Did the people think that they would be left to say “We believe” without them being tested? 29:2
God tests all people, even God’s chosen messengers and prophets were put to the test. In 38:34 we read that God tested Solomon, Moses in 20:40, David in 38:24 and the severe test which the prophet Job had to endure is also told in the Quran.
There is however a question that is often asked and that is: Why are some people given tests which are much more severe than others? Some people are born with missing limbs, blind or they have to suffer pain and terminal illness all their lives. In contrast, we see others who are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, having untold riches and happy lives? Where is the equality in that? Why does God not give equal tests to all people?
As usual, we find in the Quran the explanation for all matters (16:89). On the surface, this indeed looks like a case of unfairness, but this is only the obvious side of the matter. In the light of the Quran, it is necessary to analyse this issue from all its sides and not only from the obvious one.
1- From 29:2, we know that God tests all people. Further to this truth, we also read that God tests people through adversity as well as prosperity:
Every self will taste death. We test you with bad things as well as good things as a trial, then to Us you will be returned. 21:35
Therefore, to think that a healthy well off person is not tested just as the one in adversity is an incorrect understanding. It is confirmed in the Quran that the blessings given to various people are not merely grants from God but they are indeed means for serious tests for the people who receive them. They are not any less, as means of testing, than the various types of adversity given to others:
You should know that your wealth and your children are but a test and that with God lies a great reward. 8:28
On the surface it does indeed seem that the one tested in prosperity has been given a much more lenient test! How can this be fair?
2- For the Quranic answer, we need to look at the following words.
God does not assign onto any self beyond what He has given it. 65:7
These glorious words, which provide us with the second and all important side of this issue, confirm that what is expected from every person is directly related to what he/she has been given, not more and not less.
To further illustrate the significance of these glorious words, let us consider the following example:
Here we have two people being tested, person A and person B. Person A is given 3 food items, while person B is given 10 food items. Both A and B are asked to cook the best meal they can with what they have been given. Naturally, we would not expect the same outcome from the two persons. Rather, we can only judge each person’s effort according to what he has been given.
If we (humans) have the intelligence to make this distinction when judging two people, then it goes without saying that God, the Best Judge, must also apply this principle, a matter which is confirmed in 65:7.
It follows that the overall test given to every human is evaluated by God in accordance to what God gave them. This is the other side of the issue, a side which we don’t seem to consider.
The direct relationship between what is given and what is expected will thus annul any claims of unfairness due to some people being given more than others.
3- Following from the example given under item (2) above, it could very well be that a man born with missing limbs, or is blind, or is paralysed may not be held accountable by the Most Merciful except to the bare minimum, which in 4:48 is to believe in God and never to set up any partners beside God. On the other hand, by virtue of the message in 65:7, a person who is given many blessings, like good health, great wealth and a successful life is for sure expected to do more than just believe in God. In his wealth is a great test for how he will use it, or for that matter, abuse it (8:28).
Will he remember the right of the relative and the needy in his money (17:26)? Will he dedicate some of his time and wealth to strive in the cause of God (9:20)? Will he remember to thank God for the blessings he was given (14:34)? Or, will he be too absorbed in the material world, so much so that his wealth becomes his idol (18:42)? Will he find the time to observe his religious practices or, will his material world distract him from the remembrance of God (24:37)?
4- It would not be irrational thus to make a case for the person who endured adversity in having a much better chance of passing his test than a person given lots of wealth and prosperity. At the end of the day this is all that matters: Not who is given more, but who has a better chance of passing his test!
This may not be fully appreciated in a material world where the minds are tuned to calculate rather than meditate. However, it will surely be appreciated on the Day when each soul finds out whether it passed its test or failed; the Day when our journey on earth will seem to have been no longer than a day, or part of a day (23:113).
It may be that on such a Day, the one who had all the riches and prosperity may wish he were indeed the blind or handicapped one while on earth, and the one whose life was filled with adversity would thank God for not being in the shoes of the one who appeared to have been favored and pampered.