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Rational explanation of Purpose of Life, Reason of Evil and Suffering

 finding-your-life-purpose-journey-universeIn a previous post on Evidence for Quran, I had pointed out that Quran gives a Complete explanation of Purpose of Life, including the reason of evil and suffering, etc in a manner that appeals to a rational mind. Let me elaborate on this topic in this article.

If God created us, then He must have had a purpose behind it. If that purpose needs to be fulfilled then this needs to be communicated to us. Also we see so much evil and suffering around us. There needs to be a proper explanation of why the world is created in this manner. The Quran gives the rationale behind this type of creation.

The Quran makes it clear that God intended to create humans as beings who have a free will and freedom to do whatever they want in a world where there is suffering and trials. The Quran claims that suffering is a necessary and key element in the human growth process and that all of us, good and bad, sinful and righteous, believer and unbeliever, will and must experience it.

 Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, who say, when afflicted with calamity: “To God We belong, and to Him is our return” [Quran 2:-155-156]

Hence everyone will suffer, regardless of their religiosity. In fact Quran connects our suffering with our state in the afterlife.

 Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Apostle and those of faith who were with him cried: “When (will come) the help of God?” Ah! Verily, the help of God is (always) near! [Quran 2:214]

Why? The answer is given in the following verses of the Quran

 Verily We have created man into toil and struggle. Thinketh he, that none hath power over him? He may say (boastfully); Wealth have I squandered in abundance!  Thinketh he that none beholdeth him?  Have We not made for him a pair of eyes?-  And a tongue, and a pair of lips?- And shown him the two highways?  But he hath made no haste on the Uphill Climb.  And what will explain to thee the Uphill Climb?-  (It is:) freeing the bondman;  Or the giving of food in a day of privation To the orphan with claims of relationship, Or to the indigent (down) in the dust. Then will he be of those who believe, and enjoin patience, (constancy, and self-restraint), and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion. [Quran 90-4-17]

This passage highlights the following two aspects of the results of human suffering

 

  1. It reminds of our limitations and the world is temporary
  2.  It gives us the opportunity of growth in attributes like compassion, etc which would not make sense in the absence of suffering. The concepts of mercy and compassion and justice would not exist and can never be understood without suffering and injustice.As for working towards bringing justice and peace, this is exactly what God wants us to do so that we can use our potentials for spiritual growth of our own free will. Then only would we be good human beings. For goodness does not exist without free will and the ability to do harm.

 

This aspect of human beings is also highlighted in the Quran in which God narrates His conversation with the Angels with regards to creation of Adam.

When informed about the creation of Adam, the Angels had asked the following question

Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a successive authority on earth.” They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?” He said: “I know what ye know not.” [Quran 2:030]

The setting of the verse is in Heaven, with God making an announcement to the angels that He is going to place man on earth, as ‘a successive authority on earth’. This is in complete contrast with the Bible, where humanity is not placed on earth to perform some positive function, but rather as a punishment for Adam’s sin. Yet there is no hint here in God’s announcement of any wrongdoing on Adam’s and Eve’s part.

The angels raise the natural objection “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?”

In essence they ask, why create this most sinful and violent creature? Why pun on earth one who will wreak havoc there? Why create this defective being at all, when you can create us, the angels?

Their question is given even greater force when we consider that it is being asked in Heaven. For in top of creating this imperfect creature, God is about to place it in an environment where it could act out its worst criminal impulses, operating under the illusion of being distant from God.

Yet God simply replies to the angels, “I know what ye know not.”  As if to say, I know exactly what I am doing. It soon becomes apparent to the reader, that the Quran has an entirely different vision and message than the Bible. It begins to answer the angel’s question that first focuses on human intellect (2:31-34), then on moral choice (2:35-36), and finally on divine guidance (2:37-39)

And He taught Adam the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: “Tell me the names of these if ye are right.” [Quran 2:031]

In the Biblical version, Adam names the creatures around him,  but it was not highlighted as part of a justification for the making of humanity. The Quran, however, begins to answer the angel’s query by drawing attention to this point. Note that Adam does not merely names the things around him, instead God teaches him, which emphasizes his ability to learn, his intellect. Infact it is also to be noted as to what Adam is learning. He is acquiring the ability to name “all things,” to assign verbal symbols to everything that he becomes aware of, to all of his thoughts, experiences, and feelings. The Quran emphasizes the gift of the Language, for it separates humans from other earthly creatures, as it is through it that grow, progress, and learn, individually and collectively.

In reply to angel’s question, the Quran seems to be saying, in this verse and others that follow, that there are other qualities, human intelligence among them, that make mankind, atleast potentially, greater than angels in God’s views.

They said: “Glory to Thee, of knowledge We have none, save what Thou Hast taught us: In truth it is Thou Who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom.” [Quran 2:32]

The angels admit their inability to meet the challenge. They lack the intellectual aptitude to create symbols and concepts for what they experience. They explain that to do so would require intelligence – knowledge and wisdom – far beyond their reach. They acknowledge that for God such a task would be easy, because He is “all knowing, all wise.”

He said: “O Adam! Tell them their names.” When he had told them, God said: “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what ye reveal and what ye conceal?” [Quran 2:33]

Adam succeeds where angels fail. Although Adam does not have the wisdom and knowledge of God, he is endowed with more of these than the angels.

Also, God reminds angels that their objection revealed only one side of man – his ability to do violence and wrong, while concealed the other side – the ability to do good.

And behold, We said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam” and they bowed down. Not so Iblis: he refused and was haughty: He was of those who reject Faith. [Quran 2:34]

Again the Quran emphasizes its position, that that human character is potentially greater than the angelic one. The Quran also seems to suggest that the angels will serve mankind in its development on earth.

This verse also starts the story of temptation. In addition to intelligence, God has made us moral beings, that understand right and wrong. He has provided us with angelic inspiration and satanic temptation to heighten our moral awareness. We have been given the ability to make moral choices.

We said: “O Adam! dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) ye will; but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression.” [Quran 2:35]

Unlike the Bible, where God is threatened by the prospects of man eating from tree of knowledge and immortality; in the Quranic verse, God seems to be calm and in complete control. There is no suggestion that the fruit of the tree will have any great effect on Adam and Eve. It almost seems that the tree is picked at random. The Quran later explains that Satan tempted the couple by saying that if they ate from the tree, then they would obtain eternal life, and “a kingdom that never decays” [20:120], but this is a complete fabrication on his part.

We do not know if this was the first command that God gave to the couple. We know that this was the first one they disobeyed. This might be its significance. This was their first independent choice, where they chose to do other than what God told them, thus showing that humans are moral beings, subject to temptation.

Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: “Get ye down, all (ye people), with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling-place and your means of livelihood – for a time.” [Quran 2:36]

Notice Quran calls this sin a “slip” and not a sin as grave as to punish all humanity for it.

Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration, and his Lord Turned towards him; for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. [Quran 2:37]

The tone of the passage is far from condemnatory with its emphasis on God’s forgiveness and compassion.

We said: “Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. [Quran 2:38]

The couple is then sent down to begin their earthly journey. They must have been filled with remorse for what they have done and apprehension about life in an unfamiliar environment. God assures them that they will have guidance from Him, and they have nothing to fear as long as they follow it.

Adam and Eve have been shown their intellectual, and moral capacity and their capacity to make choices and weigh it consequences and have been put in conditions of adversity. They have been told that they will receive guidance from God. They are in perfect position to start their earthly life, where they would be required to grow spiritually, out of their own choice

Here we see that the Quran emphasizes three essential components of this stage of man’s moral and spiritual evolution; Free will, or the ability to choose; Intellect, the tool for weighing the consequences of one’s choices and learning from them; and third, an environment of adversity.

Our Free will, or the ability to choose; Intellect, the tool for weighing the consequences of one’s choices and learning from them; and an environment of adversity also plays a great role in our spiritual growth. As we know, virtue, if programmed, is not true virtue; it is always something less. You can program a computer never to make an incorrect statement but it does not thereby become a truthful computer, nor does any medicine possess compassion, although they are made to help the sick.

To learn to be truthful requires the option to lie, and hence the ability to learn and discern. A higher level of honesty is attained if we insist on speaking the truth in adversity, say at the threat of physical or material loss. To grow in compassion there must be suffering and the choice to ignore it. And so it is with all the virtues; love, charity, forgiveness and so on. To grow in each of them, we must have the alternative to do otherwise and the possibility for the existence of hate, indifference, greed, vengeance or revenge, and obviously suffering.

 “O ye who believe! Persevere in patience and constancy; vie in such perseverance; strengthen each other; and fear God; that ye may prosper.”[Quran 3:200]

Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, who say, when afflicted with calamity: “To God We belong, and to Him is our return” [Quran 2:-155-156]

It is by trial and error, and by realizing and rising above our mistakes, that we learn and progress to a higher level of goodness. Error, if realized and repented off sincerely, can lead ultimately to a higher state.

 “Excepting the one repents, believes, and works righteous deeds, for God will change the evil of such persons into good, and God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”[Quran 25:70]

God has revealed laws in the Quran, as being the Creator and outside time and space, He best understands the good and bad for humanity as a whole and requires us to live our lives within those general guidelines out of our own free will.

God clearly says in the Quran

 “We did not create the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in vain.” [Quran 44:38]

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About Kashif Zuberi

Student of Knowledge

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