Big Questions (1-3): Explaining The Quintessential Essence
Of Human Life, The Purpose Of Life, The Need For
Islamic Rulings -
Living Shariah Verdicts
Islamic Questions & Answers
By Laurence B. Brown
At some point in
our lives, everybody asks the big questions: "Who made
us," and "Why are we here?"
So who did
make us? Atheists speak of the Big Bang and
evolution, whereas all others speak of God. Those who
answer "I don't know" are atheist for all intents and
purposes, not because they deny God's existence, but
because they fail to affirm it.
Now, the Big
Bang may explain the origin of the universe, but it
doesn't explain the origin of the primordial dust
cloud. This dust cloud (which, according to the
theory, drew together, compacted and then exploded)
had to come from somewhere. After all, it contained
enough matter to form not just our galaxy, but the
billion other galaxies in the known universe. So where
did that come form? Who, or what, created the
primordial dust cloud?
evolution may explain the fossil record, but it falls
far short of explaining the quintessential essence of
human life—the soul. We all have one. We feel its
presence, we speak of its existence and at times pray
for its salvation. But only the religious can explain
where it came from. The theory of natural selection
can explain many of the material aspects of living
things, but it fails to explain the human soul.
Furthermore, anyone who studies the complexities of
life and the universe cannot help but witness the
signature of the Creator. Whether or not people
recognize these signs is another matter—as the old
saying goes, denial isn't just a river in Egypt. (Get
it? Denial, spelled "de Nile" … the river Ni … oh,
never mind.) The point is that if we see a painting,
we know there is a painter. If we see a sculpture, we
know there's a sculptor; a pot, a potter. So when we
view creation, shouldn't we know there's a Creator?
The concept that
the universe exploded and then developed in balanced
perfection through random events and natural selection
is little different from the proposal that, by
dropping bombs into a junkyard, sooner or later one of
them will blow everything together into a perfect
Mercedes. In the color and trim of our hearts' desire,
If there is one
thing we know for certain, it is that without a
controlling influence, all systems degenerate into
chaos. The theories of the Big Bang and evolution
propose the exact opposite, however—that chaos
fostered perfection. Would it not be more reasonable
to conclude that the Big Bang and evolution were
controlled events? Controlled, that is, by the
The Arabs tell
the tale of a nomad finding an exquisite palace at an
oasis in the middle of an otherwise barren desert.
When he asks how it was built, the owner tells him it
was formed by the forces of nature. The wind shaped
the rocks and blew them to the edge of this oasis, and
then tumbled them together into the shape of the
palace. Then it blew strands of sheep's wool together
into rugs and tapestries, stray wood together into
furniture, doors, windowsills and trim, and positioned
them in the palace at just the right locations.
Lightning strikes melted sand into sheets of glass and
blasted them into the window-frames, and smelted black
sand into steel and shaped it into the fence and gate
with perfect alignment and symmetry. The process took
billions of years and only happened at this one place
on earth—purely through coincidence.
When we finish
rolling our eyes, we get the point. Obviously, the
palace was built by design, not by happenstance. To
what (or more to the point, to Whom), then, should we
attribute the origin of items of infinitely greater
complexity, such as our universe and our lives?
argument for atheism focuses upon what people perceive
to be the imperfections of creation. These are the
"How can there be a God if such-and-such happened?"
arguments. The issue under discussion could be
anything from a natural disaster to birth defects,
from genocide to grandmother's cancer. That's not the
point. The point is that denying God based upon what
we perceive to be injustices of life presumes that a
divine being would not have designed our lives to be
anything other than perfect, and would have
established justice on Earth.
Hmm … is there
no other option?
We can just as
easily propose that God did not design life on Earth
to be paradise, but rather a test, the punishment or
rewards of which are to be had in the next life, which
is where God establishes his ultimate justice. In
support of this concept we can well ask who suffered
more injustices in their worldly lives than God's
favorites, which is to say the prophets? And who do we
expect to occupy the highest stations in paradise, if
not those who maintain true faith in the face of
I would hope
that, by this line of reasoning, we can agree upon the
answer to the first "big question." Who made us? Can
we agree that if we are creation, God is the Creator?
If we can't
agree on this point, there probably isn't much point
in continuing. However, for those who do agree,
let's move on to "big question" number two—why are we
here? What, in other words, is the purpose of life?
The Big Questions (2): The
Purpose of life
The first of the two big questions in life is, "Who
made us?" We addressed that question in the previous
article and (hopefully) settled upon "God" as the
answer. As we are creation, God is the Creator.
Now, let us turn
to the second "big question," which is, "Why are we
Well, why are
we here? To amass fame and fortune? To make music
and babies? To be the richest man or woman in the
graveyard for, as we are jokingly told, "He who dies
with the most toys wins?"
No, there must
be more to life than that, so let's think about this.
To begin with, look around you. Unless you live in a
cave, you are surrounded by things we humans have made
with our own hands. Now, why did we make those things?
The answer, of course, is that we make things to
perform some specific function for us. In short, we
make things to serve us. So, by extension, why did God
make us, if not to serve Him?
then, is to serve God. We receive this message from
the prophets, as well as from scripture, but nowhere
more clearly than in the Qur'an, the holy book of
Islam: “And I [God] did not create the jinn and
mankind except to worship Me” (Quran 51:56).
Which brings us
to the next point: If we acknowledge our Creator, and
that He created humankind to serve Him, the next
question is, "How? How do we serve Him?" No doubt,
this question is best answered by the One who made us.
If He created us to serve Him, then He expects us to
function in a particular manner, if we are to achieve
our purpose. But how can we know what that manner is?
How can we know what God expects from us?
this: God gave us light, by which we can find our way.
Even at night, we have the moon for light and the
stars for navigation. God gave other animals guidance
systems best suited for their conditions and needs.
Migrating birds can navigate, even on overcast days,
by light polarization. Whales migrate by "reading" the
Earth's magnetic fields. Salmon return from the open
ocean to spawn at the exact spot of their birth by
smell, if that can be imagined. Fish sense distant
movements through pressure receptors that line their
bodies. Bats and the blind river dolphins "see" by
sonar. Certain marine organisms (the electric eel
being a high-voltage example) generate and sense
magnetic fields, allowing them to "see" in muddy
waters, or in the blackness of ocean depths. Insects
communicate by pheromones, the trail of which guides
them to food, and then home again. Plants sense
sunlight and grow towards it (phototropism); their
roots sense gravity and grow into the earth (geotrophism).
In short, God has gifted every element of His creation
with guidance. Can we seriously believe he would not
give us guidance on the one most important aspect of
our existence, namely our raison d'etre—our
reason for being? That he would not give us the tools
by which to achieve salvation?
Of course not.
Think of it this
way: Every product has specifications and rules. For
more complex products, whose specifications and rules
are not intuitive, owner's manuals are provided. These
manuals are written by the one who knows the product
best, which is to say the manufacturer. A typical
owner's manual begins with warnings about improper use
and the hazardous consequences thereof, moves on to a
description of how to use the product properly and the
benefits to be gained thereby, and provides product
specifications and a troubleshooting guide whereby we
can correct product malfunctions.
How is that different from revelation?
us what to do, what not to do and why, tells us what
God expects of us, and shows us how to correct our
deficiencies. Revelation is the ultimate user's
manual, provided as guidance to the one who will use
In the world we
know, products that meet or exceed specifications are
considered successes whereas those that don't are …
hmm … let's think about this. Any product that fails
to meet factory specifications is either repaired or,
if hopeless, recycled. In other words, destroyed.
Ouch. Suddenly this discussion turns scary-serious.
Because in this discussion, we are the
product—the product of creation.
But let's pause
for a moment and consider how we interact with the
various items that fill our lives. As long as they do
what we want, we're happy with them. But when they
fail us, we get rid of them. Some are returned to the
store, some donated to charity, but eventually they
all end up in the garbage, which gets … buried or
burned. Similarly, an underperforming employee
gets … fired. Now, stop for a minute and think about
that word. Where did that euphemism for the
punishment due to an underperformer come from? Hm …
the person who believes the lessons of this life
translate into lessons about religion could have a
field day with this.
But that doesn't
mean these analogies are invalid. Just the opposite,
we should remember that both Old and New Testaments
are filled with analogies, and Jesus Christ taught
So perhaps we
had better take this seriously.
No, I stand
corrected. Most definitely we should take this
seriously. Nobody ever considered the difference
between heavenly delights and the tortures of hellfire
a laughing matter.
The Big Questions (3): The Need
In the previous
two parts of this series, we answered the two "big
questions." Who made us? God. Why are we here? To
serve and worship Him. A third question naturally
arose: "If our Creator made us to serve and worship
Him, how do we do that?" In the previous article I
suggested that the only way we can serve our Creator
is through obeying His mandates, as conveyed through
But many people
would question my assertion: Why does mankind need
revelation? Isn't it enough just to be good? Isn't it
enough for each of us to worship God in our own way?
need for revelation, I would make the following
points: In the first article of this series I pointed
out that life is full of injustices, but our Creator
is fair and just and He establishes justice not in
this life, but in the afterlife. However, justice
cannot be established without four things—a court
(i.e., the Day of Judgment); a judge (i.e., the
Creator); witnesses (i.e., men and women, angels,
elements of creation); and a book of laws upon
which to judge (i.e., revelation). Now, how can
our Creator establish justice if He did not hold
humankind to certain laws during their lives? It's not
possible. In that scenario, instead of justice, God
would be dealing out injustice, for He
would be punishing people for transgressions they had
no way of knowing were crimes.
Why else do we
need revelation? To begin with, without guidance
mankind cannot even agree on social and economic
issues, politics, laws, etc. So how can we ever agree
on God? Secondly, nobody writes the user manual better
than the one who made the product. God is the Creator,
we are creation, and nobody knows the overall scheme
of creation better than the Creator. Are employees
allowed to design their own job descriptions, duties
and compensation packages as they see fit? Are all
citizens allowed to write their own laws? No? Well
then, why should we be allowed to write our own
religions? If history has taught us anything, it is
the tragedies that result when mankind follows its
caprice. How many who have claimed to banner of free
thought have designed religions that committed
themselves and their followers to nightmares on Earth
and damnation in the hereafter?
So why isn't it
enough just to be good? And why isn't it enough for
each of us to worship God in our own way? To begin
with, peoples' definitions of "good" differ. For some
it is high morals and clean living, for others it is
madness and mayhem. Similarly, concepts of how to
serve and worship our Creator differ as well. More
importantly and to the point, nobody can walk into a
store or a restaurant and pay with a different
currency than the merchant accepts. So it is with
religion. If people want God to accept their servitude
and worship, they have to pay in the currency God
demands. And that currency is obedience to His
children in a home in which you have set "house
rules." Then, one day, one of your children tells you
he or she has changed the rules, and is going to do
things differently. How would you respond? More than
likely, with the words, "You can take your new rules
and go to Hell!" Well, think about it. We are God's
creation, living in His universe under His rules, and
"go to Hell" is very likely what God will say to any
who presume to override His laws with their own.
becomes an issue at this point. We should recognize
that all pleasure is a gift from our Creator, and
deserving of thanks. If given a gift, who uses the
gift before giving thanks? And yet, many of us enjoy
God's gifts for a lifetime and never give
thanks. Or give it late. The English poet, Elizabeth
Barrett Browning, spoke of the irony of the distressed
human appeal in “The Cry of the Human”:
And lips say
“God be pitiful,”
Who ne’er said,
“God be praised.”
Should we not
show good manners and thank our Creator for His gifts
now, and subsequently for the rest of our
lives? Don't we owe that to Him?
"Yes." You must have. Nobody will have read this far
without being in agreement, but here's the problem:
Many of you answered Yes, knowing full well
that your heart is not in the Bible. Or perhaps it is
in the Bible, but not entirely. You agree we were
created by a Creator. You struggle to understand Him.
And you yearn to serve and worship Him in the manner
He prescribes. But you don't know how, and you don't
know where to look for the answers. And that,
unfortunately, is not a subject that can be answered
in an article. Unfortunately, that issue has to be
addressed in a book.
On the other
hand, the good news is that I have written this book,
and its title is “The First and Final Commandment”
(soon to be republished under the title, “MisGod'ed”).
So if you like what you've read here, I invite you to
read what I’ve written there.
To this end, and
leaving all of the author’s religious inclinations
aside, I heartily recommend reading “A Short
History of Nearly Everything”, by Bill Bryson.
can be contacted at
He is the author of “The First and Final Commandment”
(Amana Publications) and “Bearing True Witness”
(Dar-us-Salam). Forthcoming books are a historical
thriller, “The Eighth Scroll”, and a second edition of
“The First and Final Commandment”, rewritten and
divided into “MisGod'ed” and its sequel, “God'ed”