What is the reason behind the calamities and disasters that take place in our world?
Why do people have to struggle with illnesses and many other hardships during their lives?
How can the All-Merciful God allow harm to be inflicted upon people and other living beings?
We are living in an amazing world undergoing constant changes. There are transformations, restorations, and renewal taking place all around us. Seasons follow one another to bring rejuvenation, the life cycles of animals and plants, water and planetary cycles take us from one condition to another. Land masses move in certain directions to join or form new lands or mountains. Change and renewal are an inescapable reality for all living things. The world is in a constant flux of states which leaves us amazed and mesmerized about it, just as much as do the changes in our social and personal lives too. Societies develop, nations transform, and individuals go through peaks and troughs There are times when we lose our job, times when we become a parent for the first time and times when a loved one passes away. There is no monotone or smooth chain of events following each other. There are always ups and downs in everything that has been pinpointed on a timeline, while some of these events may seem unpleasant to us. There are disasters, calamities and plagues occurring simultaneously alongside apparently pleasant events and miracles in the world. Deaths, separations, or calamities in peoples’ lives evoke sympathy and pity on people.
What is the role of these calamities and disasters that take place in this beautiful world? Why do people have to struggle with illness and many other problems in their lives? How do we reconcile all this change happening in the world with calamities and disasters? How can God Almighty allow harm to be inflicted upon people and other living beings?
To be able to answer these questions we need to have a better understanding of what makes something good or evil. Almost everything good in this world comes with existence and almost all bad things in this world are associated with nonexistence. Goodness, perfection, and maturity require existence of many qualities, and the existence of these qualities require changes. A steady life with no change is not an ideal form of life or living. In such a life, even the greatest pleasures will transform into absolute emptiness. Keeping this in mind, it is as if existence requires calamities, for only with calamities and problems can good things can come into existence. Rejuvenation is the arrival of good events after the departure of nonexistence.
There are many examples from nature that point to revitalization that is induced by change. Take wildfires as an example. Although wildfires damage the habitat of many inhabitants of a forest, they have many benefits as well. Wildfires are great for biodiversity. After a fire, different habitats develop in forest openings. This creates a mosaic of new habitats that encourage new species to enter the area. Wildfires can also improve the health of a forest by removing trees weakened by insects or diseases.1
Storms may sound like another destructive natural event to us but when examined closely, we realize that they are very essential to our planet’s well-being. Up to 25% of the available rainfall is provided by tropical storms. They play a crucial role in maintaining the heat balance of the earth, which is essential to the well-being of all living things. Hurricanes act like the air conditioners of the earth. It moves the cold air masses to places where rain is needed.2 After all, all these events have a purpose that work for a reason.
Human life as a natural and most intelligent participant of this world displays a similar pattern. We suffer pain, endure sorrows, and experience many unpleasant events in our lives. However, most of the time, the true nature of these events are understood only after they are over. The after-shock of events makes us realize things we did not notice before or even during the event. Sickness helps us understand our weaknesses and forces us to develop strategies rather than depending on sheer power. Only with calamities can humans refine their capabilities and talents and attain high virtues. People will recognize that they developed their understanding of their environment after times of difficulties, rather than times of comfort. To put it differently, as William Frederick Halsy, Jr. says: "There are no great people in this world, only great challenges which ordinary people rise to meet." It is only with challenges that people are compelled to develop new solutions. If we want to advance, we have to change, voluntarily or involuntarily.
These examples are just a few of the countless events happening all around us. In fact, all sciences are the study of these amazing changes. The essential point in all these events is that true evil is the state of no change. It is only with change that we can observe the good outcomes. True evil is in idleness, stagnancy, and inactivity.
There is the well-known saying “every cloud has a silver lining,” that there is a purpose in every event. Nothing is meaningless but since people are short-sighted, they make quick decisions and reach conclusions utilizing poor judgment. Many of the developments in the world require time and consciousness to understand. We need to have a wider and more prudent look into the events. Every event is wonderful in its own way; it is almost impossible to find something meaningless in this world.
- For more see, “Yellowstone's Rebirth by Fire: Rising from the Ashes of the 1988 Wildfires” by Karen Wildung Reinhart, and “Fire Effects on Ecosystems” by Leonard F. DeBano, Daniel G. Neary and Peter F. Folliott.
- “The Benefits of Hurricanes,” Time Magazine September 24, 1973.