How can God allow bad things to happen?  (continued)

  • We know from experience that things are never good or bad in an absolute sense but are always related to a purpose.

We often make decisions to choose temporary suffering for some higher good in the future. For example, we knowingly subject our children to the hardship of school in consideration of their future success and benefit; coaches subject athletes to painful exercise to bring them to peak physical performance. By keeping an eye on the ultimate goal, any hardship becomes bearable and acceptable.

We all know that good parenting, even from the most loving of parents, is never restricted to hugs and kisses.  Deducing that a benevolent God would not allow suffering is like seeing a sick child undergoing a painful life-saving procedure, then saying, “A parent who allows their child to suffer is not a good parent.” Going further by deducing that pain and evil prove that there is no God, is like a kid who, when punished by his parents, denies the existence of parenthood out of the belief that a parent would never punish his kid.

Our ignorance of the full picture does not excuse a hasty arrogant assessment; our ignorance of the wisdom of God does not mean there is no wisdom.

  • Every good thing has an apparently bad phase; fertile soil for crops comes from destructive volcanoes; sickness makes us appreciate health, and pain can make us compassionate. Goodness comes out of seemingly bad events.

Who we are today is a result of what we struggled with yesterday. If you review your character strengths, you may find that you were only able to acquire them after experiencing certain painful events earlier in your life.

Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:  “If Allah intends good for someone, he afflicts him with trials.” (aÎ AlBukhârî  5321)

  • People with handicaps are compensated, even in this life.

The handicapped may develop formidable strength and amazing talents. Their other senses are much enhanced as a result of dealing with hardship early on.

  • God does not test anyone beyond their abilities.

As an example, adults and children have different pain tolerances, and they feel things differently. Extracting a tooth from an adult is a painful process requiring anesthesia and an operation, whereas children (who have a lower tolerance for pain) change milk teeth painlessly.

The severity of trials given to each person depends on his tolerance. A teacher who wants the student to learn and grow gives assignments just above the current caliber of the student, enough to challenge but not too much to frustrate. Thus, the most tried and the longest-suffering people were the Prophets who present the highest caliber of Mankind. (https://goharmukhtar.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/dr-lang-and-purpose-of-life/)

God does not charge a soul except with that within its capacity. (Quran 2:286)

Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Kansas, Dr. Jeffrey Lang, a revert to Islam from atheism, suggests in his Purpose of Life  video, that the main purpose of this earthly  life, from the perspective of Islam and the Quran, is our growth in order to prepare us for the Afterlife. The ultimate goal is to grow closer to God by developing the qualities that make us better individuals. These qualities are derived from God’s Attributes, e.g. Compassion, Graciousness, Peace, Love, Justice, Truth, Wisdom, Mercy, Patience, etc.  God is the infinite source of all virtue.

Dr. Lang points out that for a relationship to develop, the two parties must have some common ground. The greater the common ground, the stronger the resulting bond and relationship. The only possibility of common ground between humans and God lies in the moral dimension. By cultivating these merciful attributes in our characters, we can bring ourselves closer to God. (https://youtu.be/GzWRmJ-dFr4)

So we can think about it in this way: Our physical growth in the womb was to prepare us to exist physically on Earth. Our moral growth on Earth is to prepare us to be morally fit for Paradise. We are not finished products yet, but rather works in progress. (https://goharmukhtar.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/dr-lang-and-purpose-of-life/)

But why does this growth need an environment of suffering?

Dr. Lang points out the three necessary ingredients in the recipe of morality and spiritual growth for humans: intellectchoice, and suffering. Through choice, we decide whether to grow through the beautiful merciful attributes from our Creator or to grow with the opposites of these qualities (which moves us further away from God). Intellect allows us to develop mentally, and suffering provides the environment and opportunity to acquire and exercise these attributes.  For example, we can develop compassion as a result of experiencing pain, patience through ordeals, courage in an environment of fear, etc. Pure gold emerges from the rough ore only when it is subjected to fire.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, visited a sick person and said, “Be cheerful, … When a Muslim is sick, God takes away his sins just as fire takes away impurities in gold and silver.”  (Sunan Abî Dâwûd 3092)

Such a perspective makes suffering an opportunity rather than a nuisance.

Thus, the real question is not how we can avoid trials; rather, the question is what meaning we attach to hardship and suffering and how we handle the trials in this short life of testing in order to elevate our positions in our eternal life. (https://youtu.be/ZIy_PnsKxeg)

I asked for strength and                God gave me difficulties to make me strong. 

I asked for wisdom and                 God gave me problems to solve.

I asked for prosperity and             God gave me brawn and brains to work.

I asked for courage and                 God gave me dangers to overcome. 

I asked for patience and                God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait. 

I asked for love and                       God gave me troubled people to help. 

I asked for favors and                    God gave me opportunities. 

I received nothing I wanted          but everything I needed. 

                               My prayers have all been answered.

(https://spirituallythinking.blogspot.com/search?q=I+asked+for+strength

Why does God allow evil?

Dr. Mustafa Mahmoud, a revert to Islam from atheism, discusses the other side of evil in this excerpt from his book, Dialogue with an Atheist (2000, Dar Al-Taqwa). He says:

God was quite capable of making us all benevolent by compelling us to obey Him. This, however, would have entailed that He deprive us of the freedom to choose. But, in His plan and Law, freedom with suffering is more honorable than slavery with happiness. That is why He let us sin, suffer, and learn; this is the wisdom in His sufferance of evil to exist. (p. 24)

He also says:

Evil in the Universe is like the shaded spaces in a painting. If you come very near to the painting, you will see these parts as defects; but if you draw back to take a general view of the painting as a whole, you will discover that the shaded parts are necessary and indispensable, fulfilling an aesthetic function within the structure of the artwork. (p. 25) (https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https://www.muslim library.com/dl/books/English_Dialogue_with_an_Atheist.pdf)

There is no pure evil. Every seemingly evil thing has an ultimately good outcome. The creation of pure evil is unnecessary to accomplish the purposes of God; pure evil goes against the Wisdom of God.

Actually, the problem of evil is a moral problem only for atheists. Theists believe everyone will get their just desserts: that good deeds and patience will be rewarded and that evil will be punished. It is a problem for the atheist who that believes the raped and the rapist will have the same ending, as will the murderer and his victim; that good and evil have no ultimate consequence, and that people’s rights and grievances get buried along with their oppressors.

With atheism, there would be no ultimate difference between living your life as Hitler or as Mother Teresa. Actually, it may even seem better to be the evil party: to exercise our selfishness to the fullest and give in to every desire, regardless of the rights of others, as long as we can get away with it. After all, if we have only this life to live and if there is no afterlife and no accounting, one might as well make the most of it.

What atheists don’t realize is that their attacks on God for allowing evil and pain spring from their surprising intuitive belief in “absolute morality,” which is part of the system of belief in a creator; and which contradicts their claims of relative human-derived morality.  More on this later.

…To be continued in Part 5

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Dr. Raida Jarrar

Dr. Raida Jarrar is a Palestinian American who holds a Doctorate of Engineering from Cleveland State University. Following a career of over twenty-five years in the fields of engineering and aviation IT, she worked as a volunteer at one of the largest Islamic centers in the Middle East, where she interacted with visitors of different religious backgrounds and diverse cultures. The series she writes for Al-Jumuah analyzes and encapsulates her discussions with the atheist visitors, presented in a question and answer format for clarity and ease of reference. The answers are sourced from research, discussions with colleagues and mentors, and personal thoughts. Dr. Jarrar also volunteers as a translator for Islamic content and hosts the Aslamt youtube channel, which is dedicated to answering common questions about faith. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiUK0Tcqdb2GNeoqnxIcXtw

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