My learned friend was perfectly sure of himself as he delivered his bombshell in slowly-pronounced but strongly-stressed words:
- How is that God, the compassionate and Merciful, punishes us for a transgression committed in a moment of limited time with eternal and infinite torment- 'In Hell they dwell forever'? Who are we and what is our worth in comparison to God's greatness to deserve such vengeance? Man is only an atom or a speck of dust in the universe and relative to God's Majesty he is infinitely more insignificant than that-he is, in fact, nothing in the full meaning of this word.
Our learned friend conceptions are in obvious need of correction.
We are not like atoms or specks of dust in the universe. Our standing in the sight of God is not insignificant but considerable. Didn't he breathe in us of his spirit? Didn't he command the angels to bow for us? Didn't he promise us the inheritance of the earth and the heavens? Didn't he say of us?
"We have bestowed blessings on Adam's children
And carried them over land and sea. We have provided
Them with good things and exalted them above many of
Our creatures." Al-Esra'a, 70
We have, then, something of God's spirit in us. Nor are we atoms or specks of dust in relation to the universe. If we consider our bodies only we may well be like grains in the wide, spacious world. But don’t we contain this universe in and comprehend it with our minds realizing its laws and defining the orbits of its planets and starts? The astronauts who landed on the moon ascertained that all our calculations and designs have been true and accurate. Doesn't this indicate that in so far as our spirit in concerned we are larger than the universe and that we 'contain' it? The Arab poet was right when he spoke of man in the well-known verse:
You deem yourself a tiny body
While the great world is within you contained
Man as the Sufis say, is the comprehensive book while the entire universe is but some of its pages.
Man, then, is of great standing and importance. He comes from the spirit of God. His deeds necessitate accountability. As for the finite sin in time for which God visits us with infinite
Torment in eternity, this is simply another fallacy of my friend's-the self –confident Ph-D!
God speaks about those immortalized in Hell-fire who begs to be returned to earthly life so as to change their deeds to the better:
"But if they were sent back, they would return to that which they
Have been forbidden. They are liars all" Al-An'am ,28
Their guilt, according to this verse, is not confined to one moment of time. It is, in fact, a permanent feature of their makeup that repeats itself at anytime. Indeed, if they were returned to a new life they will commit the same transgressions all over again; therefore, they lie in their promise of improvement. Their sinning is an innate and enduring attribute of their psyche and not a momentary slip in the context of some exceptional life circumstance.
In another Quranic verse, God describes those inveterate sinners:
"On the day when God restores them all to life, they will swear
To him as they now swear to you, thinking that they have some
Standing. Surely they are liars all." Al-Mogadala, 18
This is a flagrant from of perversity and impudence which motivated them to lie even to God and to swear falsely before him on that Day of the Great stand when veils are lifted and covers are removed; indeed, this is most audacious and overbearing.
We are definitely not dealing with a transgression limited to a point in time but one that continues through time and after time itself has ended. We are really confronting a psyche that carries within itself its eternal evil. Hence, everlasting torment is only equitable for such souls. The Quran candidly puts it; 'but (they) shall never come out of Hell. (Al-Baqara, 167). Ibn 'Arabi says that mercy for those souls lies in their habituation to Hell-fire which will become their appropriate abode through infinite ions.
There is undoubtedly an affinity of element between certain transgressing souls and fire; some of these souls are in reality blazes of envy, grudging, voluptuousness, jealously, and bitterness; they are flames of wrath, resentment, rebellion, and other animal passions that flare and rage as a veritable fire. Such souls can never live at peace or endure just one hour without causing conflict and setting fire to everything that surrounds them; for fire is their element and natural habitat. It is a just judgment that Hell be their final abiding place
It will be like placing a thing in its rightful element. If they were admitted to paradise they would not be able to enjoy it. Didn't they disdain peace while on earth?
We ought to be broad-minded in our conception of either Hell or Paradise.
Hell-fire In the other world is not a 'grill' and what goes on there is not burning in its earthly sense. God says that the damned in Hell-fire speak with and curse each other. Hell has in its midst a tree with 'fruit': the Zaqoum tree which grows from the bottom of Gehena. In Hell there is also scorching water for the tormented to drink of. Such place where a certain kind of tree and of water exist and where the damned talk must be another sort of fire than the one we know:
"As it enters every nation will curse the one that went before it,
And when all are gathered there, the last of them will say of the
First: 'There, Lord, are the men who led us astray. Let their punishment
To be doubled in Hell-fire"
The tormented talk while in Hell-fire; a fire 'whose fuel is men and stones'
This fire, then, is something that belongs to the unseen (Gaib); all references to it can be taken as symbolic. It must not, however, be understood that we deny physical torment
Advocating, instead, a 'psychic' punishment. Physical torment is so clearly indicated that no one dare contest or doubt it. We certainly believe in its occurrence. What we suggest is only that the nature and particulars of such torment as well as the qualities and features of the Hell-fire mentioned belong to the hidden Gaib or unseen. As it seems from Quranic references, it is a fire unlike that we know in our world just as the bodies exposed to it will be different from the frail, clayey bodies we now have.
The same view can apply to paradise. It is not a market display of vegetables, dates, pomegranates, and grapes. These Quranic descriptions of it are mere symbols, approximations, or illustrations that bring its truth within the conceptual compass of human minds:
"This is a similitude of Paradise which the righteous have been
Promised. There shall flow in it rivers of unpolluted waters, and rivers
Of milk for ever fresh." Muhammad, 15
in my understanding of the first sentence of this verse God is only giving our minds an approximation of heaven; but the true details of heavenly bliss remain in the unseen:
"No mortal knows what bliss is in store for them as a reward for their labors."
"A paradise as vast as heaven and earth." Al-Imran, 133
Paradise cannot be a mere garden. Its fruits are abundant, 'unforbidden, never-ending' (Al-waqe'a, 32); they are certainly unlike our own earthly fruits which can be forbidden and which cease from season to season. The wine of Paradise 'will neither pain their heads nor take away their reason', it is, undoubtedly, very much different from the wine known to us which leaves a hangover and unsettles the mind. The Quran goes on to say that God 'shall take away all hatred' from the souls of the blessed in Paradise (Al-A'araf, 43). Here again we confront an unknown means of purifying hearts.
Paradise, then, is just like Hell: a matter belonging to the Unseen. This view does not, nevertheless, imply any denial of physical bliss. We believe that paradise contains both physical and spiritual bliss just as Hell is physical and spiritual torment at one and the same time. What we would rather emphasize is that the details and nature of such bliss or torment are unknown to us that paradise is not just a fruit and vegetable market nor is Hell an oven for banking meat.
Torments in the hereafter are not a form of tyranny God exercises over his creatures but a kind of purification, enlightenment, correction, and mercy:
"And why should God punish you if you render thanks
To him and truly believe in him?" Al Nessa'a, 147
Men were not all predestined for torment when they were created. God does not punish the believer who has knowledge of him; He only visits his torment on the obdurate disbeliever with whom all means of guidance and acquainting with the faith and all explanations of it have failed:
"But we will inflict on them the lighter punishment of
This world before the supreme punishment of the world
To come, so that they may return to the right path."
It is God's law that these men should taste the minor punishments of this world to be roused from their torpor and lightened out of their deafness and slumber 'so that they may return to the right path'.
If all such approaches fail, with the disbeliever persisting in his attitude, there remains only one option opens: to inflict the promised torments on him so that he may come to know the truth. Acquaintance with the truth is the essence of mercy. Should God neglect those obstinate disbelievers in their blindness and ignorance, he would be unjust-far removed is he from this. To be led to Hell-fire is a kind of care for such benighted souls. All God's actions are merciful. He shows the mercy of correction and of enlightenment to the benighted in Hell; and he is merciful with his generosity and blessings to the knowing in paradise:
"I will visit my scourge upon whom I please: yet my mercy
Encompasses all things". Al-A'araf, 156
God encompassed everything with his mercy even those under punishment
Let us, in our turn, ask our learned friend: would God, in your opinion, be more just if He treated both sinners and sinned against, murderers and murdered in the same manner throwing up a tea-party for all on the Last Day? Is justice, in our friend's view, synonymous to equaling black with white? To those that find it impossible for God to inflict punishment we may say: Doesn't He actually inflict suffering on us in this world? Aren't old age, sickness, cancer … etc. basic forms of torment? Who created the microbe? Aren't these all warnings that we are dealing with a God who can torment?