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Exploring Theological Perspectives on the Problem of Evil and Divine Will

In the last article, I wrote that there are four explanations related to the problem of evil, and that Islamic theologians view the issue through the fourth title I presented, “Bringing different approaches to the explanation of God’s attributes,” and I left it at that.

Indeed, theologians have looked at the problem of evil from the perspective of human freedom and actions, and all their explanations are based on this main axis, but they have diverged among themselves. Accordingly, is the act/behavior we speak of a behavior that a person does entirely freely, without any external coercion or pressure, or is it playing a role assigned by a predetermined fate? In other words, do people have the right to choose and decide in their actions?

At this point, the Jabriyyah argue that “Humans have no will in their actions.” A person is like a leaf blown by the wind or a log dragged by the raging waves of a flood. Just as the leaf or the log has no will, neither does the person. However, this idea has not been widely accepted historically. Because saying “Humans have no will in their actions” would render God’s commands and prohibitions, and the rewards and punishments of heaven and hell, absurd. In this case, there would be no difference between a person and a remotely controlled robot. Saying “There is no freedom of choice in their actions” means “they also have no responsibility in their actions.”

The second view belongs to the Mu’tazilah. Contrary to the Jabriyyah, they argue, “Humans are the creators of their actions/behaviors.” This view implies ignoring the absolute will, knowledge, and power of God, attributing all human actions entirely to humans, whose knowledge, power, and will are limited.

The third view, held by Maturidi, is between these two extremes. Imam Maturidi in the literature introduces the theory known as “Aspects/Parts of Actions,” and divides human action into kesb (acquisition) and halk (creation). Accordingly, the desire and the subsequent action are attributed to the human, who possesses limited knowledge and will, while the creation of that action is attributed to God. In this view, humans, lacking power and capability, cannot create an action but can only perform it, which is possible only through God’s creation. God does not interfere with the human’s will and desire, both to maintain freedom and as a test, and to ensure that the concepts of judgment, heaven, and hell in the afterlife do not lose their meaning. God creates what the servant desires.

As known, creation means giving something its essence, which requires infinite knowledge and power. For example, fire. Humans cannot give the property of burning to fire, but they can choose to put their hand into a burning fire. If a person puts their hand into the fire, it burns. Here, the person both places their hand into the fire and says, “O fire, do not burn my hand”; this is impossible.

So, is God compelled to burn the person’s hand in this example? He could choose not to. In other words, could God not instantly give the fire the property of not burning? There is only one answer to this question; of course, He could, but God has chosen to abide by the rules He has set. He is not compelled, but He chooses not to intervene. Otherwise, if He had intervened, there would be no order. The cosmic laws, called the Sunnatullah, would not have a stable foundation, and humanity could not rely on any continuities in the world order. Simply put, no scientific discoveries or knowledge would come to fruition. Moreover, this would indicate that human will is not entirely free.

In conclusion, the commentators in this field have aptly summarized: “The existence of free, rational, and responsible individuals is ‘good.’ It is ‘good’ for individuals to have opportunities to develop their innate abilities. It is ‘good’ for individuals to come together in families, communities, and broader social structures where they are mutually responsible. It is ‘good’ for the structures and processes of human societies to develop from within, through the abilities and skills of their members, rather than being imposed from outside by a ‘higher power.’ Frequent and routine intervention by God to prevent humans from misusing their freedom or to repair the resulting evil would fundamentally weaken the intended plan of human life and social structure; therefore, such interventions should not be expected.”

Although we have addressed some of the evils caused by the misuse of human will to some extent, we have not addressed the ‘metaphysical evil’ and some ‘physical evils’ that arise from God’s will. Moreover, questions that challenge God’s infinite mercy and compassion in the areas where answers have been provided remain unanswered. Therefore, initially, we said that without the element of faith, the answers provided by religions are insufficient.

Well, where does this situation particularly lead people in today’s world in terms of thought and belief? The answer is clear; it moves them away from theism towards deism, agnosticism, and atheism.

To be continued…

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.

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