“Our prayers ask God for His Goodness. But isn’t that only half the picture? There is badness, too.”
This question is asked from time to time, in various forms, in Sufi meetings. It is related to the widespread rejection of religion, especially in the West. The thought is that the emphasis on sweetness and light, and the promise of heaven that some religions make, ignores the hard-nosed reality that life is a struggle, full of suffering and injustice, and pious observance doesn’t seem to make much difference to what is thrown at us.
It is true that both the light and shadow of the world come from the Creator – from where else could they come? But when we ask in our prayers for God to ‘give us Thy great goodness,’ what is it that we are really seeking?
The further we go on the inner path, the more clear it becomes to us that the comforts of the outer world are transitory, relative and unreliable. We may think that a cup of tea is ‘good,’ but if we were given an infinite supply, we might simply drown in it. What is good in one moment may be something else in another moment, and, what is more, pleasure usually costs more than it is worth. But when one begins to glimpse the Divine Presence behind the veil of names and forms, then a change comes. That awareness does not halt the rising and falling waves of life, but it gives the seeker a different experience of them.
If we are blessed to have a good friend or companion as we travel through life, we may know that the friendship will not shield us from difficulties, but the ties of affection will help to make the difficulties more tolerable. In the same way, if we have begun to feel the presence of the Divine Friend, then the hardships that everyone will face in one way or another become much less daunting.
Therefore, ‘goodness,’ to the understanding of the Sufi, does not mean comfort, ease, freedom from pain, and so forth – it means the blessing of companionship with the One, and when one finds that Perfection hidden within, one enters heaven, although one walks upon the earth with all its thorns.