Is God Just And Merciful?

Question

Please respond to the following questions from a Hindu friend.

Put simply, the basic premises of the Abrahamic beliefs (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are as follows:

  • God is just, kind, perfect
  • This life is our first and last life
  • God is testing us here
  • Based on the marks we obtain in this test, we will go to either Heaven or Hell.

The differences between various sects of Judaism, Christianity and Islam lie only in

  • the testing criteria and the description of Heaven and Hell
  • the level of fanaticism required for passing this Test.

But the basic construct is same – One Life which is Test, God is best examiner, and Result is Pass (Heaven) or Fail (Hell).

Let us evaluate this basic construct critically through a series of examples, and decide whether it is logically plausible.

1.

Many children die in the wombs. Now as per Islam or Christianity would they go to Heaven or Hell? Most scholars of Islam and Christianity say they go to Heaven because they never did anything wrong in their lives.

Now my question is "Did they even have an option to do anything wrong?"

Is God not being partial by clearing one candidate even without starting his examination, and another one has to keep giving test after test continuously for 100 years!

2.

Many children die young before they reach maturity. Even the wrong acts they do are not out of willful desire to do something wrong but out of innocence. Would they reach Heaven or Hell?

If they reach Heaven, then why does God not kill everyone in their childhood and ensure a seat in Heaven for them? Is God not being unjust and imperfect?

If they reach Hell, what was their fault?

Say twins were born. Both lived same innocent life for first 3 years. Then one died. He will go straight to Heaven. The other remained innocent for next few years, then got into bad company, became an Apostate/Kafir and died at age of 60. Now he should go to Hell, as per the Books.

Is this not God's crime that he made him live for 60 years and not his brother? Had he killed both at same age of 3 years, both would have gone to Heaven!

So if there is one life and permanent Heaven/Hell, it proves God is unjust.

3.

A person is born insane. His mental faculties have not developed beyond say, age of five. But he lives a long life. Will he go to Hell or Heaven?

Again the same questions as above rise. And result in either God being unjust or concept of one life as test to enter Heaven/Hell being wrong.


Answer

First, it is interesting to know that this is not a new argument about God's justice. The argument that is raised in this question is a well known argument among Muslim scholars and it is in fact raised by Muslim scholars themselves as a tool for theological discussions. The argument is originally attributed to Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ahsh'ari (3rd century A.H), one of the Muslim Scholars of the past and a leader of the current dominant theological school of thought in Islam.

I will provide an answer, however before that I would like to argue that there is a fundamental problem with the conclusion that your Hindu friend has made at the end of his writing. The conclusion that he makes is this:

"(these arguments) result in either God being unjust or concept of one life as test to enter Heaven/Hell being wrong."

I do not see the logic in the above conclusion.

Not knowing how a concept works in a particular case does not make that concept wrong. What makes a concept wrong is inconsistency in its premises.

We believe God is just and we believe that human beings will go to heaven and hell on the basis of their deeds and beliefs during their life in this world and (more importantly) on the basis of God's compassion and mercy.

If your friend can find any inconsistency in the above concept and knows any cases that conflicts with the above then that can be something that may question the concept. However raising examples that we do not know exactly how the above concept apply to them does not question the concept, it only points to our limited knowledge.

I will try to illustrate this with an example:

- A son asks his father: "Is the Earth moving or is it stationary?" The father says: "It is of course moving". The son asks: "then why we cannot hear it moving?". The father who is not very good in science says "I don't know!". The son then asks the same question from a very naive man and the naive man's answer is: "The Earth is stationary!" The son does not find any reason to ask the second question.

Imagine as the result of these conversations, the son concludes that his father was wrong (because he was not able to answer the question) and that the naive person was right and therefore Earth is stationary. Is this a logical conclusion? Not at all. Any rational person will advise the son that:

"Not knowing all the answers about a concept does not make that concept wrong, just as knowing all the answers about a concept does not make that concept right"

In the area of science there are many rules that scientists know are real, yet there are some details about how these rules apply in particular cases that the scientists might not exactly know. This does not mean that those rules are wrong.

When we can appreciate the above about science (that is something that we can experiment and observe), then how come we cannot accept the same about religion and faith (that contains concepts that we cannot wholly experiment and observe)?

We proudly say that we do not know all about God and how He does things. This is because God, as we know it, is beyond our understanding. (As far as I know, this is also true in Hinduism). We have it in our holy book:

"... and we have given you (human beings) only a very limited knowledge" (17:85)

We only know those things about God and His ways that are either obvious or that He himself has revealed to us through His prophets. As for the rest, we can only guess, or even better, remain silent. Sometimes a wise "I don't know" is more correct than an ignorant "I know".

The above was the fundamental problem I had with the question.

Now to come to these specific examples, they are all pointing to the same scenario: "having the concept of God's justice and Heaven and Hell in mind, what is the destiny of a person who did not have a chance to be challenged (or as you may call it, tested) like others in his life".

This is one of those things that we have not been informed about it through any reliable religious sources. We can therefore only express a personal view about it.

In my view we cannot compare those who are responsible for their actions in this world with those who are not (i.e. children who die or people who were insane all their life):

- Those who deserves it from the first category will definitely go to heaven. Heaven is the reward of their good actions and beliefs.

- Those in the second category too will go to heaven. This is because it will not be just for them to go to hell. However in this case, Heaven is not the reward of their good deeds (because they were not responsible for their deeds). The offering of Heaven here is only due to the blessing and compassion of God. Also, this will be another reward for the loved ones of these individuals (if any) who themselves are in Heaven, as they will be reunited.

Therefore, no objection can be made about God allowing these individuals in Heaven because this allowance is not provided for them as a reward, but is provided for them merely as the result of God's compassion and mercy.

Now if some one asks: "Why I didn't die as a child so that I could go to Heaven without any trials", then on the basis of the Qur'an verse 33:72 I would answer: "Your soul were among those that accepted the responsibility that God offered to human beings in general. The soul of a child that dies before maturity, or the soul of an insane person, never accepted that responsibility".

I will then add "and God knows best", simply because God Himself has not given us the answer to this and I am only trying to use my rationality plus what I know from the Qur'an, to reach the answer.

Please let us know if any of this is unclear.

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