

      Yes, nothing better than killing people to teach people to love and be compassionate.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      And did God reply via your internet connection or are you just insane?

      November 12, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • sly

      Yes, once there is universal love between all the species, and the lions are dancing and singing with antelope, then all disasters will stop.

      In fact, all weather will stop. It will no longer rain, cause that can cause accidents. There will be no sun, since that can cause death.

      In fact, everything will stop. Except the lions and antelopes, who will dance and sing all night and hump a lot.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • a reasonable atheist

        Have you ever seen an antelon fawtten? they're the cutest!

        November 12, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
    • Pete

      "Things normally absent from everyday life. So my next question of course was when will the tragedies stop? And the answer was "When people no longer need tragedies to feel love and compassion for each other.""

      Wow the negativity that comes from religious people about others in this world is pathetic. Do yourself a favro and STOP watching so much TV and actually get involved in your communities. You would realize you don't need diasters to find love and compassion for others. Wow you are one sick person.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • MoxRox

      "True" as in, you would like to believe it. However, there is no "truth" in it at all.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Wow...What color is the sky in your world?

      November 12, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • Hoss

      What does people's love for one another have to do with differential air pressure?
      If you want to understand reality better, then you're going to need a better book.

      November 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • You could teach poodles to write better articles than that

      The blog editors phoned in another formula non-story. "Where was God when (fill in the blank)." Guaranteed comment-churner, and doesn't require any effort.

      I guess editing the Belief Blog gives the janitors something to do when they finish cleaning the bathrooms and have some time left. You sure don't need and Edward R. Murrow here.

      November 12, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  11. Vic

    Um, since the commenters digressed, where do we all and the universe come from?!

    November 12, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • sly

      From between your mothers legs. That is where humans come come, and many other animals.

      Why would you spend time dwelling on stuff like this? Study science – there are excellant works about reproduction, evolution, etc... produced by among the most intelligent people on earth – scientists.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
      • Vic

        Oh really?! Hmm, and where did ⚤ come from?!

        November 12, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
        • Vic


          November 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
        • sly

          Over 150 million years, life developed, adapted, mutated, transformed, and those little appendenges developed.

          A guy named Darwin was also a scientist, and his studies are pretty thorough, such that all the scientists in the world agree with his work.

          I haven't read that many figures about how many sheep-herders or farmers have read his books, and frankly, I'd be surprised if many people with lesser education could follow more than a page or two, as they do require moderate intelligence.

          November 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
        • Vic

          Obviously, you are not aware that the "Evolution of Species," Darwin's work, does not explain male and female, to this day!

          November 12, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
        • sly

          Yeah, I learned all about that in science class in high school. Cells develop 'male' and 'female' in order to reproduce and survice – rather basic form of evolution.

          Really fascinating stuff the types of mutations that occur during evolution.

          November 12, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
        • Vic

          Well, I am not here all the time but you seem novice on the topic of the Origin of life and matter!

          November 12, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
        • Khan

          Also from between the legs but from the back side

          December 2, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      That is the God-of-the-Gaps argument. And thats fine if you want to go that way, but you should know, your God is relegated to an ever decreasing pocket of scientific ignorance.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
      • lol??

        Economic science has made a black hole in the pockets, alright.

        November 12, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • ME II

      Currently, we don't know.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • Stone

      It's okay to admit to yourself that no one knows...

      November 12, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule


      November 12, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
    • Charm Quark

      Figure it out for yourself Vic, then get back to us, but if you are too lazy the answer is , no one is sure yet, we only have theories.

      November 12, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
      • Vic

        Our existence and the universe we are in are clear signs of God.

        November 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          "Our existence and the universe we are in are clear signs of God"

          Our existence and the universe we are in are clear signs that we are in the matrix.

          Our existence and the universe we are in are clear signs that the force is strong

          Our existence and the universe we are in are clear signs of the man behind the curtain

          Our existence and the universe we are in are clear signs that we are in the dust at the end of the flower being held iun the trunk of an elephant named Horton.

          ALL just as valid as your statement

          November 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  12. Chris

    Ohh here we go again. Another article that pretends god is real. If you really think he loves us and is there...he wouldn't allow stuff like this. If I had the power I would stop all bad things from happening....am I more moral than your god?

    November 12, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      You are more than any god. Nay, you are more than ALL gods!

      November 12, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • BoFo

      Unfortunately, Chris, your comment proves that you are so stupid that you wouldn't recognize God if he jumped up and bit you on the leg.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:50 pm |
      • The Jackdaw

        If God has to jump UP to bite my leg, I have had a very wrong idea of what he is....

        November 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • HotAirAce

        Please educate us on how to recognize a god.

        November 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  13. The Jackdaw

    Where was God? He was busy not existing.

    November 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  14. sly

    Dumb question.

    God is a belief, a person's personal opinion.

    Opinions do not display. They are not seen. They only exist in someone's mind.

    Now, back to the real world. Typhoons are not opinons.

    November 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  15. Lou

    Here we go again with this....

    November 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
  16. Atheist Forever

    Where is "god" indeed...

    This is what happens when you put your faith in mythology, imaginary / invisible spirits, sky fairies, etc....you get NOTHING...because they don't exist.

    November 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • lol??

      Give us some doctrines from the man made gods. What did they day about typhoons??

      November 12, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
    • Khan

      There is lot of man made mythology & distortion out there. However, this does mean that we should not have the ability to seek out the ' needle from the hay '. This is why we have wisdom & free will to seek out the truth. It is impossible to justify the Universe & everything in it based on athiestic views – but an Almighty Creator can. This Almighty Creator has left many signs which allow His recognition using intelligence. There is no other alternative out there – athiesism is a folly which has been practised by humans from day 1 without leading anywhere.

      November 21, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Khan

      All of you Athiests who see negative things happening in the world and link this to Gods non-existence should see the world in more depth. If God had created a perfect system in this world than there would not have been a need for Heaven & Hell & also this would have allowed having a proof of God. This is not this world & our purpose is all about. We can go through many trials & tribulations in this life as this is only a test. Some carry out this test BLINDLY & some can see the signs of Almighty Creator all around. The problem comes from Christian definition of god as a father son .... Real God is only the Creator – only ONE.

      November 22, 2013 at 9:12 am |
  17. lol??

    The naturalist position is visible nature screams out for evolution.

    The Christian position is 180 out of phase with this.

    "Rom 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:"

    November 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Well Duh

      Look! Stuff! Proof of God!

      November 12, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  18. hitman

    Where was the government who had ample warning?

    November 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • John Sharp

      They really don't have the resources to do much of anything about it.

      November 12, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
      • sly

        John, I'm not sure about that. It is possible for government to halt 250 mph winds.

        Just ask the TeaBillies – they were pretty unaminous in their belief that President Obama caused hurricane Sandy to get reelected. So if our good President was able to divert a tropical storm 800 miles for political gain, why couldn't the Philipine government simply reroute the typhoon elsewhere?

        November 12, 2013 at 3:55 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.