Poll asks: Was Japanese disaster a sign from God?

According to a new poll, 56 percent of Americans completely or mostly agree with the idea that God is in control of everything that happens in the world.

But only 38 percent completely or mostly agree that natural disasters are a sign from God.

I guess the 18 percent in between might say that God is in control of natural disasters — but doesn’t intend them as a sign.

Maybe? I don’t know.

The new poll, from the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service, of course addresses the meaning, or lack thereof, of the tragic earthquake/tsunami in Japan and our other recent disasters.

Overall, 70 percent said they believe God is “a person with whom people can have a relationship,” a very Christian way of looking at the world.

Only 8 percent said they did not believe in God.

A few interesting findings (to me):

Only 18 percent said the suffering of innocent people sometimes causes them to have doubts about God. 48% completely disagreed with the idea.

40 percent agreed with the idea that natural disasters are “God’s way of testing our faith.”

On the question of whether recent natural disasters are evidence that we are in “end times,” 21% completely agreed and 23% mostly agreed. 20% mostly disagreed and 32% completely disagreed.

83% agreed that the U.S. should provide “significant financial assistance” to Japan and other countries that suffer.

My friend and former colleague Nicole Neroulias wrote up the results for Religion News Service and was kind enough to interview me because of my book on the subject.

I hope I didn’t summarize things too…tightly. It’s hard to talk in sound-bites. How many times have I heard that from people I have interviewed?

(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

A sad ending

So I had an article yesterday about the theological questions that inevitably come up when a natural disaster — an “act of God” — causes mind-bending destruction.

tjndc5-5sqlrcib5wx1d1bv2orn_layoutI quoted the Rev. Suzanne Rabb of Hawthorne, a United Methodist minister, whose husband, a Methodist missionary, had just been pulled from the rubble in Haiti after 55 hours of being trapped. I didn’t actually speak to Rabb, but my colleague Dwight Worley did and he shared some of her thoughts with me.

She said: “I believe that God is a loving presence, that God is a creator, not a destroyer. What we always need to remember is that even in the depths of despair and rubble, that God is there. God’s presence never leaves. It’s just that things happen.”

And if her husband had perished?

“I would know that there is a presence of God that will sustain me and that Clint is sustained, too, whatever happened to his soul,” she said.

022_100047_234The United Methodist News Service also wrote about Rabb’s amazing survival.

My article ran in Sunday’s Journal News. Little did I know that Clinton Rabb died from his injuries on Sunday morning at a Florida hospital.

His wife and several of his children were with him.

His stepson Daniel Payne told my colleague Aman Ali: “He had a respirator and he could not speak because his body was paralyzed with sedation medicine. My mom said to him, ‘Clinton, we’re all here and we love you.’ He was able to open his eyes bigger and acknowledge her. As she talked to him, he had tears in his eyes, and she knew he was crying.”

All around the world, people who heard about Clinton Rabb’s ordeal are thinking about him and praying for him today.

Lots of questions, no answers

Just got back from visiting with the Rye Brook Seniors, talking about my book.

As I told them, it is a good time to talk about my book — which is never a good thing.

There are 78,000 dead in Myanmar and 56,000 missing.

Another 51, 000 are dead in China.

And, yes, we did lose 20 people recently to tornadoes in this country.

3f4f4a2d056f48e0bd59f256690339811.jpgPut the totals together, counting the missing, and you’re starting to approach tsunami-level tragedy.

I started my talk, as I often do, by saying that I will have no answer. Can God intervene? Where was God in the tsunami, in the earthquake, in the cyclone? No answers.

But after I summarized what I found, explaining how religion after religion understands “acts of God,” one person said to me: “You may not have answers. But you helped us ask better questions. And those questions can lead to understanding.”

I’ll take that.

The photo, of a boy displaced by the cyclone in Myanmar, is by the AP’s Stan Honda.