Throughout history, a single question has plagued humanity; a question often asked about an issue that all Abrahamic religions face. If an All-Powerful God, who is All-Knowing, All-Seeing, All-Hearing, Loving, Most-Merciful, and All-Just in control of All things and matters, exists, then why do people experience evil, pain, and suffering in this world? Why must we contend with sickness, natural disasters, starvation, war, calamities, corruption, and killings? If God is Most-Merciful, All-Loving, All-Good, and All-Just, why does He allow such atrocities to happen?
The existence of evil ranks among the top reasons people reject the concept of religion or the belief in a Higher Power. This concept is known as the “problem of evil.” Many have concluded that God could not exist because of the presence of evil; if He does exist, He is a cruel, unjust God who enjoys seeing people suffer and in pain. They summarize that such a God is not worth worshipping if He is unaware, uncaring, and incapable of removing and controlling evil elements.
People who reject God because they cannot grapple with the problem of evil do not adequately understand the conditions of darkness and pain. They reject God because of their lack of understanding. The decision to disbelieve the existence of God only adds more confusion, leading to the emergence of questions as to why we were created, where we are destined to go, etc.
An atheist that rejects God removes God from the equation, but suffering still exists. Disbelieving only eliminates the quality and significance of the suffering and no longer gives it purpose or meaning. One could have suffered their whole life, only to end up in their grave eternally with no justice or recompense for what they had endured, and those who committed evil can get away with their misdeeds. However, with God in the equation, suffering has meaning, and the victims and the oppressed eventually receive justice in this world or the next. Without God in the picture, they may not. The fact that evil exists does not negate the existence of God.
The Angels first asked the question of evil upon God, the Almighty’s announcement that He was creating a new form of beings called humans.
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, Indeed, I will make upon the Earth a successive authority” (Quran 2:30)
The Angels responded with a question:
“…They said, ‘Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and You?” (Quran 2:30)
“…Indeed, I know that which you do not know” (Quran 2:20)
Although God did not explain nor rationalize the answer to their question, the Angels were satisfied with this response; this is owing to their complete humility before, trust in, and faith in God’s Wisdom and Knowledge while recognizing His Wisdom as Perfect and without flaws. The Angels did not assume God’s Wisdom was incorrect simply because they could not understand nor comprehend that Wisdom. Humans never will understand the reason behind the world’s pain and suffering, as our limited, finite minds cannot comprehend God’s logic. However, the fact that our intellectual capacity cannot understand and evaluate the Wisdom behind pain and suffering does not nullify that Wisdom. How can we judge the situation or God without attaining the necessary information to do so? God states in the Quran:
“…And mankind has not been given of knowledge except a little” (Quran 17:85)
As humans, we can understand the Wisdom behind pain and suffering only on a general level. We have no right to question our Creator, as everything belongs to Allah, the Glorious, including us, and to Him, we will return. Whereas hardship, pain, and suffering exist in this world, their occurrence is the exception, not the rule. For example, generally, many people spend most of their lives enjoying health and only feel sick occasionally. And overall, Muslims disbelieve the concept of pure evil. Most things God has created are purely good in essence or possess a balance of good and evil. Nothing is purely evil, with no inherent goodness. Whereas evil can dominate more than good sometimes in everyday life, everything holds some element of good.
Every evil is good in some aspects; for instance, while sickness may harm the body temporally from one angle, illness also strengthens the immune system and teaches one patience with the healing process. Similarly, whereas volcanos can cause grave harm, they rejuvenate the ecosystem that facilitates life. Without volcanos, we could not grow food—as this natural phenomenon spews out minerals, resulting in rich fertile soil. One person’s calamity can be another person’s blessing; for instance, when one person loses a job, another person finds a new occupation.
A balance of good and evil is needed for both to exist. Poor and hungry people need to exist for charity and generosity to balance and benefit them. How can a person be generous if no charitable beneficiaries are available to assist? How can forgiveness occur when there is no offense to forgive? How can one learn patience without the perception of evil and calamities that test one’s patience?
Similarly, following natural disasters, humanity shows generosity and support by sending medical assistance, food, cash donations, etc., to those affected. A negative occurrence can be followed by positive results to be manifested. Pain and suffering are blessings in disguise. God loves the good generated from the perception of evil.
Also, we need the existence of evil to recognize and appreciate good. When deprived of something valuable, we feel and appreciate all the more God’s appreciation and blessings. One needs to experience hardship to value better times. Sometimes, one must fall ill to appreciate good health or suffer poverty to appreciate substance. Sometimes it’s only in the darkness that one recognizes and appreciates the light. Hardship also helps us realize and ponder God’s attributes, such as The Healer when we are sick or The Protector when we are in danger.
God does not love evil. Among the many pearls of Wisdom regarding pain and suffering, and probably the most important, is that trial and tribulation lead people back to God. Sometimes through tough times, people return and reconnect to their Lord in a show of desperation and with the utmost sincere prayers and supplications. Any calamity that brings one back to their Lord is not a true disaster; instead, it is a blessing in disguise. In times of tragedy, one increases his expressions of repentance, humility, and supplication, recognizing that he needs the Almighty.
“And when affliction touches man, he calls upon Us, whether lying on his side or sitting or standing; but when We remove from him his affliction, he continues in disobedience as if he had never called upon Us to remove an affliction that touched him. Thus, is made pleasing to the transgressors that which they have been doing”
God can create any World He desires, including a World with no evil and suffering, and that place called Paradise exists. However, God, the Glorious, gave humanity the freedom of choice and free will. If He did not allow harm to occur, He would deprive society of free will. Since life is a test, this test would be meaningless without the free will given to humanity to take it. Sometimes, people in society act in evil ways as a consequence of free will. A creation of God that doesn’t commit sin and evil exists called the Angel. God is not the direct cause of these acts of evil. Instead, He is the One who allows and wills it to happen for the greater good and for reasons we may or may not understand. God has provided us with free will to test us.
Among the essential justifications behind perceived evil is that life is a test for humanity, filled with many trials and tribulations.
“He who created death and life to test you as to which of you is best in deed — and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving” (Quran 67:2)
These tests reveal a person’s faith in and loyalty to God. God states:
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars” (Quran 29:2–3)
In another verse, God states:
“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such trial has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until even their messenger, and those who believed with him said, ‘When is the help of Allah?’ Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near” (Quran 2:214)
In another Verse, God states:
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” (Quran 2:155)
According to the Holy Quran, evil deeds performed by humanity result in punishments here on Earth. Every act of suffering in this world is a fraction of what society has afflicted upon the Earth.
“Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by reason of what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of the consequence of what they have done that perhaps they will return to righteousness” (Quran 30:41)
God references the fact that many past nations have been destroyed due to their evil actions and acts of disobedience.
“So, We took retribution from them, and We drowned them in the sea because they denied Our signs and were heedless of them” (Quran 7:136)
Among the many pearls of wisdom inherent in the perception of evil is the fact that God loves to forgive, as He is the Most-Merciful, the All-Forgiving. But for forgiveness to occur, there must be sins and sinners to forgive.
The protestation of human pain, suffering, misfortune, and hardship faced by innocent people and the claim that “life is unfair” are legitimate complaints, but only if belief in the Hereafter is denied and neglected. For any injustice in this world ever committed, justice will be served in the Hereafter. We will all face an afterlife, a Judgment Day, upon which justice will be served, and everyone will be compensated for their lifetime worth of actions. The evildoers will be punished for their sins, and the oppressed will be compensated and rewarded for their patience.
“And never think that Allah is unaware of what the wrongdoers do. He only delays them for a Day when eyes will stare in horror” (Quran 14:42)
This world never was intended to be a perfect place devoid of hardship. Some innocent babies die in infancy, but remember that life is given to us as a gift we did not deserve to receive. If a baby dies at an early age, it was the intention of God to will that baby to move on to the next life. We all come complete with an expiration date in this world, and we will live eternally in the next life. The fact that a baby died early does not negate the existence of a higher power that created the baby.
With great trials and patience come great rewards. If one were to measure the suffering of this world against the blessings of the Hereafter, what does 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 years of suffering hold against an eternity of bliss?
We learn from a Hadith of the Prophet PBUH that on the day of judgment, a believer that lived a life of pain and suffering in this world will be dipped into a paradise for only a moment and asked, O, son of Adam, did you ever suffer any hardships or distress in your life? And they would respond, No, by God, I did not once see any hardship or distress. After entering Paradise for a moment, it would cause the person who had lived a life of pain and suffering to forget all their torment and travails. Those who did not believe in God and lived a life of pleasure in this world will soon forget all the joy and happiness they experienced the moment they are dipped into hellfire.
Muslims believe an ideal life without pain and suffering awaits them in the next world, not this one. This world is a stepping stone to the afterlife, leading you to Paradise or Hellfire.
Through the successful passing of tests, trials, and tribulations, God raises one’s rankings. It is for this reason that God tests those He Loves. When calamity befalls a Muslim, God expiates a percentage of their sins. When a person who was patient in life sees their misfortunes on the Day of Judgment and receives the reward derived from this patience, they would wish that a more major calamity had struck them.
The Holy Quran offers different remedies for coping with hardship, such as faith, prayer, patience, trust, and reliance on God. Those who submit to Allah and utilize these remedies will find contentment and surety as they face their trials and tribulations. One must recognize that God will not place them in a situation they cannot manage.
“Allah does not burden a soul except with that within its capacity…” (Quran 2:286)
Realize that in the face of every hardship one faces, God has given the requirements to handle the situation and pass the test associated with it, or else He would not have placed that person in that difficulty. And realize that no harm can befall anyone except by the permission and Will of the Almighty. God states:
“Say, ‘Never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us; He is our protector’ And upon Allah let the believers rely upon” (Quran 9:51)
A person of faith has a different attitude than those without faith regarding calamities. One with faith in God has surety and contentment in their heart, knowing that life is full of tests and trials, and with time and patience, matters will improve, and they will be rewarded. And remember, my dear brother or sister, what your Lord has promised:
“For indeed, with hardship will be ease. Indeed, with hardship will be ease” (Quran 94:5–6)
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