Sometimes it feels like it’s just too much – these fluctuations in our faith, the repeated sinning, the feeling that “I just don’t deserve Allah’s mercy.”
The tests always feel like punishments. There is a constant worry about the future: my marriage, my money, my career, my nation… And some difficulties just feel like they are too great to overcome. We know we’re not supposed to ask this, but the question at the back of our minds is: “Why me?”
We have all heard that we should never despair of God’s mercy. And on the surface, we try not to, but the Devil has a trick. We tend to despair of ourselves and our incapacity to change things, especially the inner turmoil that we feel. And the effect of this is basically the same as despairing of God’s mercy.
We do not always accept that God can take us out of the situation we are in and we don’t need to ‘deserve’ the trouble; God isn’t punishing us and we don’t need to be perfect.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t strive, or take ourselves to account when we do mess up. The key is to develop our relationship with God during that trouble.
If we know God, no situation is too hopeless. No sadness is ever permanent. We perceive trials as they are meant to be perceived – as tests of our trust in God, forcing us to put our knowledge into practice and bringing us closer to Him.
These trials could potentially be a punishment too, that is if we let it affect us negatively by completely turning away from Him because of our sadness.
But our awareness of our own state and our understanding of God’s mercy allows us to turn the punishment into something positive that is manifested through repentance to God, alongside increasing in good deeds in order to erase the bad ones.
The first exercise is for us to consciously realize that God knows. Whatever grief we go through, whatever hardship we endure, we must understand that we are never alone. Even if we feel abandoned by the world and those closest to us, God is there. He reminds us in the Quran:
Fear not. Indeed, I am with you [both]; I hear and I see. (20: 46)
As long as we begin by recognizing that God is with us and He is close to us, there remains a solution to our inner worries. There are things we need to know in order to develop our relationship with God. Then there are things we need to do in order to maintain that closeness to God.
And finally, there are things we need to aspire for to achieve the ideal relationship with our Lord. We pray that by the end of the series, we will all have developed a stronger relationship with God.
Developing Our Relationship With God
Long ago, I was watching the news report on Israel’s devastating attack on Lebanon. As I saw the images of severed bodies and heard the cries for help, the frustration and helplessness I felt was overwhelming. So I decided to pray while reciting from the Quran. As I was reading, I arrived at the verse:
Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, ‘When is the help of Allah?’ Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near. (2: 214)
And that was the answer. As human beings, we will be tested. But this doesn’t mean that we are going to live our lives in perpetual hardship, because ‘unquestionably, the help of God is near.’ So what does it mean when we are going through hardship? Is God angry with us? What if there is no way out?
Whenever we go through hardship, there are things we need to know with certainty. God tells us in the Quran:
[…] Allah will bring about, after hardship, ease. (65: 7)
Certain hardships are so consuming that we cannot focus on anything but the difficulty. But we have to remember that if we were to enumerate the blessings of God, we would not be able to count them.
Reminding ourselves of the other blessings in our lives helps us to see the test within the context of the grand scheme of things. Just the fact that you can make prostration, and call out, “O Allah!” is a blessing that surpasses all others.
But Why Trials?
There is a purpose behind the trial, and this purpose corresponds to our internal state and our relationship with God. God has 99 Names, and it should suffice us to know that He is the most merciful, the most just and the most wise. Your test is not being put upon you by a random being, but by God, who is closer to us than our jugular vein.
Tests are a way to purify us. The Prophet said:
No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that. (Al-Bukhari)
Our ultimate aim is to earn God’s pleasure and paradise, and all of us fall short in truly worshiping God as He should be worshiped. Many of us fail to ask for forgiveness regularly, or to reflect on our state and return to God. These tests, as burdensome as they are, ease our burden on the Day of Judgment, if we respond with patience.
Trials also have a way of reminding us of our purpose. If we are far from God, the test is usually to bring us close to Him. Whatever heedlessness we are engaging in, the test should make us realize we have no one, no one at all, but Him.
If we are close to God, it is to test our resilience. Are we only close to God in times of ease, or does our trust extend to the times of hardship? When we are tested, do we leave the good deeds that we used to do? God describes such people in the following verse:
And of the people is he who worships Allah on an edge. If he is touched by good, he is reassured by it; but if he is struck by trial, he turns on his face [to the other direction]. He has lost [this] world and the Hereafter. That is what is the manifest loss. (22: 11)
This may seem counter-intuitive, but tests are also out of God’s love. The Prophet said:
When Allah loves a servant, He tests him. (At-Tirmidhi)
In a sacred hadith God tells Jibreel to delay the response to the du`a’ of a servant because Allah loves hearing his voice. (At-Tabarani)
Sometimes the answer to a test is that need for God, those long hours spent in the night, and the tears of sincerity.