Bismillahi ar-rahman ar-rahim
Here are my answers (to the best of my understanding) to the first 15 “questions I’d like to ask God” from Hemant Mehta. Mehta has a youtube channel called the Atheist Voice and he made a video titled “36 Questions I’d Like to Ask God“. The following are just the first 15, and I will get to the rest in a future article, God willing. I generally kept the phrasing of the questions with how Mehta said it in his video, and to keep things easy to read I’ll change the question colour to purple and answers in black.
1) Why do you allow suffering?
This first question directly shows me that Mehta doesn’t understand at a theological and spiritual level the purpose of this world, of this life. It might be that the Christians in Western environments don’t explain or discuss these things properly so the relative significance of each stage of life gets lost. But I’ll explain the Islamic position as I believe it.
Every human being’s soul existed in the world of spirits before he/she was born in this world. In the world of spirits we had a direct connection and vision of God and we are praising Him and intermingling with each other until it’s time for us to be born into this world. In fact when God created Adam, God extracted all the souls of humanity from Adam’s spine and took an oath from us. God said to us (as spirits): “Am I not your Lord?” and we answered in the affirmative “Yes indeed you are our Lord!”. And God said he asked us that lest we say on the Day of Judgement that we didn’t know.
Next we find ourselves in this world. In arabic this life is called the Dunya which means the lowest place. Our soul has been attached in a mysterious way to the physical biological sensory body. The shock of all this new sensory information makes us forget where we came from and even that we have a Lord. At least at the conscious level we might forget, though we have an inherent disposition that allows us to believe in the unseen spiritual world and things like angels, devils and gods/God. After that, our upbringing strongly influences our belief systems.
Now why are we in this world in the first place? What’s all this about? Allah tells us in the Quran that He made the Jinn and Humans only to worship Him. Humans are an especially special creation and are distinguished from the perfect Angels by the mere fact that we can choose to want to draw nearer to God. Imagine as it were that we find ourselves on a set of steps. Steps going upwards leads us closer to God, and steps going down leads us away from God. Humans have been given the ability and privilege to draw as near to Him as we desire and as far as He allows. The angels are fixed in their stations forever. But we can go down and alienate ourselves from God and become even lower than animals, because even they know they have a Lord.
“Suffering” then in this scheme has a few purposes. The first thing to understand that nothing in this world occurs without God’s permission. But that doesn’t mean that something that is evil in His eyes becomes good, no. He can allow his creation to harm themselves if that is what they want to do. But He gives us guidance so we don’t do that. And the idiots are the ones that still harm themselves despite there being guidance available.
For a believer, if gets pricked by a thorn and feels pain, God takes away a sin from the believer’s account. So imagine what happens when a believer suffers from an illness for days or months? What happens when his heart is in pain from the loss of loved ones? These experiences then become a means of purification of the soul, with the caveat that the person patiently bears the situation without complaining “Why me God?”.
Suffering may just be the result of our own human actions. If a drill starting “fracking” for gas and massive cracks occur in the ground which increases instability then that is our own fault. Oil spills in the oceans are own fault. Inequities that we find in the world are from the hands of humans themselves. So don’t blame God, when the greed and arrogance of humans are the ones at fault.
And finally suffering may be a punishment from God. But in my humble opinion, though God does punish in this life, I have found it makes more sense to see these situations of suffering as God waking us up to a higher version of ourselves, to a more conscious self. I’ll use a very real example to illustrate this. Lee Atwater was politician consultant for the Republican party in America and even worked closely with George W. Bush. He got a terminal brain tumour that couldn’t be treated. He wrote an autobiography and he said in the book how before the tumour he did everything he could to get on top even if it meant hurting other people or tearing them down. “Screw unto others before they screw you” mentality. But when he got the tumour and was faced with imminent death he just wanted to make amends and apologise to all those people that he had hurt.
The reminder of death changes people at a deep level. They realise the ephemeral nature of this life and want to leave it as good people. Generally speaking people who get those experiences also want to find God and obey Him. Cat Stephens (now known as Yusuf Islam) had an experience where he was drowning and he prayed to God that if God saved Him that he would find Him and follow Him. And immediately a wave carried him to the shore and he found Islam shortly afterwards.
All suffering in this world has a purpose. You have to open your mind to understand the bigger picture.
2) Why do good faithful people die in natural disasters?
If good faithful people die in natural disasters then they have died as martyrs and are entered straight into Heaven.
The mistake Mehta does is raise the significance of this life. This life is only the testing ground for us to work on. We sow our seeds of works (good or bad) and they bear fruit on the Day of Judgement. It is the permanent life of the next world that we should raise up above the temporary life of this world.
It’s a great blessing to be taken away from this life in some kind of disaster or being killed because we are being granted the gift of martyrdom which is direct entry into Heaven and a pretty high heaven at that.
3) Why would you give innocent children terminal illnesses or genetic deformities?
God does as He wills. He is not accountable to His creation about what He does to them. In fact according to Imam Ghazali, it’s impossible for God to be unjust to his creation, because the definition of injustice is taking someone else’s possession. But we are his possession and so he can do to us as He wills and it wouldn’t be injustice. That’s just logical.
But of course we know God is Merciful and Cherishing and this is a very dominant quality in God. These terminal diseases or genetic deformities are a test for the children, for their parents and for the community as well. There are scientists right now studying genetic disorders and thus increasing our knowledge of genetics and the human body. So if genetic disorders didn’t exist there wouldn’t be a drive to study that knowledge and gain it. Also parents who have children like that are being given a test and essentially a free ticket to Paradise. If they bear this trial patiently (I mean the deaths of their children) they get given Paradise as reward. And the children also. I mean why are we so bummed out about people leaving this place of pain and going into the joyous Gardens? Isn’t that stupid? The fact that suffering exists doesn’t disprove God or doesn’t indicate that he doesn’t exist. And having hope that these people that suffer going straight to Paradise is not making the pain of this life insignificant but it does put it into perspective. Don’t complain of a few years of pain when you will get an eternity of happiness.
4) Seriously, a talking snake?
The genesis narrative is slightly different according to Islam but even if Satan did become a talking snake, so what? How is that more wondrous than creating a man from clay and his wife from his rib bone?
Why is your imagination so taxed by this?
5) If you know our fate then why should we bother with prayer?
Firstly, to remind ourselves, God does He wills. It’s the epitome of arrogance for us to presume we know better than God. And if that arrogance is in your heart, then you will honestly face being broken in this life. And if you were spared that in this life, then be prepared to be broken in the next life.
But in any case, fate is not that complicated but it is definitely a real thing. But what do we mean when we say fate? Sayyidina Ali (the Prophet Muhammad’s nephew) illustrated this very well. Someone asked him about our free will. Do we have complete free will, or in actual fact is everything (our actions) predetermined? Ali (may God be leased with him) asked the man to lift up his right leg and so he did. Then he asked him to lift up his left leg (while his right was still up) and the man said that he can’t. Then Ali said that our free will is somewhere between the two extremes. If we had true free will, we could make a hair grow on our chin if we wanted to. But we can’t. I like Yusuf Estes explanation as it is very easy to understand. We don’t have the will to control our lives but in our lives we are constantly presented with choices and we have the will to choose one or the other. Once we have formed the intention to perform the action it is then Allah (Glory and Exalted is He) that actually creates the rest of the action (I mean our atoms physically moving). So everything that happens has been directly willed by Allah in a kind of tandem interaction with our intentions. But of course Allah’s will is not bound to our intentions. Think how many times we intended to do something in the next five minutes (like do our homework) but find ourselves doing something completely different? Allah (Glory and Exalted is He) just didn’t will for what we intended to happen.
This understanding changes our view of the world completely. Now you come across someone who was verbally abusing you. The gnostic now sees this couldn’t occur without God’s will. So for the one who submits to God’s will, he can accept this verbal abuse and find the patience that God exhorts us to be in scripture. (But at the same time, the sin for being verbally abusive is still counted against the man being abusive because that’s what he intended to do and his intentions are under his own control.)
Prayer is our means of communicating with our Lord. It’s as simple as that. He responds to our prayers. It’s as simple as that.
6) Which prayers do you listen to and which ones do you ignore?
This is actually a very good question. There are certain people that prayers (let’s use the more specific word “supplications”) are more accepted from than others.
Firstly, for those people that disobey God’s commandments (avoiding sin for example) their hearts are heedless. Imagine you have an argument with your father, and then in the next minute you ask him for some cash to buy some sweets. Like how ungrateful is that? So the first thing a person must make sure is that if he finds his supplications aren’t being answered then he should check himself and see if he is disobeying God heedlessly.
But after that the purer your heart of sins and the more God-conscious you are, the more likely you are going to get your supplications answered. Also there are certain times of the day that are highly beneficial and you are closest to God. These times is basically in the last third of the night when everyone else is sleeping. And especially in the hour or two before dawn. God is looking for the ones who are calling out to Him at this time. Also prostrating your forehead onto the ground (as you see muslims do) is the best position to make your supplications. A person is closest to his Lord in this position of total submission. I can attest to this personally, and even Yusuf Estes prostrated and asked for guidance and found Islam shortly thereafter. There are other stories I know that happened after the person supplicated during prostration. And Jesus and Moses and Abraham prayed like this (peace be upon them all).
And finally the supplication of the oppressed is answered immediately even if that person doesn’t believe in God. So for all those Syrians and Palestinians and anyone else who is oppressed, supplicate for supplication is the weapon of the believer according to our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Also the prayers of the parents for or against their own children is also answered by God. So we have to be careful not invite our parents’ displeasure with us.
7) How do I know when you’re talking to me, or I’m just talking to myself?
I think Mehta, you need to go see a therapist. It’s for your own good mate.
8) What am I going to do in Heaven, because doing the same things over and over again for an eternity doesn’t sound like a lot of fun? Also the things that people would want to do over and over again are probably the sorts of things you don’t allow in Heaven in the first place.
Firstly in Heaven we don’t have to toil. We don’t even have pain. We eat as much as we like, we chat as much as we like, we play as much as we like. And we have the best company of all: God’s countenance. And we are in his Good Pleasure.
9) How can you offer unconditional love and threaten people with eternal damnation?
In Islam we know one of Allah’s names to be Al-Wadood, the Loving One (without any conditions). But he is also the Just. God decided Earth to be our trial place and Paradise and Hell our reward.
But the fact that He has informed us of Hell in the first place is a sign of his mercy and love. Only someone who’s heart is blind doesn’t pay heed to the message.
10) How can I enjoy Heaven if someone I love is burning in Hell?
The bonds of that we have such as blood bonds are actually just part of this world. When we die, and before we were born we were just unaffiliated souls.
Secondly, the souls that make it to Paradise will be relieved for themselves. And they won’t disagree with God’s decree and Judgement, for who are they to disagree with their Lord. If a loved one finds themselves in Hell, then why didn’t they pay heed in their life?
It does say in the Quran that we will be able to see those people suffering in Hell and we even ask the denizens of Hell what brought them there in the first place. And they will answer back that they weren’t of the ones that prayed. They didn’t feed the poor. They sat with the ones vain talking. And they disbelieved in the Day of Judgement until it was too late for them.
11) Isn’t it pretty messed up that a kind loving atheist and an evil genocidal maniac would both suffer the same eternal punishment in your eyes?
Actually the people that find themselves in Hell aren’t given the same punishment. Some will only have to wear sandals of fire which will nevertheless boil their brains. It is the hypocrites (those who said they believed but in reality didn’t) that will find themselves at the bottom of Hell. Everyone will get the punishment that their personal deeds and disbelief merits (nothing more or less).
And by the way the people in Hell won’t be in Hell forever. Firstly there will be believers in Hell, they are there due to their bad deeds which God judged fit not forgive. The Prophets will intercede for these believers. We know the Prophet Muhammad will ask Allah to be allowed to take anyone who even said “there is no god but God”. Just for verbally saying it.
Then people will be interceded for by the good deeds that they did do. And eventually only the worst of the worst will be left in Hell. It is at this point that God Himself intercedes for these ones. But only God knows how long He will leave the people in Hell for.
Personally I want to go straight to Paradise without purging my sins in Hell first.
12) Why are your followers so annoying?
Takes Juan to know Juan.
13) Why are your commandments so misguided? There’s no sense of priority there. You ban worshipping false idols but not slavery or rape.
God is the center and every aspect of human life and behaviour is affected by what we take as our center. Rape and slavery are abhorrent to God. So anyone that obeys God will find the same things abhorent that He does. It makes sense to fix the central pillar first as the foundation for the rest of human behaviour.
14) Because there are so many different religions (and different kinds of christianities) why don’t you settle the question once and for all?
This place is a test. He has provided His guidance abundantly and clearly both outside ourselves (scriptures) and within our very own hearts. But few people listen to their hearts. They listen to their desires, anger, jealousy, hunger, lust and fantasies. This is not listening to one’s heart.
15) If you really wanted our sins forgiven why did you have to kill your son to do it?
Well I agree Mehta, how does obtaining a blood sacrifice solve anything?
I watched a video recently where a Rabbi explores this concept of blood sacrifice for sin. You see the Christian narrative starts with an important dogma: sin requires a pure blood sacrifice. In jewish practice you could offer an animal sacrifice at the temple to gain forgiveness for a specific type of sin, sin done accidentally. For example cooking on the Sabbath and you either didn’t know it was not allowed, or forgot that it was the Sabbath. A sacrifice for these types of sin is then required.
But the Christians took a verse completely out of context. Firstly the verses that the Christians use to support their dogma are to do with sacrificing animals. That when an animal is sacrificed the important component is the blood, for the blood is the life force.
The Christians believe that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission” for sin and it is “the blood that makes an atonement for the soul”. They use Leviticus 17:11 to support this claim. The full verse is:
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement for the souls”
But if you look at the context of this verse, it is on the subject of sacrificing animals. Just instructions regarding that.
And the Christians ignore the fact that if one was poor and couldn’t offer a sheep for sacrifice one could offer a bird like a pigeon or if one couldn’t afford that, one could offer wheat flour. And if one wasn’t near a temple one could just repent. In fact with any sin one could just repent and ask for forgiveness and hope that God forgave you. In this regard Judaism is equivalent to Islam.
The Rabbi also explained that the Jews that wanted to crucify Jesus wanted him crucified in order to tarnish his claim as the Messiah. For in those days crucifixion was seen as a curse from God. So, one coming with a message of God couldn’t be cursed like this and if he was then he was likely not from God anyways. The Islamic view is that Jesus supplicated to God to be saved from being crucified and was taken away bodily. Someone else in the likeness of Jesus was crucified instead.
In any case requiring a blood sacrifice runs counter to the concept of mercy. Afterall God created the blood, why does He need to see that spilled just to forgive? He has no constraints.
This article took a while to write but I found it interesting to put my views out there on these questions. Honestly though, if you have such questions then you need to honestly reflect and seek that information. Find out what Islam says about these things. Honestly the Islamic framework makes the most rational sense.