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Hardship, a Cause of Awakening

Considering the harmful effects of neglectfulness and the intoxication of
arrogance, on the one hand, and the numerous moral lessons taught by misfortune,
on the other, it can be said that failure and misfortune are relative insofar as
they contain great blessings; they contribute fruitfully to the building of
man’s awareness and will. Hardship is, then, the preliminary to higher, more advanced states of being; it
prepares man for the recompense that awaits him, and from his response to it, it
becomes apparent whether he has attained the lofty degree of sincerity and
devotion or is sunk in decay.

Those who are drunk on the arrogance of power and success and who have
totally forgotten humane ethics because of the seduction of their soul and their
senses will sometimes find, in various corners of the world, that the occurrence
of unpleasant events makes them open to fundamental changes and developments
that tear away from them the veils of forgetfulness. They may even be guided to
a path leading to some degree of moral perfection and a future more fruitful
than their present They are people in whom misfortune has induced a profound
transformation.

Considering the harmful effects of neglectfulness and the intoxication of
arrogance, on the one hand, and the numerous moral lessons taught by misfortune,
on the other, it can be said that failure and misfortune are relative insofar as
they contain great blessings; they contribute fruitfully to the building of
man’s awareness and will.

Hardship is, then, the preliminary to higher, more advanced states of being; it
prepares man for the recompense that awaits him, and from his response to it, it
becomes apparent whether he has attained the lofty degree of sincerity and
devotion or is sunk in decay.

The Quran says: "We have created man in the embrace of hardship." (90:4) Or,
again: "We test you with fear, hunger, the loss of wealth and possessions,
death, and the loss of the fruits of your toil . Give glad tidings to those who
struggle manfully on this path that those who say when afflicted with calamity
and pain, ‘We are from God and to Him we return on our path to perfection,’-that
it is they who receive kindness and mercy from their Lord together with their
suffering, and they it is who are truly guided."(2:155-57)

Without doubt, God could have created a world without hardship, pain and
misfortune, but that would have meant His depriving man of freedom and choice;
he would have been let loose in the world as a creature without will or the
power of decision, just like any other creature lacking perception and
awareness, formed exclusively by nature and totally obedient to it. Would he
then have deserved the name of man?

Having paid the heavy price of losing all his innate capacities and freedom, his
most precious resource, would he have advanced toward perfection, or decayed and
declined? Would no t the world, too, have lost all goodness and beauty, these
being comprehensible only in terms of their opposites?

It is plain that the power to distinguish and discriminate makes possible the
existence of good and evil, of beauty and ugliness. By giving man the
inestimable blessing of freedom and the ability to choose, God, whose wisdom is
manifest throughout creation, wished to display fully His ability to create
phenomena bearing witness to His wisdom and power.

He placed within man’s being the possibility of doing both good and evil, and
although He compels him to do neither, He always expects him to do good. God
does not approve of evil; it is righteous conduct that meets with His approval
and, in exchange for which He provides abundant, unimaginable reward. God warns
man against following the path of evil and threatens him with punishment and
torment if he does so.

Thus, by using the power of choice that God has bestowed on him, man can act as
he should, conforming both to divine guidance and to his own conscience.

But, if occasionally his foot should slip and he should commit some sin, the
path remains open for him to return to purity and light, to God’s favor and
mercy. This is in itself a further manifestation of God’s generosity and
all-embracing justice, one more of the blessings He bestows on His servants.

Were God to give immediate reward to the virtuous for their righteous conduct
and acts, they would not in any way be superior to the corrupt and the sinful.
And if the evil in thought and in deed were to be always met with instant
punishment and retribution, virtue and purity would not enjoy any superiority in
this world to vice and impurity.

The principle of contradiction, is, in fact, the basis of the created world; it
is what enables matter to change and evolve so that God’s grace flows through
the world. Were matter not to take on different shapes as a result of its
encounter with various beings and were being unable to accommodate new forms
within itself, the differentiation and advancement of being would be impossible.
A stable and unchanging world would resemble stagnant capital that produces no
profit For creation, change is the capital that brings about profit It is, of
course, possible that the investment of a certain portion of capital should
result in loss, but the constant motion of matter as a whole definitely results
in profit The contradiction that takes place in the forms of matter results in
the advancement of the order of being toward perfection.

There is some question as to whether evil exists in the world in the real sense
of the word. If we look carefully, we will see that the evil of things is not a
true attribute; it is a relative one.

Firearms in the hands of my enemy are an evil for me, and firearms in my hands
are an evil for my enemy. Setting aside me and my enemy, firearms are in
themselves neither good nor bad.

The course of nature can be said to be mathematical; that is, its system has
been established in such a way as no t to answer all of our needs. We, however,
wish to fulfill all our uncountless desires without encountering the least
hindrance, and the forces of nature do not answer the limitless wishes we
cherish, wishes which are in any event worthless from the point of view of our
essential nature. Nature pays no attention to our desires and refuses to submit
to our wants. So when we encounter unpleasantness in our lives, we become
unjustifiably upset and we term the causes of our discomfort as "evil."

If someone wants to light his lamp when there is no oil in it, he will not start
sighing and complaining or curse the whole universe!

Creation is constantly advancing toward a clear goal, through unceasing effort
and striving. Specific causes determine each step it takes, and the changes and
development it undergoes are not designed to meet men’s approval or satisfy
their desires.

It should be accepted that some of the occurrences of this world will not
correspond to our wishes, and we ought not to regard as injustice things we
experience as unpleasant.

Ali, peace be upon him, the Commander of the Faithful, describes the world as an
abode of hardship, but nonetheless a good place for the one who knows it
properly. Although he encountered himself all kinds of hardship and
unpleasantness, he constantly drew men’s attention to the absolute justice of
God.

Another important point which must not be overlooked is that good and evil do
not represent two mutually exclusive categories or series in the order of
creation. Goodness is identical with being, and evil is identical with
non-being; wherever being makes its appearance, non-existence is also implied.

When we speak of poverty, indigence, ignorance or disease we should not imagine
that they have separate realities: poverty is simply not having wealth,
ignorance is the absence of knowledge, and disease is the loss of health. Wealth
and knowledge are realities, but poverty is nothing other than the emptiness of
the hand and the pocket, and ignorance, the absence of knowledge. Hence poverty
and ignorance have no tangible reality; they are defined through the
non-existence of other things.

The same is the case with calamities and misfortunes that we regard as evil and
the source of suffering. They, too, are a kind of loss or non-being, and are
evil only in the sense that they result in the destruction or non-existence of
something other than themselves. Apart from this, nothing, insofar as it exists,
can in any way be called evil or ugly.

If calamities did not entail sickness and death, the loss and ruin of certain
creatures, thus preventing their capacities from unfolding, they would not be
bad. It is the loss and ruin arising from misfortunes that is inherently bad.
Whatever exists in the world is good; evil pertains to non-being, and since
non-being does not form a category independent of being, it has not been created
and does not exist.

Being and non-being are like the sun and its shadow. When a body is turned to
the sun, it casts a shadow. What is a shadow? The shadow has not been created by
anything; it consists simply of the sun not shining in a given place because of
the existence of an obstacle; it has no source or origin of its own.

Things have a real existence by virtue of having been created without reference
to things other than them; in this sense, they are not evil. For a worldview
derived from belief in God, the world is equivalent to good. Everything is
inherently good; if it is evil, it is so only in a relative sense and in
connection with things other than itself .The existence of every thing is unreal
for other than it self, and untouched by creation.

The malarial mosquito is not evil in itself. If it is described as such, it is
because it is harmful to man and causes disease. That which is created is the
existence of a thing in and of itself, which is a true existence; speculative or
conditional existence has no place in the order of being and is not real. We
cannot, therefore, ask why God has created relative or conditional existence.
Conditional or abstract entities are inseparable from the real entities that
give rise to them; they are their inevitable concomitants and do not partake of
their being. One cannot then speak of conditional entities having been created.

That which is real must necessarily derive its being from the Creator. Only
those things and attributes are real that exist outside the mind. Relative
attributes are created by the mind and have no existence outside it so one
cannot go looking for the creator.

Furthermore, that which has the potential to exist is the world as a whole, with
all the objects it contains and the attributes that are inseparable from it; the
world represents an indivisible unit. From the vantage point of God’s wisdom,
either the world must exist on the pattern that is peculiar to it, or it cannot
exist at all.

A world without order or lacking the principle of causality, a world where good
and evil were not separate from each other, would be an impossibility and a
fantasy. It is not possible to suppose that one part of the world should exist
and another should not. Creation is a whole, like the form and figure of man,
and its parts are inseparable from each other.

God is absolutely free of all need, and one consequence of this is that He
freely bestows being, like a generous man whose largess expects no return, or
like a skilled artist who is constantly busy with the creation of new forms.
Such abundant generosity and creativity define the essence of the Lord Whose
signs are manifest and evident in every phenomenon.

Source: Divine Justice by Dr. Hamid Algar

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