“Why does Allah test us if He loves us?”
This is essentially the question of “The Problem of Evil.”
I received this question three separate times just this week from three independent individuals, all asking on behalf of Muslim youth who are struggling in their iman.
Doubts because of the Problem of Evil are common among the younger generations nowadays. You won’t find many among the older Muslim generations having doubts because of this specific question. This fact is significant because it shows how one’s environment can affect how one thinks about God and religion and how doubts can emerge because of one’s environment.
There is not a universal set of doubts (shubuhat) that everyone is susceptible to. Environment has a big impact, so we have to mind our environment and make sure we are not exposing ourselves to a context that will generate doubts about Allah and Islam.
The source of this particular doubt is the overemphasis of God’s love and mercy in modern Western society as well as inflation of ego. Some Muslims have also fallen into this, especially in the social media age, where there is a tendency to sugar coat and soften up everything while emphasizing the importance of the individual.
In the face of declining religiosity among the youth, most Christians and Jews in the West have watered down and softened their religious teachings, including their theology, thinking that this will attract the younger generation and prevent them from leaving the church/synagogue. Some Muslims have adopted this mistaken mindset as well.
So they emphasize this idea that God unconditionally loves everyone and it doesn’t matter what you do or what you believe. God is, na`udhubillah, your best buddy regardless because you’re so special and amazing and “Of course God loves you.”
If this is the mentality someone has, then of course the idea that life is a test and that Allah puts believers through hardship and that some will be punished with fire is a disturbing thought that contradicts what one has been led to believe about God his whole life.
The truth is, Allah’s love is vast, but it is not unconditional. His mercy is vast but it is not unconditional. Those who teach an unbalanced view of Allah as pure love and mercy without teaching about His anger, His wrath, His punishment, His might, His power, His domination are teaching a corrupt theology.
Similarly, in other contexts, an unbalanced view of Allah can be taught that emphasizes His anger, His might, etc., and ignores love and mercy. You can imagine Muslims in that context having a different kind of doubt: Why does Allah forgive those who commit sins? This is not a hypothetical source of doubt. Different Christian sects in history struggled with this issue and they resolved on the bizarre idea that God cannot forgive unless He sacrifices His son to die for our sins, subhanAllah `amma yushrikun!
We have to teach fear hand in hand with hope, and this is what we see in the Quran and Sunna as well as the teachings of countless scholars.
“And [Bani Israel] say, “Never will the Fire touch us, except for a few days.” Say, “Have you taken a covenant with Allah? For Allah will never break His covenant. Or do you say about Allah that which you do not know?” [Q 2:80]”Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.” [Q 29:2-3]
Allah is the King of kings and we are just slaves made from dust. We can only hope and pray that He loves us, despite our disobedience. What is a speck of sinful dirt to the King, the Master of all Creation? If we didn’t exist, it would be like nothing. The fact that we can exist and have just a little knowledge of our Creator, the fact that we can even be privileged enough to know His Name and be able to utter it, we don’t deserve that, let alone anything else. If He decides to annihilate us this instant, how could we object since He owns us and all of existence? As a speck of dirt, we amount to nothing so it really has no significance if there are “trials” in that nothingness. Would we agonize about the “tribulations” of a grain of sand on our shoe? All that matters is the Creator, worshiping Him sincerely. That’s the only purpose, that’s the only significance.