Is God unjust for placing people in different families?

Originally written by Sh. Ali Safdari and published on his blog Mind in Momentum. Published with the author's permission.

Why does God place some people in believing families and communities and others in disbelieving ones? More generally, why does He place some humans in highly prosperous families and environments whilst He places others in highly disadvantaged families and environments? Is this compatible with His Justice?

We can answer this question from five different aspects: legal, philosophical, theological, environmental, and mystical.

1. Legal:

The question of justice is only relevant with respect to a right. Justice is providing entitled individuals their rights. If there are no rights, it is futile to speak of justice. If we believe that animals have the right to live in their own natural habitats, then caging them is a violation of this right and a form of injustice done against them. But if we don’t believe they are entitled to this right, then their capture does not enumerate as injustice.

We ask the simple question: did we have a right upon God that he place us in a particular environment? Was He obliged to place us in a family of status, wealth or piety? When we reflect upon our one-to-one and direct relationship with God, does He owe it to us to place us in particular environments of prosperity and utmost bliss?

Before we are able to answer the above question, we need to first answer a deeper one: to whom do we give rights to begin with? What does someone have to do to be entitled to some right? In today’s civil societies and states, what criteria is used in granting individual rights?

If we return to the most popular document of rights, namely, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we see that we are given certain rights by virtue of being human. They are referred to as natural rights. The right to liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of association, to determine one’s future, etc. They are granted to all humans because we are created equally. These rights are to be respected by other humans, because we all view ourselves equally. They are a measure of justice governing the relationships between humans. This is a fundamental point. If God is not part of the human society, rather, their Creator, is He subject to the same laws they enact between themselves? Or more realistically speaking, if He places laws amongst humans, does that mean He should also obey them? If He demands that the rights of parents are x, y and z; does that mean He should also respect those rights? The clear answer to these questions is negative. God is not one of the humans and so respecting these natural rights is by definition not applicable to Him. If anything, it is more accurate to say, because He created us equally, then it is He who specifies which rights are natural and should be respected by all humans mutually.

If we move beyond natural rights, which requires a deeper discussion; in particular, when envisaged with God in the picture, we observe that human societies are governed by other sets of rights as well: contractual rights. Contracts allow two or more entities to commit to providing certain services and receive others in return. The contract establishes a right for the entities involved. A work contract, for example, dictates that after the completion of certain tasks, the employer is to pay the employee his wages. That is, the employee has the right to his wages, as does the employer to the receiving of the services promised by the employee. A religious marriage contract establishes certain rights and responsibilities for the husband, as it does for the wife. So on and so forth.

If societies enact rights either because they are natural or contractual, and God is neither a human nor a legal entity we signed a contract with, then he is not bound by any of these rights. If there are natural rights, they are given by God and there are no contracts binding Him to act in a certain way. The conclusion is simple: there is no judicial requirement for God to place His servant in one environment or another. The human prior to his birth has no right upon the Creator with respect to where He should allow his growth and nourishment to begin from. He has endowed humans the privilege to life, to experience consciousness, to grow towards perfection and to encapsulate moments of connection with the Divine Himself; these endowments prove that it the human which owes God rights; not the other way around.

2. Philosophical