‘Adl-The Justice of God

The Justice of God

Among all of His Attributes of Action, the divine Attribute of Justice (al-Adl) is given special attention by theologians to the extent that Shiite Muslims have considered it as part of their fundamental beliefs. The issue of the Justice of God is related to so many other Islamic issues such as believing in God, monotheism or dualism, types of rewards or punishments in the hereafter, free will or determinism and philosophy of religious rites, etc. Thus, believing in or denying the Justice of God will determine one’s perspective of the world.

Why do seemingly evil things happen?

No doubt, there are various types of unpleasant events happening in the world. As a result of natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and so forth, hundreds of people die every year. A variety of diseases, calamities, plagues, droughts etc. kill many human beings as well as animals and plants. Many children are born every day with diseases that will cause lifelong suffering. Many criminals are freely committing multitudes of crimes without anyone stopping them. Millions of innocent people were killed during the 1st and the 2nd World Wars, as they are still being killed in different parts of the world.

The question now is, ‘How can the knowledgeable and Merciful God let all these disasters happen? Given all these and many as such catastrophes of life, how can we assert that God is Just?!’

Facets of the Problem

There are at least three dimensions for the problem of the justice of God;
1) justice in the creation, such as the differences between humans,
2) justice in legislation, such as the difference between the male and the female’s share in inheritance, and
3) justice in punishment on the Day of Judgment, such as eternity in hell.

Suggested Answers

  1. Man’s limited knowledge: God is All-wise, and behind every apparent evil there are goodly benefits, although man with his limited knowledge may not be able to discover them. Thus, he should accuse his knowledge not his Creator. “And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given only a little.” [17:85] The best example of this limited knowledge is described in the story of Prophet Moses (P) and the learned man (Kedhr). [The Quran 18:65-82]

  2. Difference, not discrimination: Among the creation of God there are differences but there is no discrimination. Discrimination is to differentiate between two people who are in the same situation and the same conditions. For instance, to give them the same job under the same condition, but with a different payment. What we have in the universe is difference, not discrimination. In fact, the world we live in is an amazing collection of different beings, species, talents and capabilities, all designed to fulfil different purposes. “We have created all things with measure.” [54:49], “Our Lord is He Who gave to each thing its form and nature, then guided it aright.”[20:50]

  3. Self-Induced Problems: Many of the catastrophes that occur in the world are due to human negligence, greed or cruelty. We seem to blame God in order to exonerate ourselves.

  4. Divine Punishment: Some of the catastrophes in our lives are, in fact, the effect of our own evil deeds. “And whatever of misfortune befalls you, it is because of what your hands have earned. And He pardons much.” [42:30] It is also narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s): “Those who die because of their sins are more than those who die because their lives ended, and those who live because of their good deeds are more than those who live because of their natural lives.” [Behar 5:140]

  5. Awakening Catastrophes: Some bitter experiences lead to an awakening within people, by subduing their pride and arrogance; which, if unchecked, lead them to commit great crimes.”And indeed We punished the people of Pharaoh with years of drought and shortness of fruits, that they might take heed.” [7:130]

  6. Testing: Divine trials are one of the purposes of man’s creation. In the furnace of trials people demonstrate their potential and present their skills. It is only then that the patient from the impatient, and the sincere from the hypocrites, and the thankful from the thankless people will be distinguished. “If Allah had willed, He would have made you one nation, but that (He) may test you in what He has given you.” [5:48]

  7. Acknowledging the Blessings: In general, man forgets the blessings of God when in a state of constant happiness. The blessing of health wouldn’t be so much appreciated if there were no sickness at all. The blessing of living in such a peaceful planet, despite its high speed of rotation, wouldn’t be acknowledged if there were no earth tremors at all.

  8. Purification of sins: Catastrophes of life are also the means of purification for the sinful believers. It is narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s): “Sickness for a believer is a (means of) purification and mercy and punishment and cursing for a disbeliever. Surely, an illness stays with a believer until there is no more sin on him.” [Thawabul-A’mal, p.429]

  9. God Compensates: Difficulties and catastrophes are part of the nature of this world. However, the Almighty God will surely compensate those who were patient and grateful with His abundant blessings in Paradise. Imam Sadiq (a.s), about those who were afflicted with calamities yet were thankful and patient said: “God will compensate them so much that if they were given the opportunity to come back to this world to experience those difficulties again they would prefer to return to gain more rewards.” [Behar 3:71]

10.What is Good and what is Evil?

  • Something may be good for one person, and evil for another. Something can be good for humans and evil for animals and so forth. The sting of insects and the venom of poisonous animals and plants are their defence mechanism and tools of catching food. Besides, many of their poisons also have some medical benefits for humans. At the same time, their poison may kill some other species. We need to remember that it is their world too. But their lives are disrupted, their space is invaded, their safety is threatened and their world is usurped by man and yet we consider them to be evil. Thus, evils are relative, not real. Volcanoes, earthquakes, floods and such natural disasters are given the name ‘disasters’ whilst ignoring their beneficial aspects. From a geological point of view, all are beneficial and vital in providing life on the surface of planet Earth. This means that without them occurring, no living creatures would be able to live on the surface of the Earth.

  • Moreover, these so-called natural disasters have yielded economic resources for humans too. Zinc, copper, lead and many other metals are found as a result of volcanic activity, to the extent that volcanic areas have nowadays become important sources of geothermal energy. Thus, we ought to look at the bigger picture.

Questioning the Justice of God, in fact, rises up as a result of the pride of man, who wants to put himself in the centre of the universe; or as a result of the non-intellectual approach to events, assuming that perfection of life means gaining without facing any difficulties, which is an unrealistic way of thinking.

Justice of God and Eternal Punishment

Another question is regarding the punishment of criminals in the Hereafter. The Islamic belief is that on the Day of Judgment people receive the rewards or the punishment of their worldly deeds accordingly. Although not all the people of Hell will suffer eternally, there are some groups who will inevitably be punished forever.

The question, now, is why should a person who has committed sins in a limited time of his/her worldly life be punished eternally? A permanent punishment for an impermanent sin seems incompatible with the justice of God.

The answer is that, man’s punishment in the Hereafter is, in fact, the natural reaction of his/her own deeds. In other words, divine punishments, as well as rewards in the Hereafter, are the inevitable consequences of our actions in this world, on the basis of the law of cause and effect. They are not conventional events to be agreed upon. As an example, a person speeding and driving negligently may suffer disability for the rest of his life. While it seems unfair that he or she suffers for 50 years due to a few minutes of negligence, this is the natural order of the world.

Furthermore, God is aware of our future choices, and those who suffer eternally in Hell are those that, if left on Earth to live forever, would have sinned and caused corruption forever. They were given chances to remedy themselves in this life, but they only became more arrogant and sin and corruption became an essential part of their nature.

Why not a World without Tests?

While the above explanations answer the question of why evil is a necessary part of the world that God created, the next question may be, ‘Why did God create such a world?’ Could He not have created a world without tests and trials, and where the interest of all creatures align perfectly such as there is no clash that leads to apparent evil? Such a world would mean there would be no platform for humans to improve and to perfect themselves. They would not develop into the more perfect beings that would deserve eternal life in Paradise, in proximity to God. This life is by its nature a life of tests so that we may perfect ourselves and earn our place in Paradise.

Free Will and Determinism

All faiths that are based on belief in God struggle with the concept of human free will and how this can be reconciled with God’s Absolute Knowledge and God’s Absolute Power. One of the great signs that the knowledge of the Ahlul Bayt (as) is inspired by God is the precision and accuracy with which they answer such questions.

Shi’ah Muslim theologians following the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s) reject both the dogma of absolute determinism as well as absolute free will. They believe in a matter in between. That means man has a free will in the matter of his actions although his free will is by divine decree. Because God is the ultimate and independent cause of all causes it is correct to relate all that exists to God (monotheism in acts). Similarly, because God has granted man free will in his actions, it is also correct to relate the actions of man to his own choice. For instance, God states in the Quran that He is Sustainer of all that is in the earth (11:6) and at the same time holds mankind responsible for the substance of his family (2:233).

Imam Sadiq (a.s) said: “Whatever that you could blame mankind for it, is his action and whatever you could not blame him for it, is the act of God. God blames mankind for drinking alcohol, committing adultery etc. Thus, these are the acts of man. However, God does not blame man why he is sick, or his skin colour. Thus, these are the acts of God.” [Beharul-Anwaar vol.5 p.58]

The Imam was also asked about the meaning of ‘a matter in between’. His reply was: “The example of it is if you see a man committing a sin and you advise him to refrain from it, yet he does not pay any heed to your advice. Surely, just because he didn’t listen to you it cannot be said that you forced him to sin.” [Ibid, p.83]

This hints at the concept that God is aware of the choices we will make using our free will, with which He bestowed us. His knowledge of our choices does not force us to make those choices, nor does our exercise of free will change God’s knowledge.

Imam Hadi (a.s) quoting from Imam Sadiq (a.s) said: “People with regards to ‘destiny’ are of three categories: The first is the one who assumes that Allah has given full authority to him. This (person) has weakened God in His kingdom, thus, he has perished. The second is the who assumes that God has forced people to sin and then holds them responsible for things that they have no power over. This (person) is unfair to God in His judgment, thus he has perished. The third is the one who assumes God holds people responsible for what they do and does not hold them responsible for what they have no power over. Then when he does something good, he praises God and when he does something evil, he seeks God’s forgiveness. This (person) is a wise Muslim.”