Why bad things happen to good people: a Muslim evaluation

When it comes to theodicy, one cannot give a single answer that represents the absolute truth. Even if one were a theologian, one cannot simply claim that one knows why there is so much suffering in humanity and that God basically is the source of all the suffering on earth.

But a Muslim intrinsically believes in the absolute mercy of God. God is more merciful with his people than a mother with her children. We have no doubt. We may not see beyond the bad we are suffering from. God speaks in the Qur’an: “…It is possible that you dislike something and there is good in it for you, and it is possible that you like something and it has evil in it for you, and God knows and you know not.” (2:216)

How is that so? Another verse give further clarification: “It is He [God] who created death and life to test you and to find out which of you would do (behave) best. And He is the Exhalted in Might, the Oft-Forgiving.” (67:2) This verse testifies to the absolute Oneness of the Creator, God. If one had faith that He is the Owner of the universe, that He created us to live and die as a test for us, then one would believe that death, life, happiness, misery, pain, joy and blessings are all human elements that we experience throughout this journey to lead us to the path. Which path? The path of faith where one does good because God is good.

It is usually when people are suffering that they extend their arms up to the sky and cry, “help me God.” Unfortunately, most people live in a state of unawareness throughout their lives, unaware of the connection that ties them to their Creator, unaware of His signs in His creation. Such a life is spiritually starved and colorless. But when trials and ordeals hit, people may wake up and taste the closeness of God. They discover their human fragility vis-a-vis the might of God. Only when they discover their human nature do they reconcile with God.

Suffering and ordeals pull us back to our origin, the origin that is so connected to God and in need of Him. And once we have reconciled this relationship we start figuring out how the bad things that happened to us were in fact good for us. It is those “Aha” moments that brighten our faces and hearts after discovering that, for example, it had to take a big marital conflict for a couple to remind themselves of their vows and reconnect intellectually with one another. Or it had to take a vicious war to wipe out entire communities before people realize that unity and tolerance will help them rebuild their country and revolutionize their stale cultural prejudice.

Diamonds as seen in jewelry stores are the end product of a long process of cleansing and purification. They are dug out with all the dirt and impurities with them, exposed to severe heat through burning fire, before they end up on the finger of a bride, shiny, clear and gorgeous. Maybe humans too need some heat exposure through trials in order for their purified essence to surface. Maybe this is why Muslims are taught to say grace, “al hamdullillah,” meaning thanks to God, after an ordeal happens to them! This is the test that God speak about in the Qur’an: if one was tested with ordeals, loss, or suffering, one must say “to God we belong and to God we return.” This testimony is a reminder that everything is in the hand of God and that even though our hearts are saddened, we never reject our God, no matter what happens to us.

 

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