By Thasneem M.
God’s Mercy in Reward & Punishment
Is it fair to call God merciful, when He punishes some of those in Hell for eternity?
If He was so merciful, why doesn’t He remove them from Hell, after a while?
Or better yet, just forgive and let them go?
What does Islam have to say about this, when one of the important attributes of God is His mercy to all His creatures?
There is no doubt that God is the most merciful. Each of the 114 chapters, except one, start with the Basmalah, i.e. “In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” For example: chapter
“Say: ‘O my servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Az-Zumar 39: 53-5)
Many more innumerable verses point to His Mercy as among His attributes.
Also, among His attributes are His attribute of being Just, as it comes from His name “Al-Adl” (The Just):
“Allah is never unjust in the least degree” (An-Nisa’ 4: 40)
His name and the above verse show us that maintaining justice is also an attribute of God.
According to God, our Creator, the biggest sin in His sight is associating partners with Him, despite the signs He has shown us. Worshiping and obeying Him is the very purpose of our existence. If people insist on following their desires and continue doing evil, then it is only fair that they be punished. But God is most merciful because He has sent messengers, books, and signs so that people may be guided to the correct way and submit to Him.
However, God’s attribute of mercy does not contradict with His attribute of being just. Being just means to reward those who have done good and punish those who have done evil. God’s attribute of justice would operate in the Hereafter, just as it does on earth. If God prevented a lion from eating a deer, He would be showing mercy to the deer. But wouldn’t the lion die of hunger? Where is the mercy to the lion, then?
In His infinite wisdom, God allows a smaller evil for a greater good. Similarly, it would be unfair to those who have spent their entire lives worshiping God and doing good if the wicked are not punished for their misdeeds.
If people are not brought to account for their deeds, then what is the point of instructing them to believe in God and obey His commands in the first place? Everyone could do what he wants because he will know that in the end he will not be held accountable for his evil. The fear of God’s punishment would not be in his hearts.
Also, a vast majority of people who are Muslims, only by name, but hardly practice their faith, would find this the easiest option to buy a ticket to heaven. They claim to believe and they may, but it will not have an effect on the actions in their lives. They will do what they want, with confidence that God is merciful and will not punish them in the Hereafter. Moreover, who will obey God, if they did not fear Hell? If everyone is assured of heaven, why should they obey God? There would be no need to. They may not go to Hell, but what would become of the fitnah in this world? Would it be possible to live in it, if there were no rules and everyone did what they wanted? Even our modern day societies attest to this. Without law and order, chaos would prevail in the society.
Another real-life example is exams taken by students. If some students are allowed to cheat by their teachers, who want to be called merciful and kind, then would it be fair to the students who have put in a lot of effort? They will of course oppose this and label the teachers as “unjust”. And soon, most of the students will start copying, if all the teachers are “merciful”. In the future, no student will study, as he knows that he can pass the exam without making the effort. In their theoretical exams, these students may be successful, but what about the practical aspect of it in their lives? They would be complete failures. The purpose of exams would be defeated. It would have been the same to let everyone pass, without having exams in the first place.
For Muslims, the above scenario should be applied to our life being the exam and the honest Muslims as the students who have worked hard. The others are the failures, who did not make the effort, and so will see the consequences, as they had been warned, but did not prepare for it, despite all the guidance shown to them.
And finally, like the purpose of exams, what would be the purpose of creating man, if he is not going to be tested and just sent straight to heaven? Would we not become like the angels, despite the unimaginable evil we do? This life could not be called a test, as it is in the verse:
“He who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed; and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-forgiving.” (Al-Mulk 67: 2)
Taken with slight editorial modifications from onislam.net.