Today we’re starting a 6 part series on Temptation. Hope you enjoy it!
First of all, we need to realize that we are all tempted and we are all sinners, so this article is for everybody: those whose sins are invisible to others and those whose sins are punishable from society. They’re all the same in God’s eyes:
Each man has been placed in a post of honour, which he must not desert. A humble workman who commits an injustice is as much to blame as a renowned tyrant. Thus we all have our choice between justice and injustice. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 159-160)
According to the dictionary, temptation is “something that tempts, entices, or allures”. In the Bahá’í Faith, we understand that temptation is initiated through the pathway of thought, arising out of our lower nature, and it often leads us into actions (sin) that creates misunderstanding. We know we are being tempted, when the thoughts we’re having don’t reflect God’s nature.
For example, let’s say you have a friend who’s just been given a beautiful bracelet, which you think is beautiful and looks really well on her wrist. But instead of rejoicing in her success (higher nature), envy, jealously and lust take root in your thoughts, and now you don’t like her because she’s got it and you don’t. Perhaps in your anger and bitterness, you start spreading gossip about her in the community, putting distance between you and your friend.
Or perhaps someone teases you. Feeling hurt, you take offence, which causes you to withdraw from Bahá’í activities, thinking you are preserving unity in the community. You ruminate on the comment over and over again, eventually noticing that your friend gets to go to all the Bahá’í functions while you’re missing out. This leads to resentment, jealousy, bitterness and hatred. It all started because we believed a lie emanating from our lower nature, which agreed with the hurtful comment. It’s that subtle, and that common.
We’re often tempted by our thoughts. When we get a thought, it creates an impression inside of us, then a feeling and then we take action, thinking it’s what we need to do, without asking ourselves the origin of the thought.
The strength in temptation is real – the feelings, thoughts, desires are all very strong passions, and distressing to those of us who know God. We wonder what that means about our faith. Haji Mirza Haydar-‘Ali tells an interesting story of his own spiritual awakening and struggles. He talks about going from excitement about learning about the Faith, to doubt, to torment, to steadfastness and back into torment. In this case, the temptation was to doubt what he knew to be true. Perhaps you can identify with it:
In the early days of the Faith in Isfahan, when I began to study the Tablets and Writings of the Báb, and listen to the explanations of the friends, I found the proofs of His Revelation convincing and conclusive and the testimonies supremely sound and perfect. So I was assured in myself that this Cause was the Cause of God and the Manifestation of His Grandeur, the dawning of the Day-Star of Truth promised to be revealed by the Almighty. But when I was alone with no one to talk to, I was often overtaken with doubts. The idle fancies of my past life, and the whisperings of the evil one were tempting me… God knows how much I wept and how many nights I stayed awake till morning. There were days when I forgot to eat because I was so immersed in my thoughts. I tried by every means to relieve myself of these doubts. Several times I became steadfast in the Cause and believed, but later I would waver and become perplexed and dismayed. (Adib Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, v2, p. 197)
God gives us a standard to reach for:
And were they to pass through a valley of pure gold and mines of precious silver, they should regard them as wholly unworthy of their attention. (Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 59-60)
But it’s hard to get there, because avoiding temptation is often hard to bear:
It is easy to approach the Kingdom of Heaven, but hard to stand firm and staunch within it, for the tests are rigorous, and heavy to bear. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 274)
Especially when the standards of the world are at variance with the laws of God:
As you point out, it is particularly difficult to follow the laws of Bahá’u’lláh in present-day society whose accepted practice is so at variance with the standards of the Faith. (Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05, Homosexuality)
Fortunately the House of Justice understands how difficult it can be and gives us a new way of thinking about our struggle:
The Universal House of Justice understands the concern you feel upon discovering that the Faith includes teachings . . . which differ so markedly from your own views. This discovery may best be regarded not as a challenge to your faith in Bahá’u’lláh but rather as an opportunity for you to acquire a deeper understanding of the Bahá’í teachings and their implications. (Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05, Homosexuality)
Bahá’u’lláh tells us that we were created to bear and endure:
Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Ahmad, Baha’i Prayers, p. 218)
Though it often feels like we’re at the breaking point, God has promised never to give us more than we can handle:
But we are aware of the assurance which Bahá’u’lláh Himself has given the believers that they will never be called upon to meet a test greater than their capacity to endure. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 341)
And we can take some comfort when we realize that only those whose faith has been tested can bear it:
Our Cause is sorely trying, highly perplexing; none can bear it except a favorite of heaven, or an inspired Prophet, or he whose faith God hath tested. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 82)
There’s no room for compromise:
It can tolerate no compromise with the theories, the standards, the habits, and the excesses of a decadent age. (Shoghi Effendi: The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 30)
To none is given the right to question their words or disparage their conduct, for they [the Prophets of God] are the only ones who can claim to have understood the patient and to have correctly diagnosed its ailments . . . (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 80-81)
Sometimes avoiding temptation can impose hardships. For example, I was once in a relationship with a person I wasn’t married to, and we owned a house together. As I was trying to extricate myself from the relationship, I needed to sell my interest in the house at a time when the market had dropped. I lost $40,000 . . .
Obedience to the Laws of Bahá’u’lláh will necessarily impose hardships in individual cases. No one should expect, upon becoming a Bahá’í, that faith will not be tested, and to our finite understanding of such matters these tests may occasionally seem unbearable. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 341)
. . . AND I’ve never had to face that particular test again!
Sometimes we even get angry with God for putting temptation into our heads. We don’t want these idle thoughts, but we don’t know how to rid ourselves of them. Thinking we can do it by ourselves, only leads to arrogance and pride. Only God can help us. He understands how we turn away from Him, and He reminds us that He is the only one who can protect us:
This is the Day of mutual deceit; whither do ye flee? The mountains have passed away, and the heavens have been folded together, and the whole earth is held within His grasp, could ye but understand it. Who is it that can protect you? None, by Him Who is the All-Merciful! None, except God, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Beneficent. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 45-46).
Since we’re already mad at God, and questioning our faith and even the validity of His laws, it’s easy to see how we think we might as well act on it. Separation from God makes it easier to do things we don’t want to do. But we know that “turning from God inevitably brings disaster, and turning to God as inevitably brings blessings.” (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 95)
Sometimes it’s easy to trick yourself into believing that you aren’t tempted to do any of the “big” sins, so temptation doesn’t apply to you. You don’t want to fall into this trap and flee into denial because it only leads to perversity:
Whatever in days gone by hath been the cause of the denial . . . hath now led to the perversity of the people of this age. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 17-18).
For example during World War 2, the Nazis measured the nose and eyes to show that the Jews were a different people. In Rwanda when they were killing Tutsis they did the same thing. In this case, their denial of the oneness of humanity, led to the genocide that followed.
Instead we want to look temptation in the face, acknowledge its existence and turn towards God:
Shall we not flee from the face of denial, and seek the sheltering shadow of certitude? Shall we not free ourselves from the horror of satanic gloom, and hasten towards the rising light of the heavenly Beauty? (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 38)
Because there are rewards for doing so:
Please God, that we avoid the land of denial, and advance into the ocean of acceptance, so that we may perceive, with an eye purged from all conflicting elements, the worlds of unity and diversity, of variation and oneness, of limitation and detachment, and wing our flight unto the highest and innermost sanctuary of the inner meaning of the Word of God. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 160)
I hope you’ll let me know what you think of these ideas, and then continue on to the next few articles, as I explore this topic more fully.
In part 2, we look atThe Steps of Temptation Leading to Sin
In part 3, we look at The Ways in Which we are Tempted
In part 4, we look at Why We are Tempted
In part 5, we look at Things We Can Do When We are Tempted
In part 6, we look at: The Consequences of Temptation and How to Prevent It