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NEW ARTICLE: Is God Merciful? Islam’s Response to Evil & Suffering (Part 4 of 5)


God give us reasons for why He has allowed evil and suffering to exist?

Is-God-Merciful-part-4.jpgA sufficient response to
the second assumption is to provide a strong argument that God has communicated
some reasons to us about why He has allowed evil and suffering in the world.  The
intellectual richness of Islamic thought provides us with many reasons.

Our purpose is worship

The primary purpose of the human being is not to enjoy a
transitory sense of happiness; rather, it is to achieve a deep internal peace
through knowing and worshipping God.  This fulfilment of the Divine purpose
will result in everlasting bliss and true happiness.  So, if this is our
primary purpose, other aspects of human experience are secondary.  The Quran
states, “I did not create either jinn [spirit
world] or man except to worship Me.”
(Quran 51:56)

Consider someone who has never experienced any suffering
or pain, but experiences pleasure all the time.  This person, by virtue of his
state of ease, has forgotten God and therefore failed to do what he was created
to do.  Compare this person with someone whose experiences of hardship and pain
have led him to God, and fulfilled his purpose in life.  From the perspective
of the Islamic spiritual tradition, the one whose suffering has led him to God
is better than the one who has never suffered and whose pleasures have led him
away from God.

Life is a test

God also created us for a test, and part of this test is
to experience trials with suffering and evil.  Passing the test facilitates our
permanent abode of eternal bliss in paradise.  The Quran explains that God
created death and life, “so that He may put you to test, to find out which
of you is best in deeds: He is the The-Almighty, The-Forgiving.”

On a basic level, the atheist misunderstands the purpose
of our existence on Earth.  The world is supposed to be an arena of trials and
tribulations in order to test our conduct and for us to cultivate virtue.  For
example, how can we cultivate patience if we do not experience things that test
our patience? How can we become courageous if there are no dangers to be
confronted? How can we be compassionate if no one is in need of it? Life being
a test answers these questions.  We need them to ensure our moral and spiritual
growth.  We are not here to party; that is the purpose of paradise.

So why is life a test? Since God is perfectly good, He
wants every single one of us to believe and as a result to experience eternal
bliss with Him in paradise.  God makes it clear that He prefers belief for us all:
“And He does not approve for His servants disbelief.”(Quran 39:7)

This clearly shows that God does not want anyone to go
to hell.  However, if He were to enforce that and send everyone to paradise,
then a gross violation of justice would take place; God would be treating Moses
and the Pharaoh and Hitler and Jesus as the same.  A mechanism is needed to
ensure that people who enter paradise do so based on merit.  This explains why
life is a test.   Life is just a mechanism to see who among us are truly
deserving of eternal happiness.  As such, life is filled with obstacles, which
act as tests of our conduct.

In this regard, Islam is extremely empowering because it
sees suffering, evil, harm, pain and problems as a test.  We can have fun, but
we have been created with a purpose and that purpose is to worship God.  The
empowering Islamic view is that tests are seen as sign of God’s love.  The
Prophet Muhammad, may God’s peace and blessings be upon him, said, “When God
loves a servant, He tests him.”[1]

The reason God tests those whom He loves is because it
is an avenue to achieve the eternal bliss of paradise—and entering paradise is
a result of Divine love and mercy.  God points this out clearly in the Quran: “Do
you suppose that you will enter the Garden without first having suffered like
those before you? They were afflicted by misfortune and hardship, and they were
so shaken that even [their] messenger and the believers with him cried, ‘When
will God’s help arrive?’ Truly, God’s help is near.”
(Quran 2:214)

The beauty of the Islamic tradition is that God, who
knows us better than we know ourselves, has already empowered us and tells us
that we have what it takes to overcome these trials.  “God does not burden
any soul with more than it can bear.”
(Quran 2:286)

However, if we cannot overcome these trials after having
tried our best, God’s mercy and justice will ensure that we are recompensed in
some way, either in this life or the eternal life that awaits us.

Knowing God

Having hardship and suffering enables us to realise and
know God’s attributes, such as The-Protector and The-Healer.  For example,
without the pain of illness we would not appreciate the attribute of God being
The-Healer, or the one who gives us health.  Knowing God in the Islamic
spiritual tradition is a greater good, and worth the experience of suffering or
pain, as it will ensure the fulfilment of our primary purpose, which ultimately
leads to paradise.

Greater good

Suffering and evil allow a greater good, also known as
second-order good.  First-order good is physical pleasure and happiness, and
first-order evil is physical pain and sadness.  Some examples of second-order
goodness include courage, humility and patience.  However, in order to have a
second-order good (like courage) there must be a first-order evil (like
cowardice).  According to the Quran, elevated good such as courage and humility
do not have the same value as evil: “Say Prophet, bad cannot be likened to
good, though you may be dazzled by how abundant the bad is.  Be mindful of God,
people of understanding, so that you may prosper.”
(Quran 5:100)

Free will

God has given us free will, and free will includes
choosing evil acts.  This explains personal evil, which is evil or suffering
committed by a human being.   One can ask: why
has God given us free will at all?
 In order for the tests in
life to be meaningful, there must be free will.  An exam is pointless if the
student is obligated or forced to answer correctly on each question.   Similarly,
in the exam of life, human beings must be given adequate freedom to do as they

Good and evil lose their meaning if God were to always
ensure we chose good.  Take the following example into consideration: someone
points a loaded gun to your head and asks you to give charity.  You give the
money, but does it have any moral value? It does not, for it only has value if
a free agent chooses to do so.




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