How do you maintain a sense of faith in a God who claims to be merciful and compassionate, amid the myriad kinds of afflictions, pain, difficulties, setbacks, abuses, losses, and traumas that occur at the individual and collective scales?
This question actually assumes that if God’s claims to be merciful and compassionate are true, suffering and disasters should not happen. This assumption actually hides another; that life on earth is an end in itself. Therefore if you believe in God, He should protect you and prevent you from being afflicted with disasters or even sickness.
But we all know that life on earth is not but a temporary one. Its purpose is to prepare us for eternity with God. This is my faith that I chose for myself.
I choose to believe that life on earth is simply a journey leading to eternity. So how can this belief help me deal with the suffering all around me? How should I understand it and cope with it?
The key is my faith in a God who is merciful and compassionate, but also equitable. His mercy and compassion actually work on two levels. One is personal, through the blessings I feel in my own life and the personal relationship I am able to have with Him. He is my rock from which I draw strength. He wipes my tears when I can’t help my tears from flowing, and He comforts me by assuring me that He is there for me. I usually leave my problems at his doorstep and He takes care of them. All this because He loves me.
He gave me existence (Qur’an 82:07). Without Him being willing to do that, I would not be. His love for me is demonstrated through His generosity when He allowed me to have an intellect and reason, so I can realize that He and I are here together.
He demonstrated His love when He allowed me to know Him (3:62) through the guidance He sent me (2:02). Through His guidance I understood that while on earth my purpose should be to serve others with humbleness (25:63). The more I’m humbly serving, the closer I get to Him. The length of my life and the difficulties I encounter are opportunities to serve.
I should be secure in the knowledge that trusting Him and synchronizing my will with His, are the essence of submitting my life to Him as I’m asked to do in His Holy Books. At the end I’m going from His earthly Kingdom to His eternal Kingdom.
This same guidance, allows me to see His mercy and compassion on a global level. There is a divine balance in this world that allows the child who dies of cancer to go straight forward to an eternal life of bliss. While a man who lives a full and happy life and dies of old age will have to face accountability for all the decisions he made and actions he took during his lifetime, including his reaction to other people sufferings, trials and tribulations. The result of this accountability will not be known until that moment. Heaven is not guaranteed to this person unless his selfless giving outweigh his selfish deeds.
The assumptions I just made suppose that we are endowed with a free will and we are responsible for our decisions and therefore accountable for them at what the Qur’an calls the Day of Judgment.
According to this logic, suffering is no longer a curse for a human being but a blessing. It serves two purposes. It is purification from selfish behavior for the person involved, and a trigger for reactions from all the people witnessing the suffering or the injustice that is happening. Their reaction will also be a source for their reward on the Day of Judgment, if they react with empathy and love, or if they exert themselves selflessly to alleviate injustice or to stop an act of oppression. The Qur’an says: “They feed the needy, the orphan, and the prisoner, for the love of Him. (76:08) [Saying], "We feed you for the sake of God. We want neither compensation, nor gratitude from you.” (76:09)
They were also described in the Gospel of Matthew 25: 40 (NIV) “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
On the other hand, if people react indifferently to the suffering of others, they will be accountable for their indifference, as it means, "Don’t bother me with your problems; I’m only concerned with mine."
The Qur’an says: “We will certainly send you trials of fear, hunger, and the loss of wealth, people and crops, so give good news to the steadfast,” (02:155) who say when disaster strikes them, “We belong to God and to Him we will return.” (02:156) “It is they who have their Lord’s grace and mercy, and they are guided.” (02:157)
There are innumerable miseries, accidents, floods, earthquakes; fires, robbery, war, riot, famine, epidemics – all such things have effect upon our lives: We are being tested as how we react to them.
Suffering will find us because most of us failed as trustees of God’s world and fell into the selfish exploitation of the land and the resulting ecological disasters (Ecclesiastes 5:8–17; Haggai 1:6).
While most people try to avoid suffering or deny it, a believer should expect it. Just knowing that suffering will come can help us endure it. A believer should embrace his own suffering. He should admit it and turn to God for reliance and strength. Yet because God is found where the brokenhearted are, we can run to those who are suffering and in so doing we can embrace them and find God.