How can there be evil if God is merciful?On November 17, 2020 by Usama
As soon as one disentangles “harm” from “evil” the dilemma falls apart…
Harm is a subjective experience of an event. For instance: the traces left in space from a dying star might be beautiful in the eyes of one beholder… But on the other end it might be the last hour of a civilisation unknown to the first observer. Intentionality may have put the harmful event into motion although it is not a necessary condition for something being perceived as harmful (a driver who runs over a person unintentionally has caused harm…). Intentions that precede harmful actions might not be equal in weight (a business owner who’s success drives another person out of business is competition whereas vandalising might have the same outcome but is generally regarded as harmful). In short one can deduce that incidents of similar appearance can have different “weight”.
Evil is a different concept altogether since it implies that the observers position makes no difference. Evil is used for situations where it is assumed that there is consensus that an act is harmful regardless of the context (this is a falsifiable statement and many things considered evil are actually seen as valuable parts of a behavioral repertoire from the vantage point of evolutionary biology). Evil is also used when harmful events occur without apparent intentionality (lightning strike kills a person).
There is no instance of something considered evil without that thing first being either harmful or expected to cause harm if it were to follow an expected trajectory. Nothing is either good or bad if you are a rock. In reality therefore every discussion of evil is a discussion of the distribution of harm and how the people who have been harmed are to understand the events and subsequently cope with the situation whereas for society it is a discussion of how society can decrease the likelihood of similar future events.
What Islam does is that it speaks to the victim(s) of the harmful act since their perspectives determine the “weight” of the incidence. From the Islamic perspective it is accepted that life comes with trials and tribulations whilst at the same time it is accepted that with every such occurrence there is a way forward although difficulty may vary. Islam not only regards ones personal experience as a trial, it also views as a trial the environmental impact of other peoples presence – it is a trial for a person with a debilitating condition to carry on with patience as it is a trial for significant others to deal with their share of the situation. Islam even views pleasant events as a different type of trial where the adequate response differs from the one required for coping with tragedy.
The idea of events in life being different types of trials means that the only distinction between harmful events and pleasant events is that the latter type of trials may appear lighter to bear. Islam however dispels this notion by declaring that the difficulty of ones trials will be taken into account once the life one has lived ultimately is examined.
Islam simply avoids getting entangled in the vague distinction between harm and evil since Islam rejects the idea of a life entirely free of suffering. From the Islamic vantage point it is not equally important to ask why God allows X to exist as it is to ask “How can we continue living a meaningful life despite having been victims of X” and also asking “How can society minimize the number of incidents of X since although harm is unpleasant there is no contradiction between going through a trial and acting to alleviate it’s consequences”.
About the content
Modern societies are a noisy mess composed of the intersections between a plurality of needs, instincts, desires and hopes. Within this shared space people of all varieties seek ways of settling their differing outlooks – the outcomes are often to the benefit of some and the detriment of others. The texts on this blog are my personal effort of trying to make sense of the friction within human society.