The man knew he was nearing his death. Because he had committed innumerable sins, he was terrified to meet his Lord. Upon his death, the man said to his children: “If my Lord takes possession of me, He will punish me in a manner in which He has punished no one else.” In his fear, the man asked his children to burn his body after his death and scatter his remains.
And so after his death, the man was cremated. But then God said to the earth: “Produce what you have taken.” When the man came before God, God said to him: “What induced you to do what you did?” The man replied, “It was out of fear of you, oh my Lord.” And because of that, he was forgiven [from Hadith Qudsi 32, Bukhari & Muslim].
In this man’s overwhelming fear of God, he had forgotten God’s mercy. Consider a person so sinful that he might receive the greatest punishment ever given. But imagine such a sinner being forgiven still, by no merit of his own—but only by the mercy of his creator. That creator, when describing Himself in the Hadith Qudsi, says: “My mercy prevails over my wrath” [Bukhari & Muslim].
This mercy—which is infinite—defines one of the most emphasized attributes of God. And every moment is a priceless opportunity to come back to Allah, and start over. This process of tawbah, turning back to Allah and seeking His forgiveness, is one of the most vital acts of worship. In fact, it is this act alone, which distinguished Prophet Adam from Iblees (Satan). And it is by this act alone, that some will enter Paradise.
See, we all make mistakes. Prophet Adam made a mistake. And so did Iblees. Prophet Adam worshiped Allah—but so did Iblees. The difference between the two was that when Adam made his mistake, he realized his desperate need for Allah’s forgiveness, while Iblees showed arrogance and did not repent.
Prophet Muhammad said: “Every descendant of Adam is oft to err, and the best of those who err are those who are oft to repent” [Al-Tirmidhi (2499) & Ibn Mijah (4251)]. And so, Iblees’s mistake wasn’t that he disobeyed Allah—Adam also disobeyed Allah. Iblees’s mistake was that he disobeyed Allah and then refused to repent for it. Not only did he refuse to make tawbah, Iblees even blamed Allah for his own mistake: “(Iblees) said: “O my Lord! Because Thou hast put me in the wrong, I will make (wrong) fair-seeming to them on the earth, and I will put them all in the wrong” (Quran 15:39).
In contrast to this, by turning to Allah and realizing our need for His forgiveness and mercy, we actually become more beloved to Him. It was actually after he had made a mistake, realized his need for Allah, and repented, that Adam was sent to earth as a prophet.
In fact Allah, in His infinite mercy, does not just accept our repentance—He loves to forgive. The Prophet says: “If you were not to commit sins, Allah would remove you and replace you with a people who would commit sins and then seek Allah’s forgiveness, so Allah could forgive them” [Sahih Muslim (2749)].
And when we do repent to Allah, He does not just erase our evil deeds, he even transforms them into good deeds: Allah says, “Except those who repent and believe and work righteous deeds, for them Allah will change their evil deeds to good deeds, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Quran 25: 70).
Even more, that forgiveness of Allah has no limit and no bounds. Allah says in the hadith Qudsi: “Oh son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you” [Al-Tirmithi].
We all will sin. That is a certainty. But the choice is ours. Will we follow the footsteps of the one who repented and became a prophet, or will we follow the one who refused…and became forever cursed?