Easy and comfortable living is what everyone wishes for in life but there comes a time the basic means of survival becomes a struggle. Thousands, if not million of people across the globe through no fault of their own, succumb to pain, suffering, and the tragic loss of love ones. Instances of natural disasters like flooding, outbreak of diseases like Ebola and many other sufferings in life makes people wonder if God truly exist or why does God not intervene to save us from such perils.
The above questions are raised due to our own limited understanding in the philosophy and wisdom behind the operations of the universe. That is, if God has the power to create and sustain all that exists, then what purpose does pain and suffering with seemingly unfortunate and tragic events serve as part of the working intricacies of our existence as prescribed by the Supreme Being? Take for example a plant breeder; over several years they have developed drought-resistant traits to improve the yield in drought-stricken parts of the world. Now the question is, if these plants were not subjected to stress conditions such as lack of water, the drought-resistant trait would never be found. Similarly, if a professional athlete does not go through intense pain and suffering in training, how could he/she develop their capabilities and compete in sporting events?
The All-Powerful God, aware of our weaknesses or some impeding danger to humans, puts us to test and exposes deficiencies in individuals and society as whole. These painful episodes often lead to better ways of doing things in the future or certain individuals rediscovering their hidden talent or potentials. For instance, flooding helps civil engineers design or model better ways of mitigating future flood damage and the outbreak of emerging infectious diseases help survivors build their immune system or scientist are able to develop vaccines to protect us from future predicaments. No matter how you look at it, without occasional pain and suffering, human civilization, and for that matter the evolutionary processes that has given rise to diverse plants and animal species, would have grounded to a halt.
It should be understood that the Darwin theory of survival for the fittest does not negate God’s existence. On the contrarily we read from the Holy Quran that God Almighty created things in stages and an on a progressive trajectory. God says “Blessed is He in Whose hand is the kingdom, and He has power over all things; Who has created death and life that He might try you—which of you is best in deeds; and He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving; Who has created seven heavens in harmony. No incongruity canst thou see in the creation of the Gracious God. Then look again: Seest though any flaw? Aye, look again, and yet again, thy sight will only return unto thee confused and fatigued” (Quran 67:2-5). This indicates that God is the driving force behind the evolutionary process, which has produced a beautiful creation of which He is the Sustainer and Perfector.
Further, let’s explore how suffering impacts humanity’s traits of kindness, compassion and empathy. That is, without pain and suffering, humility, empathy and sympathy for our fellow human beings would be diminished. This phenomenon is best illustrated if you consider the philosophy behind the obligatory fasting for healthy Muslim men and women. Some people in society will never experience hunger in their lifetime and thus will never empathize with a crying call of a poor man on the street or hunger-stricken people in some parts of the world. By subjecting his or herself to suffer hunger for thirty days, such individuals may reflect and ponder over the plight of millions of people across the globe who live their lives under the shadow of hunger, and thus realize how blessed they are. This reflection has the tendency to lead to charitable giving and philanthropy for the least privilege people in society.
It will be a travesty to think that the Supreme Being is not aware of the pain and suffering people sometimes go through. Prophet Muhammad whom God has described as an excellent model and a mercy for mankind was subjected to intense pain and suffering right from his childhood and for decades in his ministry, but in the end all the excellent moral qualities you can think of in life were exhibited by him. In fact all prophets of God, without exception, had to undergo episodes of pain and suffering in order to carry out their divine assignment.
It should be reiterated that belief in God does not make anyone immune from pain and suffering but should rather be viewed as a means to bring out the best traits in us to adapt to changing environmental conditions for success in the future. If the pain and suffering are not due to misuses of God’s gifted talent but as a result of something out of our control, they should be regarded as blessings in disguise because it has the potential to bring benefit to individuals and society as a whole.