Various material and spiritual factors can cause worldly calamities and troubles. Among the spiritual causes of calamities are sins such as oppression, usury and disconnection with relatives. On the other hand, as Muslim scholars have mentioned, sometimes calamities are tests for humans in this world and exercising patience can bring them spiritual growth and excellence. Moreover, calamities can direct the attention of human beings, who suffer from negligence and pride, toward God. Beside spiritual factors, however, there are material factors that naturally bring about troubles; thus, all calamities are not necessarily consequences of sins.
Divine Retribution for Some Sins
In this world, divine retribution can take the form of diseases, problems and afflictions that originate from various material and spiritual factors. For instance, oppression is counted as one of the causes of divine punishment, “Certainly We destroyed [several] generations before you when they perpetrated oppression …” (10:13) Based on the verses of the Qur’an, some people are punished for usury both in this world and the Hereafter. Likewise, there is a worldly punishment for those who have cut their connection with their relatives.
These torments are inflicted after Itmam al-Hujja (completion of argument), Imhal (respite) and Istidraj (imperceptible increase in the punishment by giving more blessings). That is, in the first stage, God afflicts human beings with calamities and afflictions that wake them up from their heedlessness, draw their attention to God and consequently cause them to become closer to God. If these do not work, they will be given respite and will be overtaken by istidraj. It is then that divine punishment is inflicted in the form of disasters such as disease, flood, earthquake, drought, and famine. Therefore, divine torment is a result of human’s oppression and becomes necessary after the completion of the argument and reaching the deadline.
Another purpose of calamities is to test human beings. Testing the servants is one of the traditions of God, who always tests his servants in different situations. “We will surely test you with a measure of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth, lives, and fruits; and give good news to the patient (2:155).” God tests humans with good and bad things, “… and We will test you with good and ill by way of test, ... (21:35)” It is narrated that a group of people visited Imam Ali (a) when he was sick. They asked him, “how are you, O Amir al-Mu’minin?” Imam said, “bad (evil).” They replied that this answer does not suit you. In response, the Imam (a) read this verse and said, “Good is health and wealth, and bad (evil) is disease and poverty for testing and awareness.” Based on this hadith, the Imam has interpreted “good” as health and wealth and “bad (evil)” as disease and poverty.
Awakening from Heedlessness
Some calamities are meant to return human beings to the right path and awaken them from heedlessness and pride. Heedlessness is always one of the causes of falling and one of the obstacles to human felicity. Unpredicted accidents and illnesses are one of the ways to eliminate heedlessness and revive the remembrance of God in the heedless hearts. The Qur’an reads, “We have certainly sent [apostles] to nations before you, then We seized them with stress and distress so that they might entreat [Us]. (6:42)”
Hadith and supplication narrated from the Imams have paid attention to the effect of health and sickness on being heedless. Prophet Moses (a) asked God, “[I ask you for] neither a sickness that makes me an invalid nor a health that cause me heedlessness; rather a situation between these two: sometimes sick so that I thank you and sometimes healthy so that I thank you.”
Atonement for Sins
Sometimes affliction with accidents, calamities, and diseases washes away a part of one’s sins in this world before death and one does not face severe and painful torments in the Hereafter. Imam Ali (a) said that sickness is a cause of the deletion of sins, and Imam Reza (a) said that it is a cause of purification and it is a mercy for the believers.
- This article is mainly taken from "عوامل معنوی بلایا" on Persian Wikipasokh.