Nabila Khalid, Bolton
I have heard too many people deny the existence of God, with the rationale that if there was a ‘good’ God why would a He allow suffering?
If suffering is a punishment of our sins, then why do bad things happen to good people?
If suffering is due to free will then how does that explain congenital and hereditary conditions? It is evident that these questions are as a result of a superficial view of suffering and a very naive way of thinking that…
Suffering is bad – If there was no suffering, the world would be a better place – There is suffering so either (A) there is no God, or (B) God is bad.
Because on a deeper look you realise that it isn’t as simple as suffering or no suffering. Of course this question of evil and suffering is one that many philosophers and religious scholars have tried to answer.
In his book ‘Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth’, the fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Mirza Tahir Ahmad has devoted a full chapter to the question of suffering.
1 – WHAT IS SUFFERING?
Suffering is not an independent entity – it is an awareness of the absence of happiness and comfort, just as our sense of darkness comes from our awareness of the absence of light. If we want to get rid of suffering we would have to forego the sense of comfort and relief.
When a patient of depression and anxiety disorders undergoes treatment from a therapist – one of the steps involved is a realisation that we must accept and experience our pains rather than try to escape them. From a biological point of view experiencing a small amount of pain is necessary to protect us from further damage by triggering the withdrawal reflex.
Pain is a necessity for evolution as the following explains:
‘Pain as an evolutionary necessity’ is a title that may rise an immediate rejection, if it is not clear that the term is here referred to the acute pain that signals a risk: the risk that the disease, which pain is part of, could reversibly damage or even destroy without any possibility of appeal the physical or mental integrity of one of us.
The inherited condition known as congenital insensitivity to pain is a frequent cause of premature death due to complications of trauma and injuries. This is probably the most striking evidence of the defensive role carried by our ability in perceiving pain”
2 – WHO SUFFERS & WHY THEM?
The explanation that all suffering is a punishment for our crimes is incomplete and flawed because clearly this cannot explain many forms of suffering such as natural disasters or genetic conditions. Not all suffering can be categorised as a punishment, nor all happiness as a reward.
We must recognise that cause and effect is not the same as crime and punishment. Although some cases of suffering can be attributed to being a punishment of man’s own actions, other cases are in fact the cause for which the effect is evolution
“Surveys reveal people with disabilities consistently report a quality of life as good as, or sometimes even better than, that of non-disabled people.”
“Immediately after the onset of injury or disease, one can feel profoundly depressed, and even contemplate suicide. Yet after a period of time, people adapt to their new situation, re-evaluate their attitude to the disability, and start making the most of it. Sometimes, they are driven to greater achievements than before.”
But imagine a scenario where every child is born equally healthy. We would still be unhappy because we are all born looking different which causes a lot of psychological suffering for those who are perceived to be unattractive. So then for the creator to be fair, we must all have the exact same appearance. And then that would lead the question to the psychological suffering due to differences in intellect. Ultimately, we would all have to be clones for there to be complete fairness.
WHAT WOULD THE ABSENCE OF SUFFERING LOOK LIKE?
1. There cannot be evolution
2. There would be no invention
3. There must be no variation
4. There must be no free will
5. We would all be a senseless mass of vegetation
6. Therefore, there would also be no happiness
“We must go back all the way in the history of life; all the way to the very beginning and start to build the ladder of evolution anew, rung by rung. But try as we may, we are bound to get stuck at the very first step, the starting point of life. We would not be able to take a single step forward because an equal distribution of happiness and total absence of suffering would entirely eliminate the impetus for evolution. There would be no struggle for existence, no natural selection, no survival of the fittest. Not a single progressive step would be taken by the first, most rudimentary forms of life.”
Is a world with no suffering really a better world? Would we all be happier? Given the choice between a meaningless and vegetative but pain-free existence or one with pain, purpose and progression the majority of us, if not all, would chose the latter.
Suffering proves the existence of a conscious God. It proves that there is a plan and a purpose for our existence, one which has been thought through to such detail and designed at microscopic levels that we cannot even comprehend at a first glance.
“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.”
(Holy Quran, 67:2-3)