The following question is often asked: “If God has the power to do anything, and since He is the most-compassionate and the ever-merciful, then why does He allow suffering and evil in the world?” At face value, this seems to be a legitimate question, but in fact, it is based on false premises. Such a question will never cross the mind of a true believer, because for such a believer God is also all-knowing, all-wise, and all-just. Since the true believer has fully submitted to the will of God, then the true believer will never question His wisdom and justice. The question, therefore, is one that is posed by other than true believers.
Suffering and evil are an integral part of the trial of life for humans. With their limited knowledge and perspective, humans should not project their values and judgment on God but should have full trust in His wisdom and justice both in this life and the afterlife.
It should be recognized at the outset that any judgement passed by humans on any issue is inevitably subject to the constraints of: (i) limited knowledge and perspective, and (ii) human values on which the judgement is based. Both constraints do not apply to God, for He is all-knowing and has the ultimate overall picture. He knows everything pertaining to any matter; we don’t. Moreover, the considerations that God bases His decisions on do not have to be the same as those of humans, for He is all-wise, all-just and ever-merciful to all, whereas humans base their decisions and judgement on a limited set of considerations and subject to their own biases, prejudices, value systems, and the vagaries of human nature. The eminent Islamic scholar, al-Ghazzali, who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries CE, provides a beautiful allegory, which although he applied in a somewhat different context, is nevertheless very befitting for your purposes. Paraphrasing al-Ghazali, we are like ants on a piece of writing; we can see the lines, curves, and dots of what is written, but we do not understand their meaning, nor can we see the writer. Ultimately, therefore, whatever occurs in this world is part of His wisdom and justice, which may not be comprehensible to humans.
The question, therefore, as to why God allows suffering and evil in the world is completely misplaced to begin with. Nevertheless, several issues concerning suffering and evil will be addressed in what follows.
What all the forgoing boils down to is that in the face of suffering and evil we must refrain from passing judgement based on our own perceived values and limited knowledge and perspective. We should have full trust in the wisdom, justice, and mercy of God. After all, we have to trust others at one time or another. In our upbringing we implicitly trust our parents in knowing what is best for us, and we submit to their will. We trust doctors with our health because of their knowledge and experience. We trust surgeons with life-threatening operations because of their skill and expertise. As law-abiding citizens, we trust the authorities with our security and general welfare. So why not trust the Creator of the universe in His infinite wisdom, justice, and mercy and submit to His Will? Indeed, humans are the most contentious of beings and oftentimes irrational to boot!
Nassir Sabah is a neuroscientist/biophysicist and Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. He has over 100 technical publications, mainly in neurophysiology, biophysics, and biomedical instrumentation and has authored four books on electric circuits, electronics, and neuroscience. This article is adapted from his most recent book Spirituality Rekindled: The Quest for Serenity and Self-Fulfillment (2023).
He could be reached at his website https://nassirsabah.com
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