[The following section is taken from the following website: Prof. Jeff Lang’s talk]
Prof. Jeffrey Lang argues that our growth, i.e. our development, is our main purpose of life on earth. This growth is important as a preparation for us to enter the next stage of our life – the hereafter. But most importantly is that what we grow into is what matters most. We have to grow ourselves to be closer to Allah by developing the qualities that make us better individuals. These qualities are defined by some of His attributes and virtues, e.g. Compassionate, Graciousness, Peaceful, Loving, Just, Truthful, Wise, Merciful, Patient. The source of all these good qualities come from God Himself. We thus grow ourselves to be closer to God by allowing ourselves to grow with these qualities, which means allowing ourselves to receive such qualities that originate from Him.
One example of an ayat from the Quran that clearly states that one of these qualities come from God:
Act patience; your patience comes only from God.
Surah An-Nahl (16:127).
It’s also important to note that although we must grow into the qualities that define God’s attributes, we can only approximate His virtues by a very small fraction, for Allah is the infinite source of these virtues, and none can compare to Him, and none can even come close to being His equals.
Prof. Jeffrey Lang gave some analogies in the talk to clarify why growing ourselves in these qualities allow ourselves to be closer to God. He gave examples that two people who are trying to get closer to one another gets closer through some shared or common interests. For example, if two people are trying to get closer intellectually, they would both have to have a common intellectual interest, e.g. math, science, etc. So, one builds a closer relationship with God by developing the qualities that originate from God.
However, Prof. Jeffrey Lang argues that these qualities don’t come easy to use and cannot be programmed into us. We have to “choose” whether to grow with these qualities, or to grow with the opposites of these qualities (which inherently separates us farther from God). We are given the “intellect” to reason how we want to develop ourselves and we are given the environment that presents us the opportunity to exercise the qualities that we grow into. Some of these environments are sufferings. We face or see “sufferings” to help us develop these qualities. For example, we can develop compassion in ourselves when we have the opportunity to be compassionate towards people who go through some sufferings and thus need our help and compassionate act. We can learn to be more patient if we have gone through some rough ordeals in our lives which requires us to be patient when going through them.
In short, this Prof. Jeffrey Lang’s talk is fundamental to our deeper understanding of what Islam is, about what our main purpose is in life as a muslim, about what the essence of our relationship with Allah is, and about what the essence of our relationship with other human beings is.