THE DIVINE WISDOM IN SUFFERING AND EVIL

Posted by Shadra_Institute 4:26 AM, under | No comments

Theodicy fails not only because of the humanistic fallacy of making an infinite Divine
analogous to the limitarily human, but also because its crucial premise "Someone just and
good would not allow suffering and evil if he could prevent them," is contradicted by many
examples of Allah's wisdom, justice, and goodness in creation that entail suffering and evil,
of which the following are only those most plain after a little reflection.

The Next World
The value of one over infinity approaches zero. So too, the time one spends in this world
pales to insignificance before eternity, where, in the next world, each of us will realize that
in this one, "you bode but little" (Qur'an 23:113). Allah has placed the story of each
particular human being, the creative theophany of the Rahman or Most Merciful, in the
larger context of forever, the special theophany of the Rahim or All-compassionate to those
who were His true servants in this world. The eternity of the afterlife furnishes the true
measure and context of the transitory sufferings of this life, which are ephemeral in
comparison.

Rumi alludes to this "global answer" to suffering in his parable of the sapling in the
midst of the leafless winter, shivering and muttering to itself about the misery of the biting
wind and cold, unable to think why God should do such a thing to it. The answer finally
comes in the form of the warm and verdant springtime. In the trajectory of a believer's life
and afterlife, when springtime comes it lasts forever.

The Gulf Between the Here and the Hereafter
The significance of joys and sufferings in this world will dwindle to nothing before the next
not only quantitatively, because of its eternity, but qualitatively because of its nature. The
Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:
The person who had the most pleasing life in this world, of any of the people of hell, will be
summoned on Resurrection Day and utterly plunged into the hellfire, then asked, "O human
being, have you ever beheld any good at all; have you ever felt a single joy?" and he will say,
"No by God, my Lord." And the most miserable sufferer in this world, of any of the people of
paradise, will be summoned and utterly plunged into paradise, then asked, "O human being,
have you ever seen any bad at all; have you ever experienced a single misery?" and he will say,"No by God, my Lord: I have never seen any bad or suffered a single misery" (Muslim(14),
4.2162: 2807. S).

They are not lying, but what their testimony means is that nothing in this world can even be
called "joy" or "misery" compared with the next.

Joy and Suffering as Signs
Obversely, the joys and sufferings of this world, if they pale in the face of eternity, are
tremendously evocative in human hearts of the realities of paradise and hell. Abu 'Ali al-
Rudhabari used to say, "What He has made manifest of His blessings indicates what He yet
conceals of His generosity." The experience of those with ma'rifa in this world is but a
foretaste of the incommensurability of the beatific vision of God in the next. For its part,
disease is a harrowing ordeal, especially psychologically, since most of us tend to identify
closely with our bodies. Yet through its pain and travail we come to understand how little
we could bear endless suffering, teaching us to implore Allah to spare us from the hellfire,
thus serving as a means of our deliverance. As Ibn 'Ata Illah has said, "Whenever He
loosens your tongue with a petition, know that He wants to give to you" (Hikam (8), 37:
102).

Prayer
Central to worship is supplicating the Worshipped. "Say, 'My Lord would not even concern
Himself with you were it not for your supplication'" (Qur'an 25:77). Unlike friends,
relatives, and virtually everyone else, Allah loves to be asked and dislikes not to be. The
Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, "Truly, supplication is what worship is,"
then he recited, "And your Lord says, 'Call on Me and I will answer you: Verily those too
haughty to worship Me shall inevitably enter hell, utterly humiliated'" [40:60] (Ahmad (9),
4.271: 18.386. S). Moreover, as Poor Richard said, "Danger is sauce for prayers": if not for
the problems, fears, inadequacies, and pain man faces, he would remain turned away from
the door of the Divine generosity, and miss an enormous share of worship that benefits him
in this world and the next.

Triumph over Suffering
Though well able to do so, Allah did not create all mankind in paradise to begin with, but
rather willed to consummate their perfect and endless bliss with the knowledge that by His
grace, they have triumphed over all suffering, limitation, and evil for all time. "Allah
solemnly promises believers, men and women, luxuriant groves of paradise beneath which
rivers flow, abiding therein; and surpassing fine dwellings in lush groves of Eden: And the
merest of the supreme pleasure of Allah is far yet greater. That is the mighty triumph"
(Qur'an 9:72). He could have created all souls on a beach as clams, contentedly filterfeeding
from an endless peaceful sea. But to do so would be without any challenge,
suffering, purification, or struggle, or any of the other realities that befit the distinctive
humanness which Allah has made our special endowment.

Freedom
Much of the suffering and evil in this world comes of man's inhumanity to man, which

Allah does not accept, but punishes, sometimes in this world and sometimes in the next.
Man has no excuse for this, having been sent messengers teaching us decency and
goodness. But man's gift of being able to decide and choose for himself how he may treat
his fellow man, for good or for evil, is his freedom, a perfection which Allah in His wisdom
has bestowed on each of us.

The Exaltedness of Human Choice
Allah has raised the stakes of human existence at once to the highest possible worth and the
direst possible peril by the fact of Judgement Day, with its eternal consequences. Though
man's life and works are finite, their consequences are infinite because man's
determination, once he has made up his mind, is how he intends to act forever if he is able.
The hardened atheist who dismisses God as a mindless superstition does not intend to ever
believe and change, so when he dies, he is requited in the measure of his intention, forever,
out of Allah's justice. The believer who loves Allah and acts accordingly does not intend to
ever change, so when he dies, he too is requited in the measure of his intention, forever, out
of Allah's mercy.

Eternal hellfire is a harrowing chastisement; but forewarned is forearmed, and after
revelation, it is only what its denizens have chosen for themselves: "Read your record: your
own self suffices today as a reckoner against you" (Qur'an 17:14). The existential threat of a
fire has stopped many an iniquitous wrong in this world from being inflicted upon others,
though I have never heard of an intellectual discussion of ethics that did. Hell is a peril, but
one that is a mercy for whoever makes sensible choices. Like the endless happiness of
paradise, its effect is to exalt the worth of every moment of human life in this abode, out of
Allah's wisdom.

Fear and Hope
Abu 'Ali al-Rudhabari said, "The most beneficial of certitude is that which exalts the Real in
your eyes, makes everything beside Him dwindle in them, and instills fear and hope in your
heart." Sheikh 'Abd al-Wakil used to say that fear and hope were the two wings of the
believer, without which he could not ascend. Both evoke supplication, and Allah loves to be
asked. Fear and hope, moreover, are obligatory. Imam Taqi al-Din al-Subki says:
The spiritual station (maqam) of every man is commensurate with his hal (state), and his hal
with his knowledge of the Divine (ma'rifa). People vary immensely in this, no one being more
perfect therein than the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), while people after him
are each according to their own station, some possessed of much, some of little. Fear is
obligatory: Allah Most High says, "Fear you Me, if you be true believers" [Qur'an 3:175], and
He Most High says, "So let none of you fear men, but fear you Me" [5:44]. And hope is
obligatory, because it is the opposite of despair, and despair is haram: Allah Most High says,
"Verily none despairs of the relief sent by Allah but people of the unbelievers" [12:87], and
He Most High says, "And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord but those utterly lost?
[15:56]" (Fatawa al-Subki (18), 2.556).

In the Sufi path, fear and hope must be realized by the traveller from the first. The
possibilities of both suffering and liberation therefrom are integral to the ascending stages
of the dhikr, in which fear (khawf) and hope (raja) are transmuted first, respectively, into
awe (hayba) and intimate love (uns), then rigor (jalal) and beauty (jamal), and then
extinction and finally subsistence in the Majestic (al-Jalil) and the Beauteous (al-Jamil)
Himself. Fear and hope, in these successive stages, remain the two wings of the traveller,
for those most in love with the Beloved remain the most fearful of offending Him and being
expelled from His presence. As Abu Madyan said, "Presence with Him is paradise, and
absence from Him is hell." The possibility of punishment and suffering remains a spur on
the way of spiritual attainment, even at its highest degrees, until the traveller has both feet
in paradise, and can see for himself the triumph of the transformations Allah has thereby
wrought in him.

Punishment for Sin
Much of the suffering man experiences is requital for disobedience. Allah says, "Whatever
misfortune befalls you is for what your very hands have earned, and He pardons much"
(Qur'an 42:30)-which is the general rule, to which some of the headings discussed above
and below contain exceptions. Scholars affirm that every ruling of Sacred Law has been
revealed for our benefit, not Allah's. The effects of right and wrong are far more crucial in
the next world, but as the above verse makes plain, they are also at least sometimes
punished in this. For those Allah loves, the punishment turns them back to the path of
tawfiq and obedience. For those with whom Allah is wroth, disobedience is punished by
their committing other acts of disobedience. As the early mystic Muzayyin said, "One sin
following another is punishment for the first, and one good deed after another is reward for
the first."

A sin that often brings unlooked-for misfortune in this world is revealing sins to others.
Allah has commanded us to conceal all sins, except when that would lead to someone being
harmed. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has said, "Whoever conceals the
faults of a Muslim, Allah shall conceal his faults in this world and the next" (Muslim (14),
4.2074: 2699. S). This includes one's own. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him
peace) said: "All of my Umma shall be forgiven, except those who commit iniquities openly.
Verily, open indecency includes a man committing an act by night, and then in the morning
when Allah has concealed what he did, saying, "O So-and-so, last night I did such and
such." He passed the night, his Lord having concealed what he did, and morning came, and
he pulled aside the veil of Allah" (Bukhari (2), 8.24: 6069. S). In Islam, to mention a sin is
itself a sin. How many a person has been unable to resist telling a friend or a spouse of the
wickedness they did in their previous life, and Allah punished them with disgust and
contempt in the other's heart that could never quite be forgotten! There is no baraka in the
haram

There are other sins palpably punished in this world before the next, such as pride, illtreatment
of parents, or oppressing others. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him
peace) said, "Beware the prayer of the wronged, for there is no veil between it and Allah"
(Bukhari (2), 3.169-70: 2448. S). Negligence too of our stewardship of the natural order is
punished by a world in which we cannot eat, drink, or breathe without imbibing our own
befoulment. "Corruption has appeared on land and sea through what people's hands have
earned, to let them taste something of what they have done, that haply they may repent"
(Qur'an 30:41).

The Example of the Patient
The innocent are sometimes tried with suffering in order to manifest their spiritual rank or
inspire others by their example. The prophets, for example (upon whom be blessings and
peace), were exemplars to mankind, and their suffering was greater than anyone else's-not
to punish or purify them, for they were already without blemish, but in order to teach
mankind patience and fortitude. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was
asked, "Who amongst mankind is greatest in affliction?" and he replied: "The prophets,
then those most like them, then those next most like them. A man is tried in the measure of
his religion: if his religion is firm, his trial is great; while if there is flimsiness in his religion,
he is tried according to his religion. Tribulation remains with the servant until it leaves him
walking on the earth without a single error" (Tirmidhi (19), 4.601-2: 2398. S). Yet this is
probably an elucidation of the exception, which is tribulation in the lives of the righteous,
rather than the general case, which is their being preserved from it-for it is a sunna to ask
Allah to be free of affliction. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told Abu
Bakr, "Ask Allah for well-being (mu'afah), for no one was ever given anything, after
certitude, that was better than well-being" (Ahmad (9), 1.3: 5. S).

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