There are a number of reasons why God decrees hardship and adversity to befall people. Even the genuine believers experience hardship and adversity at some stage in their lives in accordance with God’s wisdom and divine plan.
1- It is God’s design to subject people to various tests entailing hardship and adversity so as to test their faith, their resolve and their trust in God:
Did the people think that they would be left to say, “We believe”, without them being tested? 29:2
We have tested those before them, and indeed, God knows the truthful ones and He knows the liars. 29:3
We will surely test you through some fear, hunger and shortage of money, lives and crops. So give good news to the patient ones. 2:155
Or did you think that you would enter Paradise without having come to you the same as what came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by misery and hardship and were so shaken up that the messenger and those who believed with him said, “When is God’s victory?” Indeed, God’s victory is imminent. 2:214
To pass the test, the human must maintain his belief in God, and also his conviction that only God can relieve his hardship. The believer will always maintain his prayer and call unto God:
Who is the One who responds to the distressed when he calls upon Him, removes the adversity and makes you successors on earth? Is there a god with God? Rarely do you remember. 27:62
2-Hardship and adversity are also decreed by God to cleanse the people of sins they have already committed. Some of the bad things that happen to us are a direct result of sins we have committed:
Whatever disaster strikes you is but a consequence of what your own hands have earned, but He pardons much. 42:30
It can also be said that God, being the Most just, would not punish us twice for the same sin. This means that the punishment we are given in our worldly life cleanses us and no further punishment is due in the Hereafter.
The concept of cleansing the human from sins in this life is a Quranic truth. It can be achieved through experiencing hardship and adversity (as 42:30). It can also be achieved through the giving of ‘sadaqa’ (charity) for the specific reason of cleansing the soul from sins which have been committed:
Take a ‘sadaqa’ (charity) from their money to cleanse and purify them with it and support them. Your support provides them with tranquillity. God is Hearer, Knowledgeable. 9:103
3-Suffering through hardship and adversity is also a reminder for people who tend to take God’s blessings for granted. Despite all the blessings given to the human by God, the human being is unappreciative. A little reminder in the shape of hardship or adversity may hopefully remind the human not to take God’s blessings for granted:
If you were to count God’s blessings, you could not encompass them all. The human being is indeed transgressing, unappreciative. 14:34
If We grant the human being a blessing he turns away and distances himself, yet when adversity touches him he implores profusely. 41:51
4- Adversity and hardship are also very effective reminders for those who are too much absorbed in the worldly life. Those who are too distracted by the material world are not as devoted to God as they should be. Due to their being too preoccupied with this worldly life they do not seek God nor call on God as they should. Hardship and adversity are in such case decreed in the hope that they will realise that there is more to their life than the illusive material pleasures:
The worldly life is no more than the enjoyment of delusion. 3:185
5- Many people are either oblivious of, or need to be reminded, of God’s absolute authority and our true place in this huge universe. Hardship and adversity are reminders of just how weak and fragile the human being is. As such, they serve as reminders of how much we need God in every minute of our lives.
O people, you are the ones who are in dire need of God, whereas God is the Rich and Praiseworthy One. 35:15
And do not walk arrogantly in the earth, for you cannot bore through the earth, nor can you be as tall as the mountains. 17:37
Sadly, when God relieves adversity, many people return to their old arrogance and vanity:
If any harm touches the human being, he implores Us on his side, sitting down or standing up. Then, when We relieve the harm from him, he carries on as if he had never implored Us about a hardship which had touched him! What the excessive ones used to do was thus adorned for them. 10:12
6- Hardship and adversity are decreed by God in order to serve as deterrents against sins and unrighteousness. Once the human being is touched with hardship, illness, or any kind of adversity, the human being has time to think of what befell him. It is hoped that the adversity a person suffers will act as a deterrent, not just for him who suffered it, but for those around him so as to deter them as well from committing sins and violating God’s law:
We decreed this to be a deterrent punishment for their time and for what is to follow, and an advice for the reverent. 2:66
Nothing has prevented Us from sending the signs except that the earlier people denied them. We gave Thamoud the she-camel, a visible sign, but they transgressed against it.We do not send the signs except to provide a deterrent to be feared. 17:59
As mentioned, deterrents are for the purpose of further sinning and also are intended as signs for people to revert back to God and to His Straight Path:
We shall let them taste the lesser punishment before the greater punishment so that hopefully they will revert. 32:21
7- Finally, hardship and adversity can be blessings in disguise. At the time of those happening, the human being who does not see the bigger picture perceives them as hardship and may wonder why does God inflict such suffering upon him. This perception is due to the inability of the human being to see the divine purpose. God who can see the bigger picture may have decreed such suffering as a blessing in disguise.
It may be that you hate something when it is good for you, and it may be that you like something when it is bad for you. God knows while you do not know. 2:216
We have a number of examples in the Quran of events that entailed suffering and hardship to those upon whom they were decreed. However, it was shown subsequently that they were in fact blessings in disguise:
1- In the story of prophet Joseph we see a good example. Had the brothers of Joseph not thrown Joseph into the well, which at the time would have been a horrible experience and cause of suffering for Joseph, he would not have been bought and sold to a master in Egypt, leading to his imprisonment, then finally to him becoming the second man in power after the King of Egypt.Many incidents happen to the human being that at their time entail hardship and misery. However, our failure to see the bigger picture prevents us from knowing that these events were indeed blessings in disguise:
2- In the early days of the Quranic revelation, prophet Muhammad was driven out of his hometown, leaving behind his people and family and his possesions. Undoubtedly, these events caused the prophet great suffering. He was forced to flee to Medica in order to escape the persecution of the disbelievers:
If you do not support him, God has already supported him when those who disbelieved drove him (Muhammad) out. 9:40
How many a village that more powerful than the village that evicted you (O Muhammad) have We annihilated and they had no supporter? 47:13
While he was still in Mecca, he and the small number of believers who followed him were harmed and persecuted by the disbelievers:
For those who have emigrated, and were evicted from their homes, and were harmed for striving in My cause, and have fought and got killed, I will surely wipe out their bad deeds and admit them into Gardens beneath which rivers flow; a reward from God. God has the best reward. 3:195
At the time this was happening it may have seemed like great hardship and adversity. However, being driven out of his hometown was the turning point in his life. In Medina, his followers increased manifold so did his power. After a few years, he was able to form a powerful army and retake Mecca and destroy all the stone idols at the Kaaba.
3- The third Quranic example is found in the story of prophet Moses.
Around the time Moses was born, the Pharaoh had issued an edict to have all male newborns killed. The Quranic narration tells us that the mother of Moses was inspired by God to throw her newly born infant (Moses) into the river. This incident must have brought great grief and suffering to the mother. However, without this happening, the newly born Moses would have been slaughtered by Pharaoh’s soldiers like all the other male infants. In addition, this incident which on the surface was great hardship to his mother, was in fact a great blessing. From the river, the family of Pharaoh took him in and raised him as their own son. Indeed, this was a blessing in disguise.