God and Natural Disasters

Unless you’ve crawled up under a rock, in which case you won’t be reading this blog, you’ve probably heard about the catstrophe in Japan.  First a devastating earthquake, a tsunami, the imment threat of nuclear meltdown and now a volcanic eruption.

I have frankly been a bit annoyed by all of the facebook messages extolling people to pray for Japan and the asking of Allah to be with them. Where was Allah when a tsunami washed away their lives?  We could all pray simultaneously for God to never allow a natural disaster again, to put an end to all the suffering, children starving, mankind killing each other etc.

 It’s not going to happen.

 If God is the grand orchestrator of all existence, he could have just as easily NOT allowed the earthquake in Japan, or the tsunami of “04 that killed the human equivalent to the city that I live in. He could have chosen to end the genocides in Darfur or Rwanda.

And yet he didn’t.

Or perhaps, he really doesn’t play any role in our lives at all. I realize it’s a subject that has been discussed before, but if there is a god who is actively involved in our lives, a compassionate, loving God, then why does he allow so much unspeakable suffering in the world?

I suppose if people feel better at the end of the day praying for an end to the woes of mankind, then more power to ’em. In the meantime, please remember to put your money where your mouth is and donate, donate, donate.

P.S. Before a commenter (probably one near hysteria, brimming with religious righteousness) brings it up, I’m not an atheist. However, I do find myself rejecting theism, specifically the presence of a personal god,  more and more.

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34 Comments

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34 responses to “God and Natural Disasters

  1. Teri

    I love reading your blog. Your post’s are engaging and make one think, for that I thank you. I would say though that you are starting to sound a bit bitter? I will CONTINUE to pray that good things abound for me and my brother’s and sister’s.
    Peace 🙂

  2. almostclever

    Where is Cornelius and Wrestling with Religion, when I need them?! LOL, they have had superb discussions about this very thing, in the past.
    I wish you could have read what they talked about 😦

    Anyways, I ask that question a lot. Of course, for the survivors, it may make them cling to God even tighter (although Japan is mainly Confucious), but in general, that seems to be what happens to the survivors of disasters.

    Of course we could say struggle makes a person more beautiful, more in touch with the earth and the human race, but when we get into the nitty gritty of starvation and war and slow death, or even childhood abuse, sexual assault… well…. I don’t know what to say… These things change the very makeup of the brain, leaving survivors with a lifetime to work out the lingering effects. Japan, I am sure, will be dealing with mass numbers of PTSD for years and years to come.

    Life is harsh, all we have to do is turn on National Geographic to understand that reality. Or walk through the slums of a developing country.

    There is something to this God thing though. People who believe in God usually have an easier time accepting death, and have more peaceful deaths. Those are the statistics, at least. When I read those studies I thought to myself, that if anything, God does serve a big purpose in provable, factual terms. Believers in God have an easier time accepting death, and dying. Now, some of us may say they are simply brainwashed. As for myself, I am able to accept that there is energy in this universe that we just do not understand. When I put positive energy into the world, I receive it back. When I put negative energy into the world, I receive that back also. How do I explain the unexplainable? lol

    • That reminds me of the God gene theory and the idea that belief in God actually contributes to the survival of the species. Of course, I do think that is the purpose of religion and belief is to make sense of this life in the choas and offer a promise of something better.

      Shayk Hamza Yusef once said that generally the people who deny God’s existence are the one’s who have been blessed the most. And there is some truth to that statement. But of course, if you look at religion and God from a purely psychological perspective, it makes sense that those who have been dealt the harshest cards in life would cling the most strongly to the hope that something better was awaiting them and that their suffering means something to a Greater Being.

  3. Yeah. From what I hear, it’s ’cause they’re not Muslims, so they “deserve” it. Many Muslims (and other theists) believe this to be a fact, unfortunately!
    God help them somehow. I can’t seem to watch the news anymore, thinking it may have gotten worse by the hour, and I’ll hear of more and more unbearable news – and I won’t be able to handle that right now.

  4. Sarah

    and what is stopping a huge earthquake from shaking your house upside down? Do you know the unseen?

  5. Lisa

    The question you raise here is one I’ve asked over and over. It calls to mind the deadly earthquake in Haiti a couple years back, and the devastation that wrought, and how in the wake of that, an acquaintance of mine was praising god on facebook for answering her family’s prayers for a new retaining wall in their backyard – something the city had been hassling them about, but they couldn’t afford to have a new one built, but they prayed and someone (from church) offered to build a retaining wall for them, gratis. Praise god. Because, you know, god gives a shit about retaining walls, but not about tens of thousands of innocent lives lost to a devastating earthquake. I guess those people in Haiti just weren’t praying hard enough or something.

    • Exactly. You know when baby boy was at the height of his seizures, i was following a blog of another family who’s son had them as well. Well, suddenly Dr. s managed to cure him with a combo of meds and diets, and the poster was writing posts about how God answered her prayers and thanking all of her “prayer warriors” and surely He heard them (as if he needed reminded). It really left a bad taste in my mouth, like we just weren’t praying hard enough or he chose my child to continue to suffer. Even this example, though a life changing struggle to my famiily, seems so small compared to what some people are required to bear.

    • “Sorry Japan, this is why God was busy”

      http://imgur.com/Lq8b9

  6. Sarah

    You are not God to say what is not supposed to happen and what is supposed to happen. You are just a human being, your exsistance is not even relevant if it was not for God, so insteading of being humbled by whats happening you sit up on your high horse and dare to point the finger at God. Do you know the unseen? if you did then you would not say what you said.

    • Do you have any thoughts on the question? As a religious person and believer in the “unseen” why do you think God allows such extreme suffering? It’s not a new question, many have asked it before.

      I’m not pointing the finger at God. Rather my position is that he plays no role in our lives; He does not intervene. You are free to disagree but please respond to something relevant to the post. If you feel that that is too difficult, or it upsets you too much to visit this blog and encounter the questions I am asking, then it might be better for you to refrain from visiting. There is no need to respond in anger. My thoughts are not a personal attack on you.

      • michele

        if one believes in heaven/janah one might rationalize that those who suffer go on to a far better place than earth. God may be the creator of the earth but may not be in control of things that happen naturally or maybe they are a necessary part of the natural progression of life on earth, like the extinction of the dinosaurs or the erosion of the earth where what use to be all oceans/seas once were, Allahu Alim. A believer must have some sense of trust that the Almighty creator of the universe has more knowledge, wisdom, foresight than we do.

      • Sarah

        what do you mean God plays no role in our lives? Just because there is bad and suffering in the world, does not mean that God doesnt play a role. If you lived in a perfect world would you still hold this opinion? Only when its all nice and cookie cutter clean then is God worthy playing a role? There is good and bad in this world, just like there is good and bad in every person. You need to accept this reality and not say immature things like “where was Allah.. etc” You ask me as a beliver of the unseen, why I belive God allows such extreme suffering. The answer is because I belive in the Unseen. I belive that there are things beyond the scope of the Human brain that only GOD can comprehend. How do you know that those people that died, aren’t in a better place? You see you do not know because you can’t see what God sees, you can’t understand what he understands. Everything happens for a reason, just like a rainbow after the storm. You can only see the storm and it looks terrible but after that the sun comes reflects on the molecules in the atmosphere giving a semi circle of vibrant colours. There had to be a rain for the rainbow to appear. Why do you think God allows extreme happiness? (such as love between 2 people, children, etc). ?? why?

        • Interestingly, the idea that one must experience the negative in order to experience the postitive, or that the two are inextricably linked is a very dualistic concept and (in my very limited understanding) one that pervades Eastern philosophy and religion. The yin and the yang, etc. Although in the face of such utter devestation it is very difficult to see any good other that giving us humans an idea that life is incredibly tenuous. One can gain strength and meaning from these concepts and in turn better their lives. As a mother, I can’t help but think of the children that have died, leaving their parents in grieve, or the children who have been orphaned or who have suffered unspeakable trauma and horror. I just can’t make any sense of that.

          • Lisa

            This whole notion that suffering brings some grand positive – there are wonderful lessons to be learned, people who die end up in a “better place,” yada yada yada – is ludicrous. If there was a just god, then why wouldn’t EVERYONE be given the same opportunities for growth, character-building, etc. through suffering. Man, all the people who haven’t dealt with some tragedy should feel cheated and short-changed!

  7. Sameerah

    It is very sad to see how far and lost you are at this point.

  8. suzie

    People get full of ego and pride when they build and construct settlements on the earth and become prosperous, thinking that they own the land.
    But when they feel they own the earth and its adornments and have control overthem, Allah’s order comes and the land and all the so thought man’s possessions are turned upside down as if they never existed before. There are many people who become so conseited about their worldy achievements that they belive there is no one stronger than them. They do not realize that Allah is the one who created them and he is much stronger than them.
    These are among the signs of Allah. Realizing Allah’s power and dominion builds man’s trust in Allah, depending on Him, having one’s heart attached to Allah Almighty and fearing none but Him.

    One interesting point to think about, when you watch those videos of the tsunami basicly chasing after those cars, do you think those people having no where else to turn, turned to God?

  9. Stephanie, I feel what you mean in this post. This post reminded me of The Collar by George Herbert; you must have read it but I’ll quote a few lines anyway:

    I struck the board, and cried “No more!
    I will abroad.
    What, shall I ever sigh and pine?
    My lines and life are free; free as the road,
    Loose as the wind, as large as store.
    Shall I be still in suit?
    Have I no harvest but a thorn
    To let me blood, and not restore
    What I have lost with cordial fruit?
    Sure there was wine
    Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn
    Before my tears did drown it.

    But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
    At every word,
    Methoughts I heard one calling “Child!”
    And I replied “My Lord”.

    This universe, if it is created for us, should be simple enough for us to comprehend with our limited understanding otherwise there is no use of a universe that is beyond our comprehension. There is always a reason, there must be reason. The reason is simple – the earth is old and there is seismic activity 🙂

    It is just this reason that our understanding is limited that we come up with excuses for God’s wrath: those who suffered are in a better place; Allah was annoyed with the ‘non-believing Japanese’; Christ wanted to bring down the 3rd largest economic power … etc. Why do we feel all these reasons are perfectly divine? They reek of a human mind! But prayer for those who are suffering does bring peace to those who are pained by the suffering of fellow human beings. It is like they hear one calling “Child!” and it is an immensely beautiful and soothing feeling to know that Someone cares enough to respond. We have created prayer for a reason. It is a beautiful human expression of belief and love. I am always humbled and feel loved when someone says they prayed that I get over my cold 🙂

    Time heals and time may heal the Japanese disaster as well. Some may call it God’s intervention. Some may call is Time. Others may still think it is a miracle. How boring would it be if we all called it a miracle or all called it Time?! Whatever suits one and brings them peace, I say. But certainly prayer alone is not enough and we MUST “donate, donate, donate.” Unfortunately, we were so busy defending God in our comments that no one thanked you for your call for donation. Thank you so much for providing a useful link. I will definitely make a donation tonight with help from Husband.

    I read somewhere that when we boast of our imaan and our piety it inspires other people to become strong in their faith as well and so we must exhibit our faith through our clothing, our behaviour and our words. I think we should all follow that advise and boast how much we donate – maybe, just maybe someone will be inspired to outdo us 🙂

    • It’s difficult for me to view God as a parental type right now. No parent would willingly allow his/her child to suffer so. I understand what you mean about prayer being a kind act that shows a certain amount of love and concern for the other person, although the cynic in me would say it’s not so difficult to lift your hands to the sky and say a few short words. But then again, I really need to reign in that side of myself, if only for my own sanity.

  10. SOLIDSOUL

    I think all of the above negative comments and Stephanie’s thoughts and other deconstruction(decomposed) posts were like an earth quake(d),tsunami(ed) thoughts that mad(e) me suffer ( in my mind) for almost 15+ years.
    After coming out from my negative thoughts, I came to a conclusion that all destructive physical sufferings are instantly and or finally dealt with heaven. But god keeps doubting people suffer mentally (Stephanie and other likeminded ppl) more than those who suffered physically etc.. in this world.
    Final destination for the harsh and NEGATIVE thinking agnostics /atheists about god may be they invite more sufferings in their afterlife than what they were sufferings with their negative attitude towards god right now.
    Whether the destructions, earthquakes etc.. are from god or not….the believer in god reserves his or her seat in heaven if god really exists..For the doubting people, that is just opposite.
    If god doesn’t exist, no1 is to lose…believing in god but not in his test is like inviting shaytan or hell (shaytan of mental depression here and hell hereafter) to their door steps.
    I even think those NEGATIVE thoughts out there on this post and comments are like rotten eggs
    (negative Thoughts that became decomposed eggs) that really not coming out from their mind instead from their asshole. I was an asshole for more than 15years.
    I am feeling the fresh air after shredding all those negative thoughts leaving to god 2look after that and make my limited life more comfortable with positive thoughts.

    • Because it seems that my blog, even my very existence, has such a negative impact on you, then perhaps you might refrain from visiting. That would make sense and might serve you better.

  11. I thought you might enjoy this article on Japan’s religions and how they confront natural disasters.

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/14/how-japans-religions-confront-tragedy/?hpt=C2

    Here is a bit from it:

    There are many Buddhist explanations of why calamities happen: from collective karma to seeing calamities as signs of apocalypse,” says Jimmy Yu, an assistant professor of Buddhism and Chinese religions at Florida State University. “And perhaps all of them are irrelevant to what needs to be done.”

    Indeed, where Christianity, Judaism or Islam are often preoccupied with causes of disaster – the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example – Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in reaction to tragedy.

    “It’s very important in Japanese life to react in a positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of adversity, and their religions would emphasize that,” says University College Cork’s Bocking. “They’ll say we have to develop a powerful, even joyful attitude in the face of adversity.”

    Japan’s major religious groups are still developing responses to the disaster, but experts say the impulse toward maintaining a positive outlook will likely translate into calls for Japanese to help friends and neighbors clean up and rebuild.

    • Thanks for the link! I did find it interesting especially this:
      “Japanese are not religious in the way that people in North America are religious,” says John Nelson, chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco. “They’ll move back and forth between two or more religious traditions, seeing them as tools that are appropriate for certain situations.””

  12. Harry

    I have been doing a lot of reading as well as soul searching on God and the nature of the universe. I am also a computer programmer. What the one has to do with the other seems arbitrary until I realize that I have to make decisions that automatically exclude other directions in coding. I have to make a decision based whats best for the the end product. I am not a cosmologist and even though I have read some laymans version of cosmology, can not begin to understand the basic rules of cosmology. I do not have the understanding on how to put a planet together that revolves around a blazing inferno consuming incredible amounts of hydrogen to keep that planet in a state that will support life. For me to assume that I know how to build a better cosmos, solor and planetary system would be incredible arrogance.

    Japan and these other nations know that they are built around the area entitled as the “Ring of Fire”. This is common knowledge. They know the possibility of natural disasters, and for Japan, have put in place strigent codes for buildings to address some of these disasters, unlike other areas. We will in very likely find that most deaths were not from the quakes but from the waves that swept in. Could that have been avoided? Possibly. Personally I’m not an Ocean Beach type of fan. I like some distance and height from the waters.

    We have always seen natural disasters occur throughout history and yet as people we seem bent on creating domociles and cities in areas that are highly exposed to tragedies. Personally though, I feel that the greatest tragedies are still the ones we have created ourselves. Canada has just had more teenage abortions than live births. Russian had the same situation just before the wall in Berlin fell, but for all women. When communism held sway in Russia, millions died. The revolution in China killed tens of millions. Nazi Germany did in 6 million Jews along with Gays, elderly and handicapped individuals. I’ve just read that possibly between 20 and 80 million died during 300 years of Islamic expansion into Asia. I fear that as far as the deaths of people by Natural disasters, it falls far below the atrocities we have done to humankind. I believe there is a God and if His love is as great as His creative power then it will express itself in allowing us to have free will to screw things up or make things better. I have watched enough children to know that anytime a parent interferes with what the child wants, the child screams and rants about how unfair that parent is. Strangely enough that is still the way we as adults seem to act when we things happen on scales that are beyond our comprehension or that deny us the external pleasures that we want.

    Anyway, these were just a couple of thoughts of mine.

    • oh i agree mankind can do more damage to ourself than mother nature ever did. which seems even more catastrophic somehow since we also have the ability to show compassion and empathy. as i said previously, I have a difficult time viewing god as some type of parental figure. While we may act like children, no loving parent would ever willingly subject his/her child to the type of suffering some humans endure.

    • Harry,

      “I have to make decisions that automatically exclude other directions in coding. I have to make a decision based whats best for the the end product.”

      Your programs have to obey logic. Does God also have to obey logic? Which is more foundational, God or logic?

  13. Excellent deep thoughts, Stephanie!

    Watching the natural disasters in Japan, on TV and U-tube, one cannot but admire the Japanese people in terms of their Discipline. Discipline of the mind leads to: – Regulation, Order, Control, Restraint, Authority, Obedience.

    I have seen other disasters …. Katrina, 2004 tsunami, pakistani earthquake and floods, etc …. but DISCIPLINE was lacking. In contrast, look at the Japanese!

    We can find one hundred and one verses of the Koran and the Bible and the Torah that speak about self control under all circumstances, particularly controlling our wayward egos. Japanese, however, have developed this disciplined society and without the “Big Brother” mentality that many people fear when they hear about “regulated” societies.

    Simply, Japanese believe in BUSHIDO: http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushido

    Bushido has played an important part in this disaster!!!!

  14. Ameira

    I find this topic interesting and always wondered myself why do things like this have to happen. I am a muslim so my faith strongly influences my reasoning on this topic and helps me to find peace in situations like this. As in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam there is the belief in The Day of Judgement or Armagedon. Some people believe these incedences to be “signs” of the end. A sign that there is something greater than ourselves. It does seem unfair that people including children have to suffer such a horrid death or grieve the loss of their loved ones, but I believe in the Wisdom of God and believe that nothing God does is in vain. I believe when things like this happen it teaches us not to take life for granted and to remember God no matter what faith u follow in our day to day lives. You can die tomorrow, you can die in a car accident, in a plane crash, or in a quake/tsunami in Japan. Death is inevitable. Judgement Day is inevitable, and in my belief when judgement day comes it doesnt matter if you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddist, Hindu, etc. we will all face the creator and be judged on our deeds. I realize most everyone on this blog is not of my faith but Stephanie asked to share our opinions and this is mine and how I cope with situations like these.

  15. Hmm… I don’t know if this helps, but for me, personally, I always feel that it is a test of character. Of course, my life hasn’t been nearly has difficult as most people’s in the world. I was physically abused for 16 years and witnessed domestic violence (which I’m certain messed up my head) as well as witnessed the abuse of my two little brothers. But this is really miniscule compared to the suffering that goes on in the world–acid thrown on women’s faces after they’ve been raped, sex trafficking, torture and murder, natural disasters–so I can’t comfortably say that it must all be a test of character, because that just sounds so unsympathetic and pretentious through implication that victims who had it much harder than me and were unable to stay strong “failed.” And that’s the last sentiment I would ever want to communicate.

    Somehow though, in my relatively safe little world, I continue to believe that God both plays a role and plays a role of supreme good. I think this is a blessing. I do believe that the very belief in God contributes to the survival of the species as a whole, even though it seems that suffering is indiscriminate, because whenever I feel very very weak with pain, I think of this verse from the Qur’an:

    “On no soul does God place a burden greater than the soul can bear.” (Qur’an 2:286)

    and it actually gives me strength, so I do strongly belief that it is my belief in God that contributes to my survival. Also, the way I see survival on an individual level, I believe that I’m alive as long as I believe in God, because I was made of God’s spirit and dwell with that existence of my soul, and death–actual biological death–is only a passing, and not a real death. As C.S. Lewis said, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

    Before I totally get off topic here =P this also reminds me of an excerpt of a poem:

    “All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
    All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
    All discord, harmony not understood;
    All partial evil, universal good;
    And spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
    One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”
    –Alexander Pope

    I can’t really explain why I’m at peace with this, but it gives me the strength to be persistent and carry on as God would want of me. I certainly would understand if others were not feeling as at peace. I’ve had more than my share of moments of anguish–tearing at myself, sobbing into late nights, questioning my own sanity, believing myself to be damaged, and even becoming angry with God.

    Muslims are taught, I’ve noticed, that it is wrong to become angry with God. I think we as woman are taught this especially. But Maryam, Mary, when giving birth to Jesus, cursed God herself and questioned why God didn’t just create her to be something insignificant instead of someone who had to endure so much pain. She raged at God in her moment of agony.

    And God said she is a perfect woman.

    I don’t believe we should ever forget that things happen for reasons that only God knows and that there are things we are not meant to understand, but Maryam herself expressed her rage–and when she was done she sang lovingly to her tiny baby. We are not only capable of great rage but great love. I would even say that to become angry with God is to become more intimate with God. It is an expression of passion with our Creator.

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