Quranic Reflection No. 464. Āyat 11:9 – Despondency in Afflictions

وَلَئِنْ أَذَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ مِنَّا رَحْمَةً ثُمَّ نَزَعْنَاهَا مِنْهُ إِنَّهُ لَيَئُوسٌ كَفُورٌ
Wala’in adhaqnal-insāna minnā rahmatan thumma naza‘nāhā minhu innahu layaūsun kafūr
If We let man taste a mercy from Us, and then withdraw it from him, he becomes despondent, ungrateful.
(Sūrat Hūd, No 11, Āyat 9)

The human being is a strange creature. Changes in circumstances have a huge impact on his mental and emotional well-being. Instead of waiting and reflecting on things, he reacts immediately. This is because of a weak internal capacity that loves ease and comfort. When that is snatched away everything becomes gloomy.

The verse above talks about such a reaction. Note the following points in the verse:
1) the blessings that are withdrawn were initially granted as a mercy from God. These were not from the human being’s own doing and there was no guarantee that they would remain forever. There should be no sense of pride or entitlement. God gives and God takes, as He sees fit. ‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī mentions in Tafsīr al-Mīzān that God did not use the word ‘ni‘ma’ (blessing) here. Instead He used ‘rahma’ to show that every blessing is a manifestation of Divine mercy on the human being, fulfilling a need in him.
2) the word ‘azaqnā’ tells us that these blessings were just a taste of happiness. Not the real thing. It’s like tasting food, rather than eating it. True, everlasting blessings that bring about fulfilling happiness is reserved for the Hereafter. But mankind gets deluded by this taste of mercy and becomes unreasonably attached to it.
3) the word ‘naza‘na’ means pulling away or digging out with some difficulty. It denotes a type of suffering caused by something becoming entrenched within a surface. The removal of mercy becomes difficult for the human being because of how deep the blessings have become established within.
4) the two adjectives at the end of the verse describe the inner state of the human being whose comfort has been taken. a) He despairs as he believes the blessings will never come back. This hopelessness is a sign of lack of faith and trust in God. It rejects the idea of God decreeing what is best for human growth and perfection. b) He also is ungrateful. Instead of thanking God for the mercy he had, he is upset about losing it. He also does not consider all the other blessings that may still be present. This is a whining, complaining attitude that bespeaks of immaturity.

Although this verse talks about the human being in general, it refers to those who have not refined and purified themselves. When human beings take in inspiration and guidance from God and train themselves, they can control their reactions. The reaction mentioned in this verse may not apply to them. This discipline can only come from abiding by the wisdom sent by God and through the tawfīq granted by Him to deserving souls.

Both the granting of mercy and withdrawing it are tests for the human being. The reaction to each of these states will depend on the faith, or lack of it, in the human being. The stronger the connection with God Himself, the less the attachment to what He grants. It is He who is important, His pleasure and approval. Not what He gives or takes away. Allah ‘azza wajall says in another verse: It is He who has made you successors on the earth, and raised some of you in rank above others so that He may test you in respect to what He has given you (Q 6:165).

This verse is a good reminder in times of difficulties, especially in the present Coronavirus pandemic that the world is going through. As believers we need to remind ourselves that God’s mercy was granted to us in the health and comfort we enjoy normally. When it is taken away, or there is the threat of it being taken away, we should be careful not to become despondent or ungrateful. It is a test of growth and discipline.

Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr Nur: http://www.alketab.org