In my last column, we discussed the fact that God’s Love and Mercy was the first attribute that He highlighted when introducing Himself to the world in Surah Al Fatihah. Yet, sadly, all too often, human beings take advantage of the kindness of those in authority. If one is fortunate enough to have a supervisor at work who is lenient, then the workers in her charge will frequently push the limits and retort, “But she’s a nice woman! She won’t mind.”
All the more so with God. How many times have we seen people blatantly sin against God and then say, “But He is so Merciful!” Yes, He is Extremely, Eternally, and Perpetually Merciful. That fact, however, should not lead us to take advantage and seek to mock that Love by saying, “But He is so Merciful!”
That is why God said, in the very next verse after “Al Rahman, Al Raheem,” that He is “King and Master of the Day of Judgment.” This verse states unequivocally that, one day, we will be taken to task for all that we have done. This will happen whether we like it or not; it will happen whether we believe it or not. ??In fact, implicit in this verse is sort of a “threat,” for lack of a better word. Thus, it behooves us to act in accordance to what our Lord wants of us, if for no other reason, He will judge us for our actions.?
Yet, there? should be another reason for our obedience to God, more than the fear of being taken to task for our actions (which should be reason enough): gratitude. We should stay on God’s path out of gratitude for his love and mercy, which is demonstrated to us in His saying that He is “Al Rahman, Al Raheem.”
When someone does a favor, a huge favor, for you, out of gratitude to that person, you would do whatever he or she wants. If you had any sort of decency, you wouldn’t repay that favor with insulting that person behind his or her back; or stealing from them; or destroying their property, etc.
Well, to God belongs the most perfect example. What greater favor has He done for us than give us our very life; the breath we take in; the water we drink; the food we eat? Each and every day, we live and breathe – literally – God’s attribute of Al Rahman. In fact, in terrible irony, we use the gifts given to us by Al Rahman to sin against Him. We use his gifts and show Him ugliness in repayment for the Beauty of His Love and Mercy.
We should not be so ungrateful.
Although there is a beautiful balance between fear and hope in the Qur’an, and we should definitely have both fear of His punishment and hope for His forgiveness, the prism of our relationship with God should be one of gratitude. That was the Prophet (pbuh)’s way. When his wife A’isha asked him why he stood in prayer to the point of foot swelling, even though all his sins were forgiven, he replied: “Shouldn’t I be a grateful servant?”
Even though I could never reach the level of the Prophet’s worship, it is still an ideal for which I should strive: to live my life in grateful servitude to the Lord for His being Al Rahman, Al Raheem. Too many times, preachers and Imams harp on God’s wrath and anger, to the point that one is liable to fear God as one fears the plague.
God is limitless in His glory and perfection. He should not be feared like this, but rather, He should be embraced wholeheartedly because He is Al Rahman, Al Raheem. And because of this, I pray, and fast, and spend, and refrain from my whims out of gratitude to Him. Does it not work better this way?
Editor’s Note: Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago doctor and writer. He has written extensively on a freelance basis, being published in newspapers across the country and around the world. His articles have been distributed worldwide by Agence Global, and Dr. Hassaballa has appeared as a guest on WTTW (Channel 11) in Chicago, CNN, Fox News, BBC, and National Public Radio. The views expressed here are his own.