The Philosophy behind Disasters and Evils
Since ancient times, some ignorant people have criticized God for His alleged injustice. They have put forward some issues which, in their conceptualization, are in conflict with God’s genuine justice. They have even gone so far as to use these issues to support both the negation of God’s justice and His existence altogether.
Among the things, they see as evils are those mishaps which at times afflict man, plants and other living organisms.
Among them are natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes and other general calamities.
This issue is often brought up in relation to either theism as opposed to atheism, or God’s justice or lack thereof. In order to comprehend this topic, let us consider the following carefully:
Man’s Relative Judgment and his Limited Knowledge:
In judging some things, we usually rely upon our own selves. For instance, we will say that something is near to us or far from us, or, we refer to another person as either strong or weak. This comparison is done by comparing that person’s strength or weakness with our own, both physically and mentally. In relation to good and evil, people employ the same approach.
For instance, if it rains somewhere, we would ignore the impact of that rain on the general economy of our country, instead, we would only be concerned with our immediate environment, our homes, our fields, or at most our city. If the impact of that rain is positive, we will refer to as it a blessing from God, and if it had deleterious effects, we would refer to it as a disaster sent from heaven.
Let us give you another example: when a dilapidated building is torn down to be replaced by a better building, we refer to the dirt produced as an evil thing, forgetting for the moment that the newly built building might be a hospital from which numerous people would benefit in the future. In the case of that rain, we might temporarily forget that it might have positive advantages for the community.
In our superficial and unfounded judgments, we would consider a snake’s poison as an evil thing, forgetting for the moment that this poison is one of the defense mechanisms of the snake and that this poison could be used for pharmaceutical purposes to save a man’s life.
Therefore, to avoid falling into this pitfall, we should not use our limited knowledge to judge world affairs. In our judgments, we should avoid judging things and affairs exclusively based on ourselves; rather, we should take as many factors as possible into consideration.
Basically, the geographical and climatic events in the world are inter-related: the storm blowing in our city today and the torrential flood pouring down tomorrow are links in the universal chain of events which are taking place. These events have their roots both in the past and in the present.
We will conclude from what we have said above that jumping to conclusions based on scanty pieces of the picture and ignoring the whole body of evidence is irrational indeed.
What should be strongly denied is the creation of “absolute evil.” It would be more acceptable to see things as good from one perspective but from another aspect, and the good aspect to be more is predominant in it.
A surgical operation is extremely painful from one aspect but is of a great benefit to the person involved.
An earthquake naturally creates a lot of destruction in some areas of the earth. But when we put it into the perspective of other related affairs, our judgments drastically change.
Scientists present us with two types of causes for earthquakes. According to one theory, it is caused by the moon’s attraction to the dry outer layers of the earth. In accordance with a second theory, earthquakes are caused by heat and gases within the earth.
No matter which theory is taken to be true, we should take its other consequences into consideration. In other words, we should be aware of the effects of the earth’s internal heat over the formation of fossil resources, such as oil and coal inside the earth. Therefore, earthquakes could be regarded as relatively benevolent and good.
Another example is the tides, which are created by the attraction of the moon to the oceans and which results in the irrigation of the dry coasts of the oceans and seas. This, too, is of relative benevolence.
Thus, we understand that our relative judgments and limited knowledge are the real causes for our misunderstanding of universal events. The more we study the inter-relationship between events, the more we will recognize the limited scope of our judgments. Regarding this, the Holy Qur’¡n tells us:
وَمَا أُوتِيتُمْ مِن الْعِلْمِ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً.
And you are not given aught of knowledge but a little. [Qur’¡n 17:85]
With this limited knowledge, we should avoid rushing to jump to conclusions.
All of us have observed some people, who when they gain possessions and affluence, become immersed in vanity and false pride, forgetting for the moment, most of their responsibilities and important human affairs.
We have also seen that people are steeped in luxury, they become carried away by negligence which, if it continues, leads to disaster.
You have, no doubt, heard experienced drivers complain of straight, curve-free roads, which might make them drowsy and could be devastating to them. In some countries, artificial bumps are placed on these kinds of roads to reduce danger.
Human life resembles these straight, curveless roads in many ways. If there were no bumps, such as unpleasant events, in our way, negligence would overcome us and we would forget our duties towards God and other fellow human beings.
We are not advising people to create nasty, unpleasant events for themselves. Rather, we are saying that the philosophy behind some of these events is that they could prevent us from sinking into vanity and negligence. Regarding this topic, The Holy Qur’¡n states:
فَأَخَذْنَاهُمْ بِالْبَأْسَاء وَالضَّرَّاء لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَضَرَّعُونَ.
…then We seized them with distress and affliction in order that they might humble themselves. [Qur’¡n 6:42]
THINK AND ANSWER
The Philosophy behind Unpleasant Events in our Lives
We have seen that some faultfinders have used the unpleasant events that occur in man’s life and the disasters which we constantly face to deny God’s Justice or to deny the very existence of God altogether.
In our previous discussion, we analyzed some of these events and provided two different philosophies. Let us now continue with this discussion.
Let us repeat what we have said previously: we should never try to create problems for ourselves. It frequently happens that certain difficult obstacles strengthen our determination and enhance our faculties. This resembles the act of a blacksmith who puts steel into hot ovens to make it stronger and more durable. We, too, become more determined in the oven of hardships.
Wars are abominable events, but sometimes an intense could enhance the capabilities of a nation and make it flourish; it could change disunity into unity and could redress backwardness.
A well-known western historian writes:
“Any brilliant civilization that has emerged in whichever part of this world has been caused by a strong foreign invader which has caused the hidden capabilities of the invaded nation to flourish.”
Of course, the reaction of all individuals and societies in the face of the bitter events of life has not been identical. Some individuals despair easily; so, they are drawn into pessimism; and end up being the losers. There are others, however, because of their potential are motivated by events and move forward energetically trying to amend their weak points and drawbacks. However, since most people judge superficially, they only observe the bitter and hard aspects of the hardships of life and do not notice the positive aspects of these difficulties.
We do not, claim that all bitter events always have such an impact on us, but they do in many cases.
If one studies the life patterns of those endowed with genius, you would find out that nearly all of them carried out their activities under hard and difficult circumstances. Few of those who have been pampered and spoiled have shown any genius or have reached lofty positions in life. Great, distinguished military leaders and generals have such high social positions because they have encountered difficult challenges in the military theater. By the same token, the experts in economics are those who have wrestled against daunting economic conditions and have emerged victorious.
In the same way, great politicians are those who have struggled against hard and unpleasant events.
In sum, it could be stated that hardships and pain nourish the human mind.
We read the following truth in the Holy Qur’¡n:
فَعَسَى أَن تَكْرَهُواْ شَيْئاً وَيَجْعَلَ اللهُ فِيهِ خَيْراً كَثِيراً.
Then if you hate them, it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it. [Qur’¡n 4:19]
In the previous discussions, we found out that there is a specific aim for every one of our limbs and organs. There is even a philosophy behind the creation of our fingerprints, so, how could it be possible for our whole body to lack any pre-specified objectives?
We have seen so far, as well, that the main objective of man’s creation has been for him to develop and to flourish in all aspects of life.
In order to attain such perfection, man needs profound educational programs that could lead the entirety of his being, therefore such a program should be all-inclusive. For this very reason, God has provided man not only with a monotheistic nature but has sent heavenly books through great prophets to lead man to the straight path.
For man to accomplish such a profound feat God has revealed to him the consequences of his sins and wrongdoings and has made man suffer in those cases where he has disobeyed God’s orders and commands; in this way, God has taught man to take lessons from his previous errors and pave the way to approach Him. For this reason, some of the disasters and unpleasant events man encounters, are in fact God’s grace and signs of His Benevolence.
This fact is vividly stated in The Holy Qur’¡n:
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ.
Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of what the hands of men have wrought, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return. [Qur’¡n 30:41]
Regarding the afore-mentioned topics, it is entirely baseless and illogical to consider disastrous events as evil, to interpret them as pernicious and to consider them as signs of God’s injustice. This is because the more meticulously we delve into this issue, the more we appreciate the philosophy behind it.
THINK AND ANSWER
Which individuals benefit from bitter events and which ones interpret them negatively