Should hardships be considered punishments from God?
We are told that we should remain patient at times of hardships. But how can we decide that the hardships are imposed on us as checks or punishments from Allah?
Even if one is going through a difficulty as a punishment for doing something wrong in the past, it is still a test, and should, therefore, be endured with patience. In other words, a condition of tribulation is always a test from God Almighty. Sometimes it is meant only to be a test that comes to enable the individual to get higher rewards and reach higher levels of spiritual excellence. On other occasions it is sent because one had done something wrong in the past and God Almighty wanted the individual to be reminded of it and to enable the individual to go through it and get his sins washed away and also to earn higher rewards.
It is sometimes quite obvious to the individual who is going through testing times that he had done something wrong for which he is being punished. In such a case, he should seek forgiveness from God Almighty. However, if it is not clear whether a difficulty has come to remind and punish or just to test, it is always advisable that the individual should keep thinking of the possible wrongs he might have committed in the past which may have been responsible for the trial to have been sent.
Let us also not forget that whether it is prosperity or difficulty both are trials from God Almighty. It is wrong to imagine that we are only tried by God Almighty when we go through difficulties. The Quran says:
“As for man, whenever his Lord tries him by honouring him and by giving him good things, he says: ‘My Lord has honoured me.’ But when He tries him by restraining his means, he says: ‘My Lord has disgraced me.’ No.” (89:15-17)
The expression ‘No’ in the last part of the passage is clarifying that it is a misleading understanding that worldly successes are a source of honour and worldly tribulations are a source of disgrace. No, they are both nothing but manifestations of the trial of this worldly life.