God created the entire universe as an expression of His praise, and a domain within which humans, also imbued with faculties with which we may recognise God, may worship Him. Our objectives as humans in worshipping God therefore synchronises entirely with the wider world in which we inhabit. It is filled with the Signs of God, that we give recourse to when attempting to find Him. One of the clearest Signs of God in this regard is the declining nature of the world.
Evergreen leaves that bedazzle the beholder with their mystic swaying eventually crunch under the boot of the indifferent human. Verdant gardens fade to crust and dust, and the great beasts of nature become harrowing carcasses, themselves stripped dry by other declining creatures.
The decay and decline that we see in nature also (and unexpectedly) characterises the human condition, both within the individual, and broader manifestations of human activity. The Roman Forum, once the site of paragon law making and governance, is now a husk, drawing tourists to snap away at it’s quaint exterior. Indeed the Quran reminds us:
“Do they not see how many generations We have destroyed before them, none of whom will ever come back to them?” – Surah Yasin, 36:31
And this lesson is further propagated through the parable of the Man with Two Gardens. In spite of warnings from his companion, the wealthy man who owned two gardens couldn’t fathom the possibility of his wealth leaving him. In striking and poetic fashion, his gardens become barren and fall to dust.
“And so it was: his fruit was completely destroyed, and there he was, wringing his hands over what he had invested in it, as it drooped on its trelilises, and saying, ‘I wish I had not set up any partner to my Lord’.” – Surah Kahf, 18:42
The other partner that he had set up is of course his wealth, which he thought would never decline. And thus we understand the precarious nature of this world; it is characterised by a perpetual decline.
We need not look beyond the bodies that we inhabit; Zachariah prayed to God:
“ ‘Lord, my bones have weakened and my hair is ashen grey, but never, Lord, have I ever prayed to you in vain.’” – Surah Maryam, 19:4
Zachariah, in spite of his failing body, shows no bitterness towards God, rather he understands that in God there is no disappointment. Modernity is so enamoured by image and appearance that it has engaged this universal decline in battle, attempting to halt and reverse it through an ever-changing litany of products and rituals. Modernity seldom pauses to consider the futility of this struggle; should humans ever be able to slow or reverse aging, never will our brains and conscious cease to age, nor will the possibility of being struck down by freak accident or natural disaster ever subside. We are marching towards demise, and what we gaze upon in the mirror is a reminder.
So, throughout nature and humanity, we observe the ubiquitous characteristic of decline and decay. If follows that this must be something that points us to God. And indeed it does. Whilst the world and what it contains suffers and dries, humans yearn for comfort and refuge from the typhoon of life. We wander here and there, to friends, to drugs, to entertainment, but we never find what we seek. We never escape decline, nor do we escape suffering.
The pure souls who instead turn to God also do not escape this, for they have discovered a more valuable treasure. They have discovered something that does not perish, nor does it cease. They have found it not within themselves, but they have found it in God. And in this sacred discovery, they have found that there is no need to run from the inevitable, nor fear death. But there is a need to transcend the tyranny of them both, there is a need to walk the Path of God, in which they walk to the vista of mercy, where they may behold all that they can comprehend in the light of God’s Mercy.
Basking in this light is the ultimate treasure and destination. We need not chase the ephemeral or run from the inevitable. We need only to turn to the One who never ceases or declines. Thus the universe, nature and our bodies, insofar as they continually decline, only serve to usher us towards God. There is true beauty and symphony between the human and the world in which we inhabit.
“Everyone on earth perishes; all that remains is the Face of your Lord, full of majesty, bestowing honour.” – Surah Rahman, 55:26-27