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. lol??

    The wurld claims it wants justice. Wanting power is more like it. Pick up a newspaper.

    November 19, 2013 at 6:57 am |
    • midwest rail

      Please cite any story where the "wurld" claims it wants anything.

      November 19, 2013 at 7:25 am |
      • lol??


        November 19, 2013 at 7:54 am |
      • midwest rail

        A president asks Congress for a declaration of war, and in lol?? world, that translates to the whole "wurld". Yep, reading comprehension issues o go along with the clinical insanity.

        November 19, 2013 at 7:57 am |
        • lol??

          They voted on the assumption the wurld wants democracy. What don't YOU understand?? It was called a world war by historians. You go ahead and fight THEM! Leave me out of your stalking sites.

          November 19, 2013 at 8:05 am |
    • midwest rail

      I'm going to work now, so someone can pay for the social programs you regularly condemn, but probably enjoy the fruits of. Enjoy boiling in the hate-stew that comprises lol??-wurld while the rest of us deal with reality.

      November 19, 2013 at 8:01 am |
  2. proof

    U think every time u find something u believe is so uniquely proof that god isn't, u win the clever award. Problem. U r so stupid, ur not clever at all. Just poorly educated! Grow up toots

    November 19, 2013 at 6:31 am |
    • Now that's just stupid...

      unless you are talking about yourself.

      November 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  3. proof

    U think every time u find something u believe is so uniquely proof that god isn't, u win the clever award. Problem. U r so stupid, ur not clever at all. Just poorly educated.

    November 19, 2013 at 6:31 am |
  4. deasney

    that was natural disaster , and we see many times what happend with natural desasters in the world we can not control
    that part.... ... but maby we can hallp to these peopel at many wayes or we can hallp to african peopel but ....
    nowbody care of tham in the world or india peopel ... and that we can not say natural disaster.....

    November 19, 2013 at 3:26 am |
  5. A. Reasoner

    It's so American to sell a god who is always all loving and not mention the carnage. People don't want to financially support a horrible god. Small wonder the flocks blame global warming for the devastation, rather than a capricious god who drowns little children or gleefully watches them die prolonged agonizing cancer deaths to "teach them a valuable lesson." The good news is that it's all BS. The bad news is the religiously impaired continue to believe it.

    November 18, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • corridorwatcher

      That would be better "rationally impaired", as that would be a requirement of being religious.

      November 18, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • Shannon Byrd

      Your words are inflammatory and do little for the situation. From your post I gather you are some sort of a naturalist, but on what basis do you conclude that these storms are immoral or evil as you posit? Naturalism has no basis for objective moral values and duties, so in essence, your post is self refuting. I believe in God, and not just any god, but the God of the Bible. I also believe in free will of individuals and this can cause evil in the world, unlike naturalism which posits no free will as everything is causally determined in biology and other root causes. You see without God there is no human volition, without human volition, there is no such thing as evil, therefore without God is the source of good, and humanity is the source of evil. Through God we can all have redemption and everlasting life (John 3:16; Romans 3:23; 10:9,10).

      November 18, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
    • Shannon Byrd

      Your words are inflammatory. From the post it seems you are some sort of naturalist, but on what basis does naturalism call a natural act evil? Given naturalism evil does not exist. However, the source for objective moral values and duties lies in God. This isn't to say those in disbelief are immoral, just that they have no basis to determine anything good or evil; given naturalism one could likely conclude that this was a natural occurrence. Observe the following syllogism: 1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. 2) Objective moral values and duties do exist. 3) therefore, God exists. Given this argument and your previous concession that objective moral values do exist, you are left with the conclusion that God exists.

      November 18, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
      • Observer

        Shannon Byrd,

        "Observe the following syllogism: 1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist."

        Wrong. How do you explain Christians disagreeing with the "morals" of the Bible that include slavery and discrimination against women, gays, and the handicapped? Where did those morals come from?

        November 19, 2013 at 12:02 am |
        • proof


          U r such a baby. God don't force his kids to see everything the same. Some things, like the divivinty of Jesus, r essential.

          November 19, 2013 at 6:26 am |
        • proof

          Since no athie had the courage, I'll tell u y. They r idiots who use anything to avoid truth.

          November 19, 2013 at 6:34 am |
        • Now that's just stupid...


          November 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  6. Just the Facts Ma'am...

    I think the question most Christians had to ask themselves first was "Where are the Philippines?". I doubt any more than a 3rd could point it out on a globe...

    November 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • GE

      Yes, most of them don't even know how a light bulb works, but they know so much about the mind of "God"!

      November 18, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • Atheist

        We are soooooo much better than them Christians.

        November 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
        • Christian

          Youuu are soooo right.

          November 18, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • Shannon Byrd

      I know exactly where that nation is, I also know which language they speak and why, do you?

      November 18, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
      • doobzz

        So you passed the third grade. Bully for you.

        November 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  7. Universe

    Quran says (Islamic Scripture)

    “The example of Jesus, as far as GOD is concerned, is the same as that of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him, "Be," and he was.” Quran [3:59]

    “It does not befit God that He begets a son, be He glorified. To have anything done, He simply says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.” [19:35]

    “No soul can carry the sins of another soul. If a soul that is loaded with sins implores another to bear part of its load, no other soul can carry any part of it, even if they were related. ... [35:18]

    “They even attribute to Him sons and daughters, without any knowledge. Be He glorified. He is the Most High, far above their claims.” Quran [6:100]

    “Recall that your Lord said to the angels, "I am placing a representative on Earth." They said, "Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?" He said, "I know what you do not know." [2:30]

    “They say , "We live only this life; we will not be resurrected. If you could only see them when they stand before their Lord! He would say, "Is this not the truth?" They would say, "Yes, by our Lord." He would say, "You have incurred the retribution by your disbelief." [6:30]

    “We have honored the children of Adam, and provided them with rides on land and in the sea. We provided for them good provisions, and we gave them greater advantages than many of our creatures.” Quran [17:70]

    “O children of Adam, when messengers come to you from among you, and recite My revelations to you, those who take heed and lead a righteous life, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” Quran [7:35]

    “O children of Adam, do not let the devil dupe you as he did when he caused the eviction of your parents from Paradise, and the removal of their garments to expose their bodies. He and his tribe see you, while you do not see them. We appoint the devils as companions of those who do not believe.” Quran [7:27]

    “Losers indeed are those who disbelieve in meeting God, until the Hour comes to them suddenly, then say, "We deeply regret wasting our lives in this world." They will carry loads of their sins on their backs; what a miserable load! [6:31]

    Thanks for taking time to read my post. Please take a moment to visit whyIslam org website.

    November 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  8. tony

    Churches only exist becuase there is no god,. Real gods wouldn't need them. Even cell phones work better than prayer.

    November 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  9. urnotathinkerareu

    Atheists DO NOT need proff of the existence of god. They are not claiming gods existence. Creationists are. The burden of proof lies with those who make the claim that something exists. Who can claim something doesn't exist??? I claim there is NO Mickey Mouse.....oh but wait...if I go to Disney World...there he is! Atheists claim there is no god...dang....they have looked everywhere and find no evidence and dispute the criteria for a creationist because it does not apply the one method that proves something exists or not. Creationists have 2 sets of criteria...one for them which requires NO evidence and one for Atheists which requires and demands evidence...double standard? Anything that can be claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    November 18, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Shannon Byrd

      Actually the burden of proof lies more heavily on the Athiest side. You see there are good arguments for the existence of God. The Kalam Cosmological argument, Moral Argument, Design Argument, Argument from Fine Tuning and such. However, there is no good argument for Atheism. Observe the following syllogism (argument) 1) Atheism is a universal negative, 2) no one can prove a universal negative, and 3) therefore Atheism is false. As any good Criminologist would tell you lack of evidence does not mean evidence for lack. There are more good arguments for God than against God.

      November 18, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
      • Dandintac

        Shannon–those are actually TERRIBLE arguments. Please consider the sweeping claims that are made by theists. "God is all powerful. God is all-good. God is all-knowing." And then often further claims, he is all merciful, he is everywhere. It is claimed he listens to and answers prayers. He is this, he is that. He knows this. He would never do that. It is his nature to be ______. It goes on and on and on. These are massive sweeping claims of knowledge. And not a shred of hard evidence that can ever be verified! We are left with arguments from ignorance, special pleading.

        Atheists claim only ONE THING–that we do not believe your God claims.

        Proving God doesn't exist is like being asked to kick a field goal, and you walk onto the field to find that there are no goal posts. In spite of this, there is compelling evidence that there is no all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God, and the Bible is unreliable as a source of information about reality.

        November 19, 2013 at 1:49 am |
        • Shannon Byrd

          Could you cite some of this evidence proving the non-existence of God?

          November 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  10. Robert

    Atheists often ask 'Where was God?' when there are major tragic events where people suffer. BUT they don't ask this question when they sin. Why isn't God punishing this world which is in a far worst state than Sodom and Gomorrah?

    November 18, 2013 at 5:30 am |
    • sam stone

      atheists do not ask the wherebouts of any being in which they do not believe

      sin is a man made concept

      try to keep up

      November 18, 2013 at 6:23 am |
      • Robert

        So why do atheists give God a bad name every time a catastrophe happen? Just read Sam Harris' comments on this article and you know what I mean? God is love, Sam Without a doubt, He loves you even if you insist that God does not exist. The fact that many around the world are helping the Philippines proves that God exists because of their love and compassion. But He is also a God of justice and righteousness. Therefore, He must carry out His judgements through calamities. God bless you!

        November 18, 2013 at 8:13 am |
        • JC

          Yes. Nothing says love like flattening your home, killing your family, and destroying your livelihood. If god exists, he/she is an evil, capricious, vengeful monster who deserves nothing from us.

          November 18, 2013 at 11:36 am |
        • tony

          Because if your god created this world, then he knows how to and can cause or stop all those tragic events and suffering (on a biblical scale even)

          November 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
        • EnjaySea

          "So why do atheists give God a bad name every time a catastrophe happen?"

          We're not giving "god" a bad name, because we don't believe in god. We're giving your belief in a god, a bad name.

          In other words, "if your god existed, then why didn't he help? - maybe because he doesn't exist", is not the same thing as "we're really annoyed with your god. Where was he for Pete's sake?" Do you see the difference?

          Do you see the difference.

          November 18, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
        • EnjaySea

          Subtract one "do you see the difference?" from my last post, and we're golden.

          November 18, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
        • ME II


          It bears repeating.

          November 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
        • Dandintac

          "So why do atheists give God a bad name every time a catastrophe happen?"
          Robert, they do this to point out that an "all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing" God is inconsistent with the universe as we observe it. Tragic events like this do not make sense if such a being is watching, cares about us, is all-powerful, etc. This sort of tragedy makes sense only if we understand that the universe is indifferent to us, and that there is no all-powerful all-good being listening and answering prayers.

          November 19, 2013 at 1:55 am |
      • tom

        God is love.Storms are a natural occurance of weather patterns . I hope someday all of us can know how much God loves us.One thing i am very proud of catholic charities is already there helping survivors,the largest charitable organization in the world.So please for now lets help those who need us most.Give a donation when you can thru any organization you are comfortable with

        November 18, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
      • Shannon Byrd

        If sin (evil) is a "man made" concept then what basis do you assert this as an evil action?

        November 19, 2013 at 12:00 am |

        • You did say that evil is man-made. People can apply the word (and concept) to whatever seems appropriate.

          November 21, 2013 at 12:05 am |
    • corridorwatcher

      Where was god when Lot sin, getting so drunk he had s-ex with his two compliant daughters?

      November 18, 2013 at 9:56 am |
      • lol??

        In americult those two women would be charged with r*ape and using alcohol to drug him. The children would be born in jail, reared by the state, and turned into gud little socialists through education, thankful to the fadder in washington. All would live happily ever after.

        November 19, 2013 at 6:46 am |
        • midwest rail

          Delusional idiocy.

          November 19, 2013 at 7:51 am |
        • lol??

          To M rail,
          Stalking is socially acceptable to the socies. Even the NSA does it. Y'all must have went to the same Frankfurt School for your indoctrination.

          November 19, 2013 at 8:30 am |
        • fyi

          *"must have went"... ?

          You are an imbecile.

          November 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
        • lol??

          Trips yer register, fyi?? FWIW, it's suitable.

          November 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Robert. Atheists do not sin. Sin is a construct of your religion, based on a belief in a deity, which athesist do not have.

      That is not to say that atheists don't commit crime or do bad things, it is just not sin, so no atheist worries about god when they sin, because they do not sin.

      November 18, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Robert

      I'm going to Hell for an eternity because your loving GAWD says I am. I once ate a Bologna sandwich on Friday, on purpose. I must be punished!

      November 18, 2013 at 10:59 am |
      • doobzz

        I ate some chives out of the garden and then went to Holy Communion without fasting, so I'll see you there.

        November 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • doobzz

      Actually, the question of god's whereabouts was posed by Daniel Burke, the author, who is not an atheist. Atheists wouldn't ask where Ehecatl was, where Thor was, or where Eurus was either.

      November 18, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
      • Myabe

        He is a 7th day guy authored this piece below.
        As they turn 150, Adventists still praying for the Apocalypse


        November 19, 2013 at 7:49 am |
  11. JimK57

    I will settle this now. God does not interfere because in the big scheme of things, what happens here is no big deal.

    November 16, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • JimK58

      (and "god" is fictional 🙂

      November 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Alias

      Exactly right.
      If you believe the bible.

      November 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • ME II

      Just curious, but if it's no big deal then why is it pretty much the only thing covered in the Bible?

      November 18, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  12. sweattshop

    Still? This isn't already apparent that if a benevolent 'god' is involved he is a sadist as a cereal killer, with a much higher proficiency for killing than Pol Pot? A QUESTION OF GOD: http://the-democratic-republican.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-question-of-god.html

    November 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • urnotathinkerareu

      Those that don't believe in god also don't believe it was an "accident" as your website states. The big bang was a natural event. A natural progression from the Big Bang forward. This is far different than an accident. Then Evolution by natural selection and adaptation.Change is constant as is the Universe. Gravity is not an accident. It has been explained and in time many more things will be discovered as to why? I would love to believe we have a saviour but none of it makes REAL sense after years of study on both science and creationism. If I could be convinced with evidence then I would gladly accept. Theistic thepries are very flimsy at this time.

      November 16, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
    • doobzz

      "This isn't already apparent that if a benevolent 'god' is involved he is a sadist as a cereal killer,"

      God gave me Count Choculitis.

      November 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
    • lol??

      Watch out for that general named mills.

      November 25, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
  13. lunchbreaker

    If we were to look backwards into the past, the further back we go, a higher percent of natural phenomena are attribited to some supernatural cause. As time goes forward, we discover a natural cause. So for every item that thiests have claimed is caused by God or Satan, as those are proven to be natural, that means the original positing thiest was proven wrong.

    November 16, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  14. alkihawksfan

    "But what if God doesn't act? What if God doesn't do things at all? What if God is in things? The loving soul of the universe. An in-dwelling compassionate presence, underpinning and sustaining all things. What if God is in things? In the infinitely complex network of relationships and connections that make up life. In the natural cycle of life and death, the creation and destruction that must happen continuously. In the process of evolution. In the incredible intricacy and magnificence of the natural world. In the collective unconscious, the soul of the human race. In you, in me, mind and body and spirit. In the tsunami, in the victims. In the depth of things. In presence and in absence. In simplicity and complexity. In change and development and growth." – Rev. Tom Honey, The Canon Pastor of Exeter Cathedral, in the UK, from a TED Talk – http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_honey_on_god_and_the_tsunami.html

    November 16, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Reality # 2

      What if god is in things? Give us a break !!! Might want to Google or Bing the physics of the atom.

      November 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • urnotathinkerareu

      In EVERYTHING...how about then in the hurricane. Or would that be exempt?

      November 16, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  15. Kenny

    Love Sam Harris

    November 16, 2013 at 3:55 am |
  16. dillonb1950

    Creationists miss many points in a logical scientific arguement. For your LEARNING pleasure
    http://www.theskepticsguide.org/resources/logical-fallacies The Structure of a logical arguement proves why creationsists can NEVER win the arguement..

    November 15, 2013 at 9:49 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.