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Page last edited on 12 March, 2003

Why did God create the universe? Did He need to? Why did He not do so sooner rather than later?

by Fethullah Gulen [ An Islamic Perspective ]

  • Introduction

  • Why did God create the universe? Did He need to?

  • Why did he not create the universe sooner than later ?


Firstly, it should be noted that as human beings we perceive everything from a human perspective and formulate our views accordingly. To take one example, human beings act out of necessity or desire. We set out to do things because we have certain needs or are compelled. Through some infatuation in ourselves or ill-thinking, we foolishly presume to compare God to ourselves and suppose that God acts as we do. Therefore, in asking the above questions, it is of the utmost importance to remember that God is independent of all wants or needs, and far beyond our inadequate conceptions.

Who is distressed by the creation of the universe? Who does not desire the benefit from gathering in the crops at harvest time? Who does not seek happiness by using the provisions of the world in the best possible way? Very few indeed are those and in a most distressful situation who, thinking hastily and carelessly, would express sorrow at being in this world. In their distress some few have committed suicide, but such people are negligible in number. The overwhelming majority are grateful rather than regretful, to be alive, to have come into this world and to be human. Who complains of being cared for in the arms of his parents and being nourished by that love in childhood? Who complains of being a youth during which time the exhilaration of life is felt in the very bones? And who complains, as a mature adult, of having a family, children, and leading a harmonious life with them? How would we begin to measure the happiness of believers who, even as they are cultivating the seed for the next world are also ensuring success in this world? The believers are discovering the keys to the gates of ultimate happiness, so they are contented and feel no reason for distress.

We truly experience with full consciousness all these diverse kinds of happiness, and give heartfelt thanks to the Creator who brought us into being.

The universe has been ornamented with every sort of art, animate and inanimate, in every scale; it is like an endless parade or exhibition of works of art, designed to attract all people and cause them to reflect. Beauty of landscape, its extraordinary diversity and magnificent adornment, the sheer abundance and flow of events constitute a reality, definite and present, to our senses and minds. The reality argues the existence of an agent who brings it into being. Through the reality of His works and deeds we come to know the Doer, and so His Name or Names. Through these Names, manifested in objects and beings, we try to know His Attributes, through the channels and prayers opened to our hearts we yearn, we strive to know Him in Himself, Exalted is He. This raising up of our being is inspired across a wide domain of reality-things, events, the vast realm of man’s stewardship in the universe; the relation or connection between man and the universe and the realm of God’s Names and Attributes.

Now let us try to express the Creator's Purpose by a Simple Analogy

Let us think of an expert craftsman or artist. Say that this artist is an extraordinary sculptor who with a few strokes of hammer and chisel, can produce life-like subjects from the hardest stone, expressive of the most delicate feelings. Or a skilful worker in wood who can, as it were, pour his soul into walnut or beech or bring (as the expression is) a piece of ebony to life. Or an excellent painter whose brush-strokes can produce the most exquisite combination of colours, which stir the beholders with their beauty. And to these kinds of skills, we might add many more. It is impossible to know the artist as an artist-if he does not show his abilities. We may come to know him and deduce his abilities either from his works of art or from the process through which he produces them. Every potentiality wishes to reveal the reality hidden within itself, to demonstrate what it knows by clothing itself in an outward form, by putting on an external body. Seeds strive to sprout; sperms strive to join the egg in the womb; and bubbles floating in the air strive to reach ground as droplets of water. They all endure the effort necessary simply because of the desire to show in reality the potentiality within themselves.

The urge to show our potentialities, and thus to be seen and known by others is in fact an expression of weakness or defect, as all beings and their wishes are merely the shadow of the original essence. However, the skilful Creator is absolutely free from such defects or weak-nesses. It must never be forgotten that neither any single nor composite manifestation of the essence is similar to the essence.

All artistry which fills the universe informs us of the thousands of the Names of God. Each of the Names, manifested in diverse memorials of the art of creation, illuminate our way and guide us to know the Attributes of that Being, the One Creator; they stimulate and awaken our hearts by the signs, messages, of that hidden Creator present, carried to our senses.

The Creator wants to introduce Himself to us thoroughly without leaving anything unclear. Through the variety and beauty of the Creation, He wants to show His Splendour; through the magnificent order and harmony in the universe He wants to show His Will and Might; and through the fact that He bestows everything upon us, including the secret wishes and desires of our hearts and minds, He wants to show His Mercy, Compassion, and Grace. And He has many more Names and Attributes through which He wants to make Himself known.

In other words, He places objects, which He knows in His all-encompassing knowledge, into this world in order to manifest His Might and Will. In this way, by passing all things through the prism of the intellect and understanding of conscious beings, He arouses wonder, admiration, and appreciation in the earthly and heavenly domains.

Just as a skilful artist manifests his talents through his works of art, in the elevated sense, so the Owner of this universe, simply to manifest the Might and Omnipotence of His Creativity, created the universe.

We come now to the second question:

Why did He not create the universe sooner rather than later?

What do we mean by ‘sooner’? If one wishes to say ‘sooner’ in the period of eternity before the creation of time, then the word ‘sooner’ has no meaning. Any span of time, whether 100 billion or 1000 billion years, has no meaning in relation to eternity. Time cannot be conceived within the span of eternity. Only God is eternal. His Essence and His Being are eternal. Eternity cannot pertain to any thing or any being except God. If ‘sooner’ in the question refers to eternity itself, that means being under no limits of time, which is a necessary prerogative of only His Being, His Names and Attributes. That is to say, God cannot belong to anything else but Himself; and eternity is not true of anything except Himself.

Every creation has an unconditioned reality as ‘ilm (knowledge) within the all-encompassing, all-comprehending knowledge of God. In tasawwuf, they call these hidden realities; we may think of them as potentialities, like a plan or project. To impute eternity to them is an error of judgement. Indeed to meddle in such matters is impertinence on our part. If we try to say anything with our limited criteria about the beings, or souls, which have become embodied in creation, and to expand on questions that are almost considered as a part of the Unseen (ghayb) it is, in a sense, a failure to realise that we are being impertinent.

The whole universe is as the likeness of a little ring thrown into the desert in comparison to the kursi (chair). The kursi is as the little ring thrown into the desert in comparison to His arsh (throne). So how is it possible for one to know the Owner of this Mighty Throne, to attempt to say anything about His nature and essence.

There are many things which serve as a mirror to His Being and His deeds. But God knew Himself before the existence of such things, before He created the universe; without feeling any need for anything He knows Himself, His Names and His deeds. He sees His Being and deeds in every realm, whether in the realms of His Names or in the physical creation, from the least individual particles of an atom to the largest and most complex combination of them. He knows and He makes Himself known to His conscious servants through the manifestation of His Names.

He knows Himself in a different way in all realms as a result of His eternal ‘ilm (knowledge) but nothing to do with Him or about Him changes, for among His attributes are those described as the negative attributes, such as that He never eats or drinks, and never has any constraints of time on Him; He never alters, and is free of all things.

We know and see, within the limits of our present, what He plans and puts onto the stage for us. But we do not know what happened in the distant past and cannot reckon what will happen in the future. In the same way, we do not know such matters as the existence of beings in knowledge, the hidden realities, and realms of spirits. Even with all the scientific advancement of our day we do not and cannot comprehend the depth or extent of the universe, or the physical creation in it, such as the spiral shapes of nebulae, what they signify, their weight in the universal order, and what they shed light on in the dark points of the whole creation. As we do not know much about such things, so we also do not know much about the Hereafter. In the face of so vast a mystery we can only say: ‘O Ma’ruf! We have been able to know thoroughly neither Your Self nor Your works. Forgive us!’.

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Last updated on 12 March, 2003

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