6. Thinking of God’s Righteousness


“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)


Yet creation does not reveal anything more. It cannot tell us whether this powerful intelligence is just a force of some kind, or whether it has a personality. So while I can safely state that God is almighty and super-intelligent, I could not conclude from observing nature that He is personal, holy, righteous, merciful or loving. Both Christians and Muslims rightly claim that He has these attributes. Our Books say so, and so do our theologians. And yet, we differ in our perception of the nature of God.


Take the word righteousness. Does that mean that God is totally good and therefore will always act rightly? If God is good, can He create evil? If He is righteous, can He cause someone to commit sin and then punish that person for doing so? If God is love, can He be indifferent to our eternal wellbeing? Intuitively both of us will answer without hesitation that God could not have created evil or induce a person to sin and punish him for that, and that He cannot be indifferent to His creatures. Our innate perception of God causes us to think this way. What have our Books to say?


According to Imam al-Barqavi (died 1135), the famous theologian and Qur’an commentator:


“He (Allah) receives neither profit nor loss from whatever may happen. If all the infidels became believers . . . He would gain no advantage. On the other hand, if all believers became infidels, He would suffer no loss. He can do what He wills, and whatever He wills come to pass. He is not obliged to act. Everything, good or evil, in this world exists by His will. He wills the faith of the believers and the piety of the religious. If He were to change His will there would be neither a true believer nor a pious man. He willeth also the unbelief of the unbeliever and the irreligion of the wicked and, without that will, there would neither be unbelief nor irreligion . . . He is perfectly free to will and to do what He pleases. In creating unbelievers, in willing that they should remain in that state; in making serpents, scorpions and pigs; in willing, in short, all that is evil. God has wise ends in view which it is not necessary that we should know.”(‘Haft sifat’ as quoted in Hughes ‘Dictionary of Islam’ p.141).