Viewers and Participants
Those who have been in contact with mankind and nature from close-up, and have not been mere viewers, have never doubted the justice of God. Socrates (The Philosopher), in the time of his prosecution, takes the cup of poison from the guard and drinks it. Since he had a great message for all people of all times, he drank the poison with no fear.
Prophet Muhammad, the best of mankind ever, said: "No prophet has been suffered like me!" If we also look at the life of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet Muhammad's miracle and his most beloved companion, we find that his life was highly filled out with suffering and pain.
One out of many, is that he was the best in knowledge and action among his society after the prophet, yet he remained silent for twenty five years for the sake of the people's ideological unity at that time. He accepted this psychological suffering for twenty five years.
Later, when the people realized who he was, and came to him and chose him as their leader, he ruled the society with utmost justice, even though he was continuously in war with so called Muslims during his short period of ruling, and then he was killed shortly.
Ali's justice was a kind of justice which has made the eastern materialist, Shibli Shumayyil, to say about him: "The leader Ali, greatest of all, is the man who neither the West nor East, neither yesterday nor today, have seen his example." (Ali, The voice of human justice, by George Jordac).
Ali himself said: "If you give me all the world with everything in it, with a condition that I take a husk of barley from an ant's mouth, I will not do so!" (Nahjul Balaqah, by Imam Ali).
For the just, this world is most painful, but nevertheless, Ali never said that this world is evil. He always said that it is the world of suffering, be ready, be careful. He also said: This world is the best place for one who understands it well.
In fact when we believe in the justice of God, we try to see the same justice in the society. Because any injustice is against the will of God and against the music of the universe. This is why belief in the justice of God has always been a great threat to the ruling powers.
You might say that very well, but it does not follow that since some people like Prophet Muhammad, Ali have said and done so, the problem of evil does not exist. Very well, but where did the problem of evil come from, anyway? >From the minds of some other people whose lives were quite more comfortable than Prophet or Ali! Like Epicurus, Hume or Mill or even me and you!
Looking at their biographies, none have suffered as much as the first group. The latter in comparison with the former, were always viewers of life rather than participants. So you can see how subjective and relative the problem of evil and suffering is.
Let me repeat the question again. Why do we have to go through all these difficulties, created by God, in order to reach the developed stage? To answer this question, we need to study the orders of existence.
ORDERS OF EXISTENCE
There are two orders in the beings of the world. We can call them the longitudinal order and the transversal order. The longitudinal order is the place of things in the cause and effect chain of creation. In the language of religion, Angels, The Book(of Allah), The Distributors, The pen and so on, all show of a certain order and arrangement in existence. This order is not formal but necessary.
In this order, the flame of a match cannot compete with the Sun, and the change of a possible thing into something necessary is not imaginable. A cause cannot change its place with its own effect (at the same time and place).
All the mistakes which we make that why 'this' couldn't have been in the place of 'that' or why an imperfect being can't change its place with a perfect being, is because we have not understood the necessary and essential relations of things. We compare the existential order with conventional orders and social stratifications.
We think that when we can replace a manager with his employee, or a landlord with his tenant, then why could not have a sheep been a human being? It is impossible, since the cause of being cause and the effect of being effect are not conventional or formal. If 'A' is the cause of 'B', it is because that there is something in the nature of 'A' that has made it the cause.
Also, the specification of 'B' has caused its relation to 'A', and this specification is nothing but those attributes which have made 'B' exist. Once you take those specifications away from 'B', you are left with something else and not 'B'. These specifications are real and not conventional or transferable. Take the number '5'. It comes after '4' and before '6'.
You can not put '5' anywhere else without loosing its identity. If you put it before '4', it will be '3', even though you call it '5'. You can not change the reality of '3', though you can change its name.
There exists such a deep and existential order between all creatures of the universe. If you take anything out of its existential place, it will loose its substance and will no longer be the same thing. If you give a triangle four vertices instead of three, it is not a triangle any more. In fact it is a square. Ibn Sina has a nice sentence here.
He said: "God did not make apricots into apricots, but He created apricots." What he means is that there was no stage when all fruits were equal and then God discriminated between them. Each fruit is unique. This uniqueness applies to different beings and personalities as well.
Allah said in Quran:
"... Our Lord is He who gave every thing its nature, then guided it aright." (Quran 20:50).
In another place He said:
"Our word for something that we intend, is that to say to it: Be! and it will be." (Quran 16:40).
Now let us go over the transversal order. The transversal order determines the temporal and material conditions of different phenomena. It is with this order that history takes definite and certain form.
Allah refers to this order of existence in this way:
"..., and you shall not find any change in the custom of Allah." (Quran 33:62)
Some of these deterministic laws are mentioned in Quran like the following:
"Allah does not change the situation of any group of people, unless they change what is in themselves." (Quran 13:11).
Now to sum up this section:
The universe has orders and necessary laws, and every phenomenon is within that system. For the universe to be in order, there should be differences and stages in existence.
Differences are necessary attributes of creatures, and God has made no discrimination between the creatures.
What is against the justice is discrimination and NOT difference. In the universe, there are differences among the creatures and not discriminations by Allah.
Now that we have understood this section, we can answer the previous question by looking at the benefits of suffering for individuals.
BENEFITS OF SUFFERING
It is only through suffering and difficulties that one can attain true happiness and true prosperity. Allah says:
"Verily there is ease with hardship. There is ease with hardship. So when you are relieved, still toil, and strive to please your Lord." (Quran 94:5-8).
Hegel says: Disputes and evil ('suffering' to be precise) are not imaginary. They are quite real and with open eyes they are steps of evolution and goodness. Struggle is the law of progress. Human attributes are evolved and made in the battlefield and riot of the world. No one can reach high perfection except through hardship, responsibility, and distress. Life is not for satisfaction, but for evolution.
Ali (AS), in one of his famous letters to Uthman ibn Hanif, his governor in Basra, wrote:
"living in comfort and delicateness, and avoidance of difficulties ends up to weakness and debility. In contrary, living in rough conditions makes human powerful and agile, and transfers his existential essence towards refinement."
He also denounced him in the letter, for his having had a dinner with the rich who had allowed no poor to enter in their party. He then gave the example of trees in forests and compared it with the trees in gardens.
"Although constant care is given to the garden trees, yet the deprived trees of the forest have better quality." (Nahjul Balaqah).
That is why when God is kind to somebody, he inflicts him or her with difficulty and suffering. This is exactly the opposite side of what most people think! Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (the 5th Imam) said:
"Allah helps His believer and sends him hardships, like gifts that a man sends for his family."
Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (the 6th Imam) said:
"When Allah loves His servant, He drowns him in the sea of suffering."
Like a swimming tutor who throws his new student into water, and makes him struggle and learn swimming, Allah does the same to develop his beloved servants. If one only devotes his whole life time to read about swimming, he will never learn how to swim. We have to go into water and struggle with the danger of drowning to learn how to swim. Imam Sadiq said in another tradition:
"The most difficult lives are possessed first by prophets, and then those who come after them in virtue."
Rumi, the philosopher and poet of 13th century, has a good analogy:
"They threw the grain on the earth, then there came out branches. Next, they crushed it in the mill, and it became more expensive and useful in bread form. Next, the bread was grounded under the teeth, and after digestion, it became mind, spirit and useful thought. Again, when the mind was bewildered with love, what a surprise this cultivation had been!"