If God is infinitely good, why is there evil? What is the purpose of these problems and troubles that seem to hinder our happiness? Are they a divine joke meant to annoy us, or do they serve a greater purpose?
“My enemy, you are my expression and my speed, day needs night and I need you.” Necip Fazıl Kısakürek
Unfortunately, human history offers a wealth of options for finding and observing tragic and shocking events. The variety of troubles we cause each other requires incredible negative creativity. In one period we decide to burn innocent women on the grounds that they are witches, in another period we give blankets infected with smallpox to Native Americans and drown them in alcohol so that they will weaken and die. In the last century alone, the list of man-made disasters is long: Rohingya Muslims, Hutus and Tutsis, the Gulf War, global warming, Uighurs in China.
But tragic events are not limited to what humanity does to each other. In Naples in 2022, I had the opportunity to closely observe how the volcano Vesuvius turned people into mummies and how it froze a civilization in time and destroyed it. They will continue to show the last moments of the dying women and children – frozen in the facial features of a stone statue – for as long as the world exists. I am one of those who was caught in bed in Istanbul during the Marmara earthquake in Turkey on August 17, 1999, which killed 17,480 of our citizens. It is difficult to understand how long forty-five seconds is until you have experienced such an event. Yalova, where I went as an aid volunteer on the third day of the earthquake and stayed for a month, changed many things in me. Now we are facing the most powerful earthquake disaster of the century, which took place in Turkey and Syria on the morning of February 6, 2023.
I hope that this will not be an article that spews anger at authorities or tries to dress you up with some spiritual prescriptions, but rather an article that reflects on the nature of things that are perceived as bad and ponders what good can come out of them. We are angry because we have been hurt, we are angry because what should have been done was not done. Anger is not an unnecessary emotion, let’s use it as fuel to change things, not as a reason to lash out. Let us not turn our anger into a dynamite blast of destruction, but rather into long-term, cool-headed action until those responsible are held accountable.
After this last catastrophe, I had people asking me these questions: How could God, if He exists, turn a blind eye to all this terrible suffering? If he really existed, how could he allow a child to perish in pain, people to be buried alive?
How this realm has a metaphysical relationship with evil is a question I think many of us have asked. Our mind can find good answers to the question “how?”, but it has a hard time answering the question “why?”. Because it is possible to explain how something happens through the laws of physics. For example, we can calculate the physical laws and probabilities that drove the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs to Earth. But this only tells us the “how” of this event, the “why” is usually left to the positive sciences.
The question then arises, “Why did God design the world in this way?” There is usually a consensus about what is good and what is bad. Universally we can say that killing an innocent person is bad or helping the poor is good. And religions categorize them, rewarding or punishing us according to whether we are good or bad. However, when we look for the answer to the question of why there is evil, the answer is either ambiguous or it is difficult to understand immediately because it is told symbolically.
To answer this question, we first need to think about what is bad or whether there is such a thing as bad. Evil is a relative concept that changes depending on how we look at things. One of the biggest reasons for this relativity is our limited capacity to see the whole picture.
Let me try to explain this with examples from three different angles.
Let’s imagine an eagle hunting a tiny lamb. Here, for the sheep, the mother of the lamb, the eagle may represent an evil that kills and snatches her young. But for the eagle’s eaglets waiting hungrily for their mother in the eagle’s nest, that mother eagle is their only link to life, their only hope for the future. Can we say that the eagle is bad in this situation? If it is bad, according to whom is it bad, and if it is good, according to whom is it good?
I would like to give a second example from my own life. I lost my father unexpectedly and at an early age for him. There were so many things I hadn’t talked to him about yet, so many things I wanted to show him. He died in front of my mother’s eyes as a result of a malpractice in the hospital. That moment led to a chain of questions like “Why did this happen to me?” or “If we had taken him to another hospital, would he be with us now?” At the time, the sudden loss of my father seemed like an injustice to me, like a bad joke from the universe. But now when I look back at what that loss did for me, I realize that nothing is really bad and everything is an opportunity for us to grow and move forward. That loss brought me out of childhood and made me think about existential issues that I had never even bothered to think about before. He encouraged me to spend our time on the things that really matter, to not put anything off, to use our minds and hearts to find those things that matter, knowing that one day this life will end. More importantly, realizing that the people we love are here today and gone tomorrow made me remember how precious the time I spend with them is.
In the third and final example, let us consider the sun. The sun is the same sun everywhere in the world. There is no such thing as a bad sun in one part of the world and a good sun in another. But while the sun can revitalize crops in the fields and make them grow, it can also dry up lakes and make people die of thirst. On the one hand, it allows our bodies to synthesize vitamin D. On the other hand, it can cause skin cancer and kill us. The sun is always the same sun; it is neither good nor bad, it is just the sun and it performs its sunniness. According to the Master Ibn ‘Arabī, evil is relative, this world is perfect as it is, and it would be an incomplete world if it did not contain evil.
As in the case of the earthquake, our task is to think about what to do in the face of it. If you are in an earthquake zone, you will not build on fault lines, if you have no chance of escape like Japan, then you will build buildings that will withstand even 9 magnitude earthquakes, and if you cannot afford it, you will not build high-rise buildings. You will select the authorities controlling these constructions on merit and hold them accountable for the results. You will put someone who has spent his life in the field, who has pulled people out of the belly of hell, in charge of the organization that will be the first responder in emergencies. Above all and above all, to save human lives, you will uphold ethics, decency and morality in society. You will monitor all this and hold them to account when necessary.
Japan has learned from the disasters in its history and organized its entire system accordingly. The continuity of this system was guaranteed by the soundness of the values of morality and decency. In the end, it learned a lesson from all the “bad” events in its history and managed to make a “good” out of it. It is left to our choices whether the buildings will be able to withstand the earthquake and the effectiveness of the rescue organization after the earthquake. This must be understood correctly.
Sometimes an event is so tragic that we may not be able to see the goodness behind it even in this lifetime.
This earthquake is a terrible tragedy, so how can good come out of it? It is very simple but also very difficult. As mentioned, it is necessary to work seriously on morality and decency. For this, we have a very rich source like Anatolian wisdom. Yunus Emre, Mevlana, Ken’an Rifâî have left us volumes of works on what to do and what not to do. We can see this Anatolian wisdom by looking at how our people come together in times of disaster. Despite all the corruption, it is still embedded in our DNA, and it is up to us to dig it out of its repression. Then we can rise to the level of the ethics of the shopkeepers of the past, who used to say to the sultan who came to shop for them, “My neighbor next door has not done his shopping yet, do your shopping from him, my Sultan.”
It’s time to remember what we have forgotten; it’s time to remember the rulers who beheaded those who cut down a tree without permission, the virtue of being moral, fulfilling one’s promises, paying one’s debts, not lying, doing one’s job properly, serving. Unless we learn this lesson, these tests will be repeated. If we learn that lesson, those tests will become rewards, not tests. The choice is ours.