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God Is Merciful: Why Hell?

God's Ultimate Mercy and Love:
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If we believe in God and His supreme justice, then it would make sense that He would guide us to the straight path.

The majority of the adherents of the Abrahamic religions, namely, Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in the concept of the Day of Judgment as well as Heaven and Hell.

Unlike the believers in re-incarnation, in which the dead are believed to be reborn into a better or worse life according to his/her deeds in the last life, the adherents to the Abrahamic religions believe that there are only two lives. The first, being from the mother’s womb, and the second, when a person is resurrected on the Day of Judgment to account for his deeds.

Reward vs. Punishment

So, in general, people believe in the concept of reward and punishment in various religions, but not in the same linear form.

In Islam, similar to Judaism and Christianity, God is looked upon as a just God. He is hasty to reward and slow to punishment. But one may ask why would He punish if He is a loving God?

It all boils down to whether we believe in God or not. If we believe in Him and His supreme justice, then it would make sense that He would guide us to the straight path. This is only possible through revelations sent down to His Prophets, which they relayed to their people.

In all preserved scriptures, one sees evidence of the loving kindness of the Creator. This is manifested in numerous verses through which He shows guidance to mankind, so humans would not err.

So, for the believer, fear of God is part of strengthening his/her faith. One knows that in believing in God, he must have love, fear and hope in Him.

The believer knows there are rewards and punishments and the ways which one may achieve either one.

Love and hope are two lengthy subjects. So, since the issue of Hell and the justice of the Creator are being discussed here, we concentrate on the attitude of a believer toward fear of God, which will ultimately save him from Hell.

The Believer's Fear and Hope

The believer knows there are rewards and punishments and the ways which one may achieve either one. So, he distances himself from God’s punishment and draws himself toward His pleasure and mercy and thus he attains greater spiritual fulfillment. He would want to respect God’s boundaries, stays constantly vigilant and tries to seek God’s pleasure in the best manner he can. He knows this will save him from the fear of the Last Day and the eternal terror of Hell.

{Those who give away their wealth by night and day, secretly and openly, will have their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow.} (2: 274)

As described in the Quran, a believer who has an awareness of God and sincerely reflects on His attributes will immediately begin to experience that inner awe that is due to His Majesty and superiority. Thus, His infinite power will create within the believer a fear full of absolute awe. As a result of the believer's vigilance and sincerity, God will reward him by His infinite mercy with tranquility in this world, and in the Hereafter with Paradise.

{For those who fear the Station of their Lord there are two Gardens.} (55:46)

Yet, one may ask how would I know what pleases or displeases God? The answer is clear. One must gain knowledge of His Creator by understanding His words through the Quran.

{… Only those of His servants with knowledge have fear of Allah. Allah is Almighty, Ever-Forgiving.} (35: 28)

Such believers would understand that the justice of God is unmatched. Thus they believe in all that He has warned them with:

{[Believers are] those who affirm the Day of Judgment. Those who are fearful of the punishment of their Lord. No one is safe from the punishment of his Lord.} (70: 26-8)

Such is the justice of God and the believer relies on no one but God in fear and hope.

{… they call on their Lord in fear and ardent hope.} (32:16)

About this issue, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

"When the heart of a believer is filled with these two feelings of hope and fear, Almighty Allah fulfils his hope and saves him from what he fears." (Ibn Majah)

God's Justice

God, with His justice has given ample warnings through His Prophets to those who reject His signs throughout the ages.

What about those who reject the Day of Judgment, when they meet their Lord and witness the Heaven and Hell?

{The real losers are those who lose themselves and their families on the Day of Rising." Is not that clear loss? They will have awnings of Fire above them and awnings below them. By that Allah strikes fear into His servants: "O My servants, fear Me!} (39: 15-6)

So, would it be just if God left humans alone to do as they like without any reward or punishment in this world and the Hereafter? God warns:

{Woe to you, and woe! Then woe to you, and woe! Does man reckon he will be left to go on unchecked?} (75:34-6)

God, with His justice has given ample warnings through His Prophets to those who reject His signs throughout the ages. He has vividly painted pictures of Heaven for those who believe in Him and Hell for those who distanced themselves from Him and His numerous messages while they lived on earth. They denied His signs, warnings and messages. God says to these deniers:

{Those who do not believe will be driven to Hell in companies and when they arrive there and its gates are opened its custodians will say to them, "Did Messengers from yourselves not come to you, reciting your Lord's Signs to you and warning you of the meeting on this Day of yours?" They will say, "Indeed they did, but the decree of punishment is justly carried out against the disbelievers." They will be told, "Enter the gates of Hell and stay there timelessly, forever. How evil is the abode of the arrogant!} (39: 71-2)

Did they ever think the punishment was so sever where they would wish for death?

{They will call out [to the custodian of the Hell], "Malik, let your Lord put an end to us!" He will say, "You will stay the way you are.”} (43:77)

The Prophet gave the glad tidings to those who believe in God...

This is the reason why the believers truly fear the punishment of Hell and supplicate to their Lord to avert such punishment from them:

{[The servants of the All-Merciful are] those who say, "Our Lord, avert from us the punishment of Hell, its punishment is inescapable pain."} (25: 65)

The Prophet gave the glad tidings to those who believe in God, but earn His anger by disobedience that they will ultimately taste the Paradise. He said:

"Anyone with even a peck of faith in his heart will emerge from the fire." (Muslim, 91)

Abu Said said:

"Whoever falls into doubt (of the fact related by this notice) must read this verse: {Allah does not wrong anyone by so much as the smallest speck.} (4:40)

Yet, for the one who gives not heed to God’s warning, all he can do is to discredit the reality of Heaven and Hell and the Day of Judgment. Such were also the people of the old civilizations and generations. God gives a glimpse of what happened to such disbelievers:

{Have they not travelled in the Earth and seen the final fate of those before them? They had greater strength than them and cultivated the land and inhabited it in far greater numbers than they do...} (30: 9)

{… Did he not know that before him Allah had destroyed generations with far greater strength than his and far more possessions?} (28:78)

{How many generations We have destroyed before them who had finer furnishings and a better outward show!} (19:74)

Finally, those who believe that Hell should not exist if God is just, and are heedless of the warnings of their Creator, they will surely come to know how just and fair He was-but perhaps too late for them to change once they meet their Lord. They are best described in the Quran as follows:

{Do you feel secure against Him causing the shore to swallow you up or sending against you a sudden squall of stones? Then you will find no one to be your guardian. Or do you feel secure against Him taking you back into it another time and sending a violent storm against you and drowning you for your ingratitude? Then you will find no one to defend you against Us.} (17: 68-9)

He further warns:

{Give from what We have provided for you before death comes to one of you and he says, "My Lord, if only you would give me a little more time so that I can give charity and be one of the righteous!" Allah will not give anyone more time, once their time has come. Allah is aware of what you do.} (63: 10-11)

Let us be the blessed ones whom God has mentioned herein. Who are they?

{In houses which Allah has permitted to be built and in which His name is remembered, there are men who proclaim His glory morning and evening, not distracted by trade or commerce from the remembrance of Allah and the performance of prayer and the giving of alms; fearing a day when all hearts and eyes will be in turmoil.} (24: 36-7)

First published in November 2010.
Related Links:
14 Meanings of God's Attribute Al-Kareem
How Can One Enter Paradise?
A Believer’s Good Deeds
When God Enters Your Vocabulary
Abu Hanifah: The Jurist of His Age

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