Once again, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. There are numerous reasons for my silence – the same reasons as always: too busy and too stressed from work and health problems (which inshAllah will get better soon). But, on a related note, I wanted to cite a few verses of Quran which are constantly on my mind, especially during these trying times:
“Do people think they will be left alone after saying, “We believe,” and not be tested?” (29:2)
“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits of your toil, but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, who say, when afflicted with calamity, “To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return,” they are those on whom descend blessings from Allah, and mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance.” (2:155-157)
I memorized the first verse when I first converted, as I knew that I would be facing a long, difficult journey ahead of me. I realized from the beginning that I would be tested – and indeed, I have been.
Too often, people look at trials and hardship as the result of God being unfair – in fact, some even leave religion altogether because they don’t understand how a fair God could allow such things to happen to innocent people. Yet, what they fail to realize is that life in this world is not the end all, ultimate destination. Rather, this life is a test for our placement in the eternal world of the hereafter; it is a transitory, temporary phase of existence.
The reality is that our current life sucks. It’s incredibly difficult. For hard-working, sincere, “good” people, it’s usually even more miserable, with hardship after hardship; it seems they never manage to get a break. For the careless and self-absorbed, they seem to get off easy; life is fun and effortless. But actually, life in this world is like the kind of test in which you answer one question correctly and you are automatically upgraded to a harder question, and if you get it wrong, you’re downgraded to an easier question. In the end, you get the score you deserve. The only difference between this test and real life is that in life, God is there helping you along the way, showing you the steps to take, and in fact, giving you all the answers. But some of us are arrogant and want to do it on our own. Still others would rather not be taking a test at all and instead just play around and not take it seriously. Yet the inescapable reality is that we all are in this test, whether we like it or not.
Life tests come in all shapes and sizes. As in the aforementioned verse, we can be tested with our financial security (hunger). Or with the lives of those around us (family, friends) – or with our own lives. Or with a loss of our possessions, or despite all our hard work and best intentions, being blocked at seemingly every turn. In tests like these, some people put their faith in God and rely on Him more as they realize that their sustenance does not come from our material world, but from God alone. Yet others turn away from God during hardship, blaming God and feeling sorry for themselves for being given such an unfair life.
Tests can also come in the form of blessings and ease. Not only does God want to reveal (to ourselves) how we react to hardship, but He also wants us to see how we respond when things are going well. Some people are grateful and thank God continuously for the blessings He’s granted, while others forget God and attribute their success to themselves alone.
Why do we have tests at all really? Especially since God already knows the state of our hearts? Well, even though a teacher can generally get an idea of how a student will do even from the very beginning of the class, the student still needs to go through the coursework and various assessments so that they will know that they got the grade they received because of their own actions. Not because the teacher liked them or didn’t like them; rather, their grade is based on actual proof and evidence of their performance. Likewise, on the Day of Judgment, when our final ‘grades’ are revealed, we will be unable to argue that it was unfair – our actions will be unfolded and replayed before our own eyes as clear proof. We earned our final grade, fair and square. And in fact, God is more merciful and loving than any teacher could ever be – He gives us numerous chances to start over despite how often or how badly we mess up, and He even went to all the trouble to give us all the answers via prophets and holy books. So if we still end up getting a bad grade in the end, despite all the invaluable assistance and support we’ve been given all along the way, it is truly fully and thoroughly deserved.
So if you find yourself in the midst of trials and are feeling particularly down about it all, cheer up. God tests the believers. The harder the test, the further along you are and the better shape you’re in. Just like an athlete who must undergo an arduous, strenuous training regimen, or the MD student who faces rigorous, extensive testing of their knowledge and expertise, so must the believer pass through difficulty to make it to the final destination. Of course, the testing period is extremely difficult, but the athlete, the MD student, and the believer keep striving forward because they know very well the wonderful reward that lies at the end.