In the Name of God, the Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord
The perception of the Qur’an – and by extension all of Islam – is that it is a book of violence and intolerance. Indeed, there is no shortage of verses in the Qur’an that are tough in nature and talk about war and violence. Yet, the book consists of over 6,000 verses; the ones that are tough are a very small minority. Still, despite this fact, there are a number of Muslim preachers that like to stress on God’s Might and punishment. In fact, many times, that is the only image of God that they conjure in the minds of the faithful. And for sure, the many detractors of Islam stress that this is the only image of God that is valid in Islam at all.
Yes, the Qur’an does contain many verses with the threat of punishment for this wrong or that. Yet, that is neither the essence of the book nor the essence of God in Islam. And I came across a truly amazing verse that confirmed for me what I already knew about the Precious Beloved Lord our God:
Why would God cause you to suffer [for your past sins] if you are grateful and attain to belief? Verily God is Appreciative and All-Knowing (4:147)
It can also be translated as:
What can God gain by your punishment if you are grateful and attain to belief…
Leaving aside the fact that God in the Qur’an – in more than one place – is described as being “Appreciative” (that will be for another post), this verse left me truly speechless.
What would God gain by your punishment?
When one reads verses of Scripture – be they from the Qur’an or the Bible – that describe the torment of what is called “Hell,” it is by necessity tough and difficult. If one only stresses the verses that describe God as “stern in punishment” – which He, of course, is – and one only quotes passages of Scripture that describe the torment of “Hell,” it can be made to seem that God is only waiting for us to make a mistake so He can punish us severely.
Yet nothing can be farther from the truth, and the verse confirms this.
Why would God cause you to suffer [for your past sins] if you are grateful and attain to belief?
Notice how gratitude comes before belief in God which, as some of the classical commentators note, is not accidental. When one reflects over the great boon and blessing that is life itself; free will and human intellect; the great bounty of the earth and its riches, one comes to the conclusion that there must be a Giver of all this bounty. And thus, out of gratitude to the Giver, one comes to believe in Him. And when one believes in Him, again out of gratitude, one follows His way.
Of course, this is all from the perspective of faith. The natural corollary to this is: what if one does not believe? What happens to the one who does not believe in God? Does God wish for them to suffer? Does God save His torment for those people?
To this, I have no answer. I do not know the fate of those who profess no belief in God at all. Why, I do not know my own fate! It is not my place to condemn them to God’s punishment. My charge – as a believer and servant of God – to be good to all of His children, even if those children choose not to believe in Him. In the end, God will judge us all.
Yet, for those who do believe in God, this verse gives us tremendous hope and solace. God is not waiting for us to sin so that He can strike us down with His punishment. As long as we are grateful to the Lord for His bounty and – because of this gratitude – do the best we can to live our lives in accordance with His will, what purpose would God have in punishing us? The answer lies in the question itself: there is no purpose at all.
And that is a very comforting thought indeed.