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Is the Suffering in the World in Agreement with God's Mercy?
Jul 1, 2008

To some individuals who want to believe, in particular, young minds, the pain and suffering that exist in the world today do not seem to be compatible with the Mercy of a Loving God. It is just too difficult for them to comprehend that there can be so much injustice and suffering around the globe. This subject, if not dealt with rationally, will continue damaging the faith of many who want to believe in Divine Mercy.

First of all, we need to keep in mind that this world is a temporary place for us. Life after death is our final destination; that is the life about which we need to be concerned. Anything that happens in this world should be judged against the measures of the eternal life. In other words, what happens here on earth is only half the story. The fact that justice fails to prevail in many places on earth is strong evidence for the believer that there will a place where these unfinished accounts will be reopened and brought to justice. God is certainly Mighty and capable of doing so. Just because He gives time to the oppressor does not mean that their accounts will be ignored. In fact, His Mercy is so encompassing that it even engulfs the oppressor; He gives many opportunities for people to correct their mistakes willingly and to be saved on the Day of Judgment. A delayed justice may not be justice at all within the rules of our social system on earth. But this concept does not apply for the Divine Justice. In fact, the Divine Justice is probably delayed so that we have a chance to compensate for our wrongdoings against the weaker and poorer.

Another aspect of the matter is that we have an understanding of the concept that “creation of evil is not evil, but choosing evil is.” God has granted us freewill while we live on earth. We sometimes use this freewill to decide justly, but other times we follow our carnal desires with biased opinions that are in favor of our selves. At these times we commit injustice and evil. The creation of the act and its consequences belong to the Creator. As human beings we do not have control over what happens in our bodies, but our freewill is a very subtle entity that has a confined territory in the decision-making process. Once we make the decision, the actual act is created by God Almighty, Who has power over all things. This can be explained with a simple analogy: The father puts his child on his shoulders and tells him that he will take him wherever he wants to go. The father also gives the child a clear set of instructions as to which places are harmful for him and which ones are safe. Then the child decides to go into a candy shop and fills his belly with chocolate, making himself ill. Yes, it is the father who took the child to the candy shop, but it was the informed decision of the child to go and eat a harmful amount of chocolate. Who is to blame for this mistake? Similarly God gives us the ability to decide and then He creates the actions for us according to our choosing. If the consequences are evil, it is we who committed that evil not the One Who created it.

A third point to think about when going through difficult times are examples from God’s prophets and their life-long suffering. They were chosen to deliver the Divine Message and they were the best people in their times with their service to God and dedication. Yet, the hardships that befell them in many instances were so severe that they would undoubtedly shatter the faith of any ordinary men. Take the examples of Job and Jonah, think about Abraham and Moses, consider Jesus (peace be upon them all). These chosen people of God underwent the greatest trials on earth. The Qur’an points to this fact in many verses, including:

And how many a Prophet has had to fight (for God’s cause), followed by numbers of godly, dedicated servants of God; and they did not become faint of heart for all that befell them in God’s cause, nor did they weaken, nor did they abase themselves (before the enemy). And God loves the patient and steadfast. (Al Imran 3:146)

After a short glance at the lives of the Prophets, we conclude that hardship in one’s life is not necessarily a chastisement from God, nor does it contradict with Divine Mercy. Otherwise, God’s beloved chosen ones, the messengers, should have had the easiest and the most comfortable lives. But, all the messengers underwent major trials, in particular with atrocities that were imposed on them by their own people.

We will certainly test you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits (earnings); but give glad tidings to the persevering and patient, those who, when a disaster befalls them, say, "Surely we belong to God (as His creatures and servants) and surely to Him we are bound to return" (And they act accordingly.) (Baqara 2:155-157)

In fact, for every difficulty that a believer encounters there is a reward waiting for them in the Hereafter. That is, provided that they are patient in those times of difficulty before their Lord and do not lose faith in Him. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, gives the following glad tidings to the believers: “Never is a believer stricken with a discomfort, an illness, an anxiety, a grief or mental worry or even the pricking of a thorn but God will expiate his sins on account of his patience."

I would like to conclude with a favorite analogy of mine, which helps me to understand some events in this world that appear injustice to us. Those who fast in the month of Ramadan know well that fasting may be a little difficult for the first few days until the body adjusts to it. With some exaggeration, we may think of the feeling we have in the stomach as pain and suffering. Particularly, near the time to break fast it becomes more unbearable. Then we come to realize at the dinner table (as our taste buds fully agree) that even a piece of dry bread is much tastier than the splendid meals we had before Ramadan. The fasting person enjoys the food at the table so much so that he says “all that pain and suffering that I went through today was worth it. Not only can I truly enjoy the food at this table now, but I also have the joy of knowing God is pleased with me.” Similarly we human beings go through difficult times in life. This is nothing but a fast before we are granted with the table of bounties that our Generous God has prepared for us. When we come to know the rewards He prepared for us for being patient on earth with the difficulties of this life we will be overwhelmed and forget everything that happened. We will say “O God, I am so thankful for everything You have given me. Whatever suffering and pain that I endured on earth, it was all worth it. What I find here immeasurably surpasses my expectations and imagination!” Let us have faith in God’s Justice and Mercy which encompasses pre- and post eternity. Let us be aware that He is watching over us even when we are treated unfairly and at times when we cannot defend ourselves. The good news of the Qur’an regarding the rewards that our Lord has prepared for us should always fill our hearts and help us be patient:

And hasten, as if competing with one another, to forgiveness from your Lord, and to a Garden as spacious as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the God-revering, pious. (Al Imran 3:133)

Mesut Sahin is Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology.