Whether it was a big bang that brought our world into existence or something else, the bitter truth is that we are living in a place full of misery and suffering. The torment that men inflict on each other is nothing comparable to the torment inflicted by the natural calamities and disasters. Of course, it is easy to explain away the hard facts of hundreds of thousands of people massacred in a bloody war or the innumerable causalities suffered in a terrorist attack. Man is evil incarnate! He is egocentric, envious and devilish! But what about the natural catastrophes?
The perennial problem of evil has pervaded our philosophical literature since ages. Obviously, it is not possible to deny the bare fact that evil permeates the entire world we subsist in. In one form or another, we have to encounter it very many times throughout our life. There is no denying that good is also found around us, and that the bounties of nature mesmerize us once we look for them. However, the prominent form that evil takes is manifest to all people – whether intelligent or dull minded. Therefore, despite the abundance of good, the problem of evil has always posed a big question to mankind.
Various interpretations which man has been led to indeed give no real solace to us. For example, to equate evil with lack of knowledge, and knowledge with knack is the most perplexing problem of its own kind1. Man is of course neither innately ignorant nor does he get conditioned to function mechanically once he obtains knowledge. The universal truths of justice, honesty, and veracity are evident to all people. It is quite possible that difference of opinion should arise on very subtle points while adhering to these universal truths. However, the majority of mankind has always cherished these truths, and upheld them at the expense of their lives. Furthermore, this equation gives us no clue as how to unfold the underlying meaning of the natural catastrophes that befall mankind. Of course, the evil that seems to emanate from the works of God is what the central problem is at hand. And it is awfully absurd to entertain, in the slightest degree, the notion of ignorance on the part of God for otherwise He would be no God in actuality. Therefore, the ignorance-evil notion leaves us in the middle of nowhere.
Undeniably, the problem apparently is resolved by a so-called persuasive explanation that each evil is in fact good in the light of the overall universal natural laws and orders2. To know the coherence of nature is to appreciate the ultimate good in every manifestation of evil. Good and evil are relative to man, and indicate nothing positive considered in themselves. Therefore, what our reason says bad is not bad as regards the orders and laws of universal nature but only as regards the laws of our own nature. This explanation doubtlessly places us in a broader spectrum, and helps us see the ultimate good in the evil that befalls us. It insists that the all-encompassing divine sight envisions good in all the evil around us. We need not despair and feel low. Good may elude us but it does not escape the world altogether.
However, there is nothing in this proposition for the individual beings who suffer. It is hardly possible to get big kicks from the supposed ultimate good that is yielded at the expense of my suffering. If my son is hanged for no offence, if my daughter is raped callously, and if an earthquake leaves my entire family dead, the only comfort for me is to think philosophically: all the pain that I bear for the sufferings of my loved ones firstly, and for not having been given justice subsequently will contribute to the universal good – the most elusive notion ever heard of. What would I do with this so-called universal good? And if I yearn for justice, why is it that the Providence will ignore it after engendering within me this yearning in the most intense and palpable form in the first place?
Now, when we look into the Holy Qur’an, we find it a quintessential fountain that furnishes ceaseless supplies of sheer solace. It is not because it has concocted a fable to hush the cries of the suffering mankind. It has actually lifted the veil from the face of reality. In the Holy Qur’an, man stands face to face with reality yet finds superb consolation in the soothing explanation purported by it. This world is not a work of chance nor is what happens in it a work of blind forces. In fact, the world has been created by an Omnipotent and Omniscient God with a predefined purpose, that is, to test men which of them is good in faith and deeds. This sole objective is the fiber that human life, on this planet, is interwoven with. The wheel of life moves on only to test the vigor of men’s faith in God, and assess the conduct of their lives.
In the span of their life in this world, men have been given free will to plan and act as they please. As an obvious corollary, sometimes, innocent blood will be shed and sometimes, innocent souls will be deflowered. But everyone is being tested: while the criminal is tested in his crimes, the victims are tried for their patience and trust in God. The criminals would not be left to go scot-free nor would the pangs of pain that we endure go in vain. The Holy Qur’an sounds a stern warning to the criminals and announces fabulous rewards for those who persevere. We mustn’t fall prey to the notion that life of the world is an end in itself: once dead, we shall not be resurrected to account for our deeds. As the appointed time comes, the dead will be raised to see the ultimate justice being dispensed in the Kingdom of God.
In fact, the scheme of the Almighty about this world is exceptionally clear as pointed out earlier. The disasters and adversities are also a means to put mankind through test and trial. He has unequivocally declared that He shall test men with loss of wealth and lives, fear and hunger. The catastrophes are but a part and parcel of the trial that man is put through.3 Far from the notion of universal good, whatever we do is accounted for in our own records – true and fair presentation of our entire life – which shall provide a detailed basis on which our fate in the Hereafter will be decided. In the Kingdom of God, the minute details shall be examined so much so that the covert secrets of our hearts shall be probed and brought into open. No matter what we do, human relations and natural forces shall continue to propel trying circumstances for us. For the thankless souls, there shall be heavy penalty and tremendous loss. However, they shall have no fear or despair who when struck by evil calls out إنا لله و إنا إليه راجعون (we are God’s and unto Him shall we return!)