Alladhí khalaqal-mawt wal-hayāta liyabluwakum ayyukum ahsanu ‘amalā
He, who created death and life that He may test you [to see] which of you is best in conduct.
(Sūrat al-Mulk, No.67, Āyat 2)
There are three important points to understand in this verse:
The first point is that death is a creation of Allah ‘azza wajall, just the way life is a creation. Death is not something that happens to life the way illness happens to a body. Nor is death an essential non-existent the way evil is non-existent but only comes about when goodness is not present. Rather, death is a creation of its own. This means that death must have a purpose since every creation of Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā has a purpose. In the context of this verse the purpose of death is for us to understand that whatever we do in this world its effects will materialize fully after death and we will have to perpetually live with its consequences.
The second point is that we are going to be tested in this life. There is no running away from this reality. Life is not meant to be easy and the sooner we accept that, the easier life will start to become. The purpose of these tests is to distinguish the successful from the unsuccessful. Imam Ali (a) has said: And by Him Who sent him [the Prophet (S)] with the Truth, you shall indeed be mixed and intermingled and then separated in the sieve of Divine trial and tribulation. (Nahjul Balāgha, Sermon16)
The third point is that what Allah (swt) wants to see from us who is best in conduct. Imam al-Sādiq (a) said about this verse: It does not mean one of you whose deeds are more numerous but one who is more right/correct in his conduct, and this rightness/correctness is nothing more than the awe of God and with truthful and good intentions. (al-Kāfī, v 2, p 16).
The correctness of our actions is defined as having two important characteristics. The first is to have khushū’ – humility and awe of Allah ‘azza wajall. Allah mentions in the Quran that He is waiting for His servants to display humility towards Him. Is it not time yet for those who have faith that their hearts should be humbled for Allah’s remembrance (Q 57:16)? Being in awe of Allah (swt) requires certain characteristics which Prophet Muhammad (s) describes in the following tradition: There are four distinguishing marks of the humble ones: they pay constant attention to Allah in private and in public, they carry out good works, they contemplate about the Day of Resurrection, and they engage in intimate supplication with Allah. (Tuhafal-‘Uqūl, p 20)
The second characteristic needed to produce the most correct action is sincerity. Imam al-Sādiq (a) describes sincerity when he says: To persevere in an action until it becomes sincere is more difficult than (performing) the action itself, and sincerity of action lies in this that you should not desire anyone to praise you for it except God Almighty (al-Kāfī, v 2, p 16).
Let us make a point to always check our actions for these two underlying characteristics: humility and sincerity. With these characteristics we will produce the best of actions, which in turn will allow us to pass His tests, which will result in the most pleasant life after death. This is the promise of Almighty Allah.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī, Al-Amthal fī Tafsīr Kitab Allah al- Munzal, Āyatullāh Sayyid Rūhullāh Mūsawī Khumaynī, Forty Hadith, Hadith 11.