The problem of evil -as some call it- has been a reason for a group of people to deny the existence of God. They question: “If God exists, why is there evil in the world?” The question is a logical fallacy which could be handled by the proper understanding of the attributes of God, the reality of this short life and the purpose of our existence.
The Existence of God
Does the problem of evil really deny the existence of God?
The British atheist philosopher David Hume said:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? What then is evil?” (1)
According to Hume’s words, the problem deals with God’s attributes, not His existence. Hume denies the existence of an impotent, malevolent or evil God. We agree with this point; as the problem of evil obviously doesn’t oppose the existence of a creator (God), rather it is related with His attributes. If we see a great, amazing working program we will instantly know someone coded and designed it. If we have unanswered questions concerning this work, we won’t deny its intelligent programmer in the first place …and that applies to our universe. So, as the problem of evil is mainly concerned with God’s attributes, we are going to discuss it.
Attributes of God
God told us in His final preserved revelation (the Qur’an) that He is the All-knowing, the All-wise, the Merciful, and He has the perfect attributes.
The creator of everything is the best to know about everything. He knows what we see, what we don’t see, what happened, what didn’t happen if it had happened how it would have been. He knows every small detail about you, everything about this world, on the land, in the bottom of the sea, the smallest ant on a dark tree … the whole universe, starting from the huge masses, the big galaxy which is a million light year far away… till the tiny small details you cannot observe.
And with Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except Him. And He knows what is on the land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but that He knows it. And no grain is there within the darkness of the earth and no moist or dry [thing] but that it is [written] in a clear record.” [Qur’an 6-59] (2)
His unlimited knowledge involves great wisdom which involves a great mercy.
He is Allah, other than whom there is no deity, Knower of the unseen and the witnessed. He is the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful. He is Allah, other than whom there is no deity, the Sovereign, the Pure, the Perfection, the Bestower of Faith, the Overseer, the Exalted in Might, the Compeller, the Superior. Exalted is Allah above whatever they associate with Him. He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor, the Fashioner; to Him belong the best names. Whatever is in the heavens and earth is exalting Him. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” [Qur’an 59 – 22:24] (3)
On the other hand, man is created and not a creator. He is imperfect; as he could be wise with imperfect wisdom or knowledgeable with limited knowledge.
It is clear God knows what we don’t know. It is also logical we would never understand everything or know God’s wisdom behind everything, and that could derive us to see it evil. In fact, seeing something as evil in human perspective doesn’t mean it is evil. However, it means we simply don’t completely understand. I remember a scene of a man furiously kicking a cat with people calling him merciless, but when seeing a fast vehicle which was about to kill the cat they stopped to thank his mercy. If we understand everything and know the wisdom behind everything, then either God is imperfect like ourselves or we are all gods.
The Qur’an describes it beautifully:
But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” [Qur’an 2 – 216] (4)
The Reality of Life
It would be too difficult or nearly impossible to realize the justice of God, or the goodness behind what we see evil if we think this life is the end. Is it fair the righteous and the wrongdoer are the same at the end? Is it fair both die and become dust as if nothing had happened? Is it even logical that all this perfection in the creation that science reveals to us every day is meaningless?
Then did you think that We created you uselessly and that to Us you would not be returned?” [Qur’an 23 – 115] (5)
God made it clear. He said He created us in this short life to be tested. We should do our best to be righteous as possible not as happy as possible. Happiness will be for the righteous in this short worldly life and it will be eternal in the Hereafter for the righteous people who chose to obey God, passed this short life test… people who really deserve it. God said:
Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.” [Qur’an 16-97](6)
Worldly Life vs. Eternal Life
Imagine you have a test for one hour, and after you pass, you’ll have all the luxury you could dream of for the rest of your life. It seems unimaginable, doesn’t it? In fact, it is more unimaginable if you compare a life of 60-80 years with eternal life. There is no comparison. Your life and all the joy and hardships you had will appear as nothing compared to the eternal endless life. What’s ever worth losing the only chance? God said:
And this worldly life is not but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter – that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew.” [Qur’an 29 – 64] (7)
And we can actually feel it. Which happiness could a short life of an average of 60-80 years bring? Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) described it saying:
And then that person from amongst the persons of the world be brought who had led the most miserable life (in the world) from amongst the inmates of Paradise. and he would be made to dip once in Paradise and it would be said to him: ‘O, son of Adam! did you face, any hardship? Or had any distress fallen to your lot?’
And he would say: ‘By Allah, no,O my Lord, never did I face any hardship or experience any distress.’ ” [Sahih Muslim] (8)
There is no test without free will. God is The Just, He gave each human being the free will to choose to either obey God or disobey him, and accordingly God will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment. Among the greatest problems in life is corruption. It is mainly caused by the hands of people who chose to disobey God. It could be unjust to test people and judge them when they aren’t responsible for their own actions. God says:
Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness].” [Qur’an 30 – 41] (9)
Examples of Common life Tests
Problems in life could be doors to Paradise. One could be without much good deeds, but his patience could raise him higher than he could expect. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:
When Allah has previously decreed for a servant a rank which he has not attained by his action, He afflicts him in his body, or his property or his children. He then enables him to endure that so that He may bring him to the rank previously decreed from him by Allah.” [Sunan Abi Dawud 3090] (10)
For example, poverty -which is one of the most common problems in life- tests the poor’s patience and the rich’s generosity.
The poor people will be faster to enter Paradise as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told us:
The poor emigrants will enter Paradise before the rich among them by five hundred years.” [Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2351] (11)
While God told us about a group of righteous people who give food that they love:
And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive, [Saying], “We feed you only for the countenance of Allah. We wish not from you reward or gratitude.” [Qur’an 76 – 8:9](12)
Luxury in Paradise
He then described in the next ten verses the luxury they are going to have in Paradise:
And will reward them for what they patiently endured [with] a garden [in Paradise] and silk [garments]. (12)
[They will be] reclining therein on adorned couches. They will not see therein any [burning] sun or [freezing] cold.(13)
And near above them are its shades, and its [fruit] to be picked will be lowered in compliance.(14)
And there will be circulated among them vessels of silver and cups having been [created] clear [as glass].(15)
Clear glasses [made] from silver of which they have determined the measure.(16)
And they will be given to drink a cup [of wine] whose mixture is of ginger,(17)
[From] a fountain within Paradise named Salsabeel.(18)
There will circulate among them young boys made eternal. When you see them, you would think them [as beautiful as] scattered pearls.(19)
And when you look there [in Paradise], you will see pleasure and great dominion.(20)
Upon the inhabitants will be green garments of fine silk and brocade. And they will be adorned with bracelets of silver, and their Lord will give them a purifying drink.(21)
[And it will be said], ‘Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated.’ ” [Qur’an 76 – 12:22](13)
Loss of an Organ
Anas (one of the closest companions of prophet Muhammad) said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) saying,
Allah, the Glorious and Exalted said: ‘When I afflict my slave in his two dear things (i.e., his eyes), and he endures patiently, I shall compensate him for them with Jannah (paradise).” [Al-Bukhari] (14)
Loss of a Child
The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said,
When a man’s child dies, Allah, the Exalted, asks His angels (And He knows), ‘Have you taken out the life of the child of My slave?’ and they reply in the affirmative. He (SWT) then asks (And He knows), ‘Have you taken the fruit of his heart?’ and they reply in the affirmative. Thereupon He asks (And He knows), ‘What did my slave say?’ They say: ‘He praised You and said: Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un (We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return).’ Allah says: ‘Build a house for my slave in Jannah and name it Baitul-Hamd (the House of Praise).” [At-Tirmidhi] (15)
However, God tests each individual according to his capacity:
Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.” [Qur’an 2 – 286] (16)
The Goodness behind Evil
As we previously discussed, we cannot know the wisdom behind everything. However, there are life stories that show people who went through hardships which they thought would ruin them, but it elevated them. Some people, if given the chance to return to the past, would choose the same choices they previously thought to be bad.
In the Qur’an, there are plenty of stories showing the goodness behind evil. For example, the prison of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) was a way for him to rule Egypt (Qur’an chapter 12). The damage of a boat, and the killing of a boy was beneficial. (It is explained in Qur’an chapter 18, verses 60-82)
Goodness vs. Evil
We obviously notice evil because of the prevalence of goodness, as evil is the exception of the rule. We usually say that a man is ill, not that a man is not ill. However, we unfortunately tend to look at the the empty half of the glass instead of the full half.
If evil was a proof -according to some people- there is no God… Then according to the same argument what is the cause of the goodness in life?
Is it blind chance? Or The Merciful Creator? Apparently blind chance couldn’t be the cause of a consistent organized thing or state. Then who but God?
The problem of evil doesn’t oppose the existence of God, rather it deals with the proper understanding of the attributes of God and the purpose of life. Looking deeply in the subject, we would conclude ‘the problem of evil’ supports the existence of God and His good attributes in several ways:
- The recognition of evil suggests the prevalence of goodness.
- It supports the fact that God is All-Knowing while we aren’t, so His wisdom requires certain things that we may consider as evil while they are not.
- It supports the fact that God is Just, as He gave each individual his free will based on which he will be judged.
- According to God’s justice the bad and the good won’t be the same at the end.
- Life is too short to be a home for true happiness; it is not more than a test which is nothing compared to the eternal happiness in the Hereafter for those who are righteous.
- Hardships in life are a way for great morals to appear; such as generosity, patience…etc. to separate people out based on their core.
(1) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion – David Hume – Part 10.
(2) Verse (6-59) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).
(3) Verse (59-22:24) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).
(4) Verse (2-216) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).
(5) Verse (23-115) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).
(6) Verse (16-97) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).
(7) Verse (29-64) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).
(8) Prophet’s saying ‘Hadith’ from Sahih Muslim.
(9) Verse (30-41) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).
(10) Prophet’s saying ‘Hadith’ from Sunan Abi-Dawud.
(11) Prophet’s saying from Jami` at-Tirmidh.
(12) Verse (76-8:9) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).
(13) Verse (76-12:22) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).
(14) Prophet’s saying from Sahih Al-Bukhari.
(15) Prophet’s saying from At-Tirmdhi.
(16) Verse (2-286) of Qur’an (English interpretation of meaning).