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An Analysis of Misfortune and Hardship

An Analysis of Misfortune and Hardship

The question of God's justice involves certain problems, such as the
 existence of disasters, loss and evil in the natural order, and
 inequalities in the social order. This question arouses, in fact, a
 whole storm of questions and objections in the minds of many people.
 The problems they face are so fundamental that what start out as
 doubts and hesitations, ultimately become an indissoluble complex.

 Such people ask how it is possible that in a world created on the
 basis of intelligence and wisdom, so much suffering, pain and evil
 should prevail; that the world should be subjected constantly to the
 successive blows of hardship and misfortune, with loss and deficiency
 always in the ascendant.

 Why is it that in various parts of the world, terrible, overwhelming
 events assault mankind, resulting in untold loss and destruction? Why
 is one person ugly and another beautiful, one healthy and another
 sick?  Why are all men not created equal, and does not their
 inequality point to an absence of justice in the universe?

 Justice in the order of things depends on its being free of
 oppression, discrimination and disaster, or the absence from it of
 all defect, sickness, and poverty; this, they say, alone would result
 in perfection and justice.

 We must begin by admitting that our evaluation of the affairs of the
 universe does not permit us to penetrate the ultimate depths of
 phenomena; it is inadequate for the analysis of the ends and purposes
 of things.

 Our initial understanding of unpleasant events and disasters is bound
 to be superficial; we are not prepared to recognize any truth lying
 beyond our initial impression. We cannot, at the outset, delineate
 the ultimate aims of those events, and we, therefore, regard them as
 signs of injustice. Our feelings become aroused and lead us into the
 most illogical analyses.

 But if we reflect more profoundly, we will see that this onesided
 evaluation of events we label injustice comes from making our
 interests or those of people to whom we are directly or indirectly
 related, our criteHon and yardstick. Whatever secures our interests
 isgood,and what ever harms us is bad. In other words, our judgment of
 good and bad is based on a short-eyed perception narrow horizons of
 thought, and a lack of precise knowledge concernlng the norms of
 creation.

 Is our existence the only issue involved in every occurrence? Can we
 make our own profit and loss into the criterion of good and evil? Our
 material world is constantly engaged in producing change. Events that
 did not exist today will occur tomorrow, some things will disappear
 and others will take their place.

 It is obvious that what is useful and beneficial for some people
 today will cease to exist tomorrow. But for us who are human beings
 and attached to our own existence and the things of the world, the
 acquisition of things is good and their loss is bad. But despite man
 and his attachments, the changing nature of the world produces
 constantly changing phenomena.  If the world did not comprehend the
 possibility of change, phenomena them selves would not exist, and,
 therefore, there could also be no question of good and evil.

 In such a hypothetical, unchanging world there would be neither loss
 and deficiency nor growth and development, no contrast or
 differentiation, no variety or multiplicity, no compounding or
 motion. In a world without deficiency or loss, there would also be no
 human, moral or social criteria, limits, or laws. Development and
 change are the result of the motion and rotation of the planets, if
 they ceased to exist, there would be no earth, no moon and no sun, no
 day, no month and no year.

 A somewhat comprehensive view of the world will permit us to
 understand that what is harmful for us today, or may be so in the
 future, is benefi cial for others. The world as a whole moves in the
 direction dictated by the overall purpose of being and benefit of
 being; individuals may suffer harm in this process, and it may even
 be that mankind at large does not stand to benefit.

 Were we able to plunge deeply enough into the ocean of knowledge and
 turn the pages of its book replete with mysteries with the finger of
 our under standing, the ultimate purpose and outcome of all events
 and phenomena would be revealed to us.

 However, our powerof judgment is not sufficiently comprehensive to
 deal with the complex web that confronts us: we know neither the
 chain of prece ding causes that have produced the phenomena of today,
 nor the chain of future effects those phenomena, in turn, will
 produce.

 If it were possible for us to look down from above on the broad plain
 of the world, in such a way that we could see all the positive and
 negative aspects of everything, all the mysteries of everything
 occurring in the world; if it were possible for us to evaluate the
 effects and results of every event in history, past, presentand
 future and everything occurring between pre-eternity and
 post-eternity, and, if this were possible for us, then we might be
 able to say that the harm of a given event out weighed its benefit
 and brand it as evil.

 But does man have such comprehensive awareness of the horizontal and
 vertical chains of causality? Can he situate himself on the moving
 axis of the world?

 Since we do not dispose of such an ability, since we will never be
 able to traverse so infinite a distance, however longbeourstride;
 since we will never be able to lift the veil from all these complexi
 ties and take their due measure, it is best that we refrain from
 one-sided and hasty judgments that are based on our own
 short-sightedness.

 We should recognize that we must not make our own benefit the sole
 criterion for judging this vast universe. The relative observations
 we make within the framework of the limited data at our disposal and
 the specific conditions to which we are subject can never furnish
 criteria for a definibve judgment.

 Nature may often be working toward the fulfillment of a particular
 goal that is unimaginable to man, given his conventional
 circumstances. Why cannot it not be supposed that unpleasant
 occurrences are the result of efforts aimed at preparing the ground
 for a new phenomenon that will be the instrument of God's will upon
 earth? It may be that the conditions and circumstances of the age
 necessitate such processes.

 If all the changes and upheavals that terrify us did not take place
 within a given plan and design and for the sake of a specific aim, if
 they were to be extended throughout time without producing any
 positive or construc tive result, there would be no trace on earth of
 any living creature, including man.

 Why should we accuse the world of injustice, of being chaotic and
 unstable, simply because of a few exceptional occurrences and
 phenomena in nature?  Should we start objecting because of a handful
 of unpleasantnessess, major and minor, forgetting all the
 manifestations of precision and wisdom, all the wonders we see in the
 world and its creatures, that testify to the will and intelligence of
 an exalted being?

 Since man sees so much evidence of careful planning through out the
 universe, he must admit that the world is a purposive whole, a
 process moving toward perfection. Every phenomenon in it is subject
 to its own specific criterion, and if a phenomenon appears
 inexplicable or unjustif iable, this is becauseof man's short
 sightedness. Man must understand that in his finiteness, he lacks the
 capacity to understand the aims of all phenomena and their content;
 it is not that creation has any defect.

 Our attitude to the bitter and unpleasant occurrences of this world
 resemble the judgment made by a desert dweller when he comes to the
 city and sees powerful bulldozers destroying old buildings. He
 regards this demolition as a foolish act of destruction, but is it
 logical on his part to think that the demolition is unplanned and
 purposeless? Of course not, because he sees only the process of
 demolition, not the calculations and plans of the architects and
 others involved.

 As a certain scientist said: Our state is like that of children who
 watch a circus packing up and preparing to move on. This is necessary
 for the circus to go else where and continue with its life of
 excitement, but those short-sighted children see in the folding of
 the tents and the comings and goings of men and animals nothing but
 the dissolution and termination of the circus."

 If we look a little more deeply and imaginatively at the misfortunes
 and disasters that plague man and interpret them correctly, we will
 appreciate that in reality, they are blessings, not disasters.

 A blessing being a blessing, and a disastel being a disaster is
 dependent upon man's reaction to it; a single event may be
 experienced quite differently by two different people.

 Misfortune and pain are like an alarm warning man to remedy his
 deficien cies and errors; they are like a natural immune system or
 regulatory mech anism inherent in man.

 If wealth leads to self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking, it is a
 misfortune and a disaster, and if poverty and deprivation lead to the
 refinement and development of the human soul, they are a blessing.
 Thus, wealth cannot be counted as absolute good fortune nor poverty
 as absolute misfortune. A similar rule covers whatever natural gifts
 man may possess.

 Nations who are confronted by various hostile forces and compelled to
 struggle for their survival are strengthened thereby. Once we regard
 effort and struggle to be a positive and constructive endeavor, we
 cannot overlook the role played by hardships in developing man's
 inner resources and impelling him to progress.

 People who are not obliged to struggle and who live in an environment
 free of all contradiction will easily be immersed by material
 prosperity in their pleasures and lusts.

 How often it happens that someone willingly endures hardship and pain
 for the sake of a great goal! Were it not for that hardship and pain,
 the goal might not appear so desirable to him!

 A smooth path along which one advances blindly and mechanically is
 not conducive to development and growth, ant a human effort from
 which the element of conscious will has been removed cannot produce a
 fundamental change in man.

 Struggle and contradiction are like a scourge impelling man forward.
 Solid objects are shattered by the pressure of repeated blows, but
 men are formed and tempered by the hardships they endure. They throw
 themselves into the ocean to learn how to swim, and it is in the
 furnace of crisis that genius emerges.

 Untrammeled self-indulgence, love of the word, unrestricted pleasure
 seeking, heedlessness of higher goals all these are intications of
 misguid ance and lack of awareness. In fact, the most wretchet of men
 are those who have grown up in the midst of luxury and comfort, who
 have never experienced the hardships of life or tasted its bitter
 days along with the sweet the sun of their lives rises and sets
 within, unnoticed by anyone else.

 Following one's inclinations and adhering to one's desires is
 incompatible with firmness and elevation of spirit, with purposeful
 effort and striving.  Pleasure-seeking and corruption, on the one
 hand, and strength of will and purposiveness, on the other, represent
 two contrary inclinations in man.  Since neither can be negated or
 affirmed to the exclusion of the other, one must strive constantly to
 reduce the desire for pleasure and strengthen the opposing force
 within one.

 Those who have been raised in luxury, who have never tasted the
 bitter and sweet days of the world, who have always enjoyed
 prosperity and never endur ed hunger they can never appreciate the
 taste of delicious food nor the joy of life as a whole and they are
 incapable of truly appreciating beauty. The pleasures of life can be
 truly enjoyed only by those who have experienced hardship and failure
 in their lives, who have the capacity to absorb diffi culty and to
 endure those hardships that lie in wait along every step of man's
 path.

 Material and spiritual ease become precious to man only after
 experiencing the ups and downs of life and the pressure of its
 unpleasant incidents.

 Once man is preoccupied with his material life, all dimensions of his
 existence are enchained, and he loses aspiration and motion.
 Inevitably, he will also neglect his etemal life and inward
 purification. As long as desire casts its shadow on his being and his
 soul is ensnared by darkness, he will be like a speck tossed around
 on the waves of matter. He will seek refuge in anything but God. He
 therefore needs something to awaken him and induce maturity in his
 thoughts, to rernind him of the transitoriness of this ephemeral
 world and help him attain the ultirnate aim of all heavenly
 teachings, the freedom fo the soul from all the obstacles and
 carriers that prevent man from attaining lofty perfection.

 The training and refinement of the self is not to be had cheaply; it
 requires the renunciation of various pleasures and enjoyrnents, and
 the process of cutting loose from them is bitter and difficult.

 It is true that such exertions will be for the sake of purifying
 man's inner being and allowing his latent capacities to appear.
 Nonetheless, patient abstention from sin and pleasure-seeking is
 always bitter to man's taste and it is only through obstinate
 resistance to lower impulses that he can fulfill his mission of
 breaking down the barriers that confront him and thus ascend to the
 realm of higher values.

Ref:    GOD and His Attributes, Lessons on Islamic Doctrine, Book I
       Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari, Translated by Br. Hamid Algar
       Islamic Education Center, 7917 Montrose Road, Potomac, MD.

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