Saadiah on Evil: Suffering is Good For You

If suffering is beneficial, then the existence of evil is not a problem.

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Appealing to the mysterious wisdom of the deity is perhaps not really enough. It might be said further that were we to know to what we are going when we die, we might be in a position to bear our mortal lives more equably.

Saadiah points to three kinds of benefit which God institutes. First, he created us, then he promises to remunerate us for our actions, and lastly he will recompense us for our tribulations which he has caused and which we have borne stoutly. These latter are there not due to our sins, but for a future benefit—they point to the future and not to the past. If we really understood the future, we would understand how much better off we are as a result of the divinely imposed suffering compared with how we would be without it.

Saadiah backs this up with some rather Ash’arite [a school of Islamic philosophy] principles. God is completely just and can do no wrong—“Indeed, the very notion of being able or unable to do wrong is inapplicable to him (BT, p. 127).” This is very much in line with Ash’arite interpretations of the sense of moral language, in terms of what God does and does not do. If God does something, then it is right that it be done, and its having been done by God provides the rightness of the action. “Right” means what God does.

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Oliver Leaman

Oliver Leaman is a Professor of Philosophy and Zantker Professor of Judaic Studies at University of Kentucky. His publications include Averroes and His Philosophy and Moses Maimonides.