In the early days of my recovery from childhood abuse, I longed for someone who had been healed to show me the way; and I couldn’t find anyone. I promised that if I got through the pain, I’d show others what I discovered, so they could get back on the path without as many wrong turns as I’d made.
In 2010, after trying everything else to recover from anxiety and depression, a friend gave me a copy of the book “A More Excellent Way” by Christian Pastor Henry Wright. I was impressed by his teachings, because he backed everything up with quotes from the Bible. Not only did it change the course of my life irrevocably, it also made me a better Bahá’í, and put me on the course of sharing what I’ve learned in my blog and in my books.
I took his online course called “Be in Health”; and stopped the videos after every new concept, to find validation for his points in the Bahá’í Writings. The first thing that got my attention was when Henry Wright called anxiety “fear”; and said that fear was a sin, because in the Bible, God has told us to “fear not”; and when we indulged in fear, we were also guilty of the sin of pride, because we were assuming that we had to solve our problems alone; and didn’t trust God to be part of the process. This not only got my attention, but it also changed my life!
As long as I was suffering from the medical condition “anxiety”, I needed a medical solution; none of which got at the root of the problem; so anxiety was always there, but “managed”.
When I thought of it as fear, and a lack of trust in God; and could see it as against the Will of God, I now had a problem I could do something about: Immerse myself in the Bahá’í Writings; find out what they said about sin; and God’s forgiveness; and then “follow the instructions”. When I did this, the spiritual roots of my anxiety and depression were taken care of and have not returned! And I am grateful!
Understanding the nature of sin was at the core of my recovery, because if I could accept that God created me noble, and out of His love for me; and if I believed that His work is perfect and that His perfection includes the fact that we are all sinners, then everyone is on a level playing field; and forgiveness and compassion become possible.
It was easier to understand that my abusers were also created by a loving God; and that because they were sinners, I got hurt. I didn’t get hurt because they didn’t love me. I didn’t get hurt because I was a bad person and God was punishing me. I got hurt because they chose to use their free will in activities that went against the Will of God. They were acting from their lower natures; and will be accountable to God for the choices that they made.
I came to realize that as bad as the first 17 years of my life were; the next 36 years were even worse, because of the abuse I perpetrated on myself, through the lies I told myself (you’re worthless; nobody loves you; nobody will ever love you; it was all your fault).
I came to understand that these actions too were coming from my lower nature; and I would be accountable to God for holding on to them; believing them to be true; and allowing their poison to hurt the people around me; just as my abusers had hurt me. The choices each of us made were different; but in the end, the result was the same.
My experience has shown me that most Bahá’ís don’t like to talk about sin. For many of us, this idea conjures up a negative “fire and brimstone”; “going straight to hell” kind of God, which isn’t what the Writings teach.
Personally, I love that Bahá’u’lláh tells us He created us perfect:
O SON OF BEING!
With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words, #12)
And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that we are all sinners:
We are all sinners, and Thou art the Forgiver of sins, the Merciful, the Compassionate. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 176)
This suggests that God knew He was creating us as sinners, and it’s all part of His perfect plan! I’m a sinner; you’re a sinner; we’re all sinners! It’s a level playing field that means none of us have a right to judge another, because we are all guilty of falling short of God’s injunctions.
The dictionary defines sin as:
- transgression of divine law
- any act regarded as such a transgression, especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle
- any reprehensible or regrettable action, behavior, lapse, etc.; great fault or offense
So if God says “do this” and we don’t do it, it falls under this definition of sin.
Although the concept of “sin” isn’t popular in many Bahá’í circles, the word “sin” appears 578 times in Ocean. If we include the synonyms, we find over 18,000 occurrences, just on those synonyms! If I did a word search on the synonyms of the synonyms, the permutations and combinations would take a lifetime of immersion in God’s Ocean to unravel! Suffice it to say that the Bahá’í Writings indeed focus on sin; and teach us how to overcome it.
Although we could use any of these synonyms instead of “sin”, the truth is that the names of things do not affect what they really are; so I’ve used the word “sin” here, even knowing that it may make some people cringe.
Why does such a small word have the power to make us feel small, dirty, ashamed, less than, not good enough, a failure and a host of other negative emotions? I believe it’s because it got mistranslated somewhere along the line; and then used to make us want to change our behaviour by shaming us into doing what other people want.
I wonder if we can put our feelings associated with this word aside and assume a humble posture of learning as we go through what I’ve learned about sin together; starting with these key concepts:
- The Bahá’í teachings compare the human heart to a mirror, which, if turned away from the light of the sun (i.e. God), is incapable of receiving God’s love.
And, as we are reminded by the House of Justice:
It must be remembered that individuals can reform, and a reprehensible past does not necessarily disqualify a believer from building a better future. (Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, #123, p. 34)
My goal is to help us realize that we all sin, by falling short of God’s standards. It doesn’t mean we’re bad. It’s just part of living in our lower nature, when we know what the Writings teach us about our dual nature, we can ask God to forgive us, move into our higher nature and make each day better than the day before.
Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 138)
Every day, in the morning when arising you should compare today with yesterday and see in what condition you are. If you see your belief is stronger and your heart more occupied with God and your love increased and your freedom from the world greater then thank God and ask for the increase of these qualities. You must begin to pray and repent for all that you have done which is wrong, and you must implore and ask for help and assistance that you may become better than yesterday so that you may continue to make progress. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Compilation of Compilations, Vol I, p. 376)
With all these caveats in mind, let’s get started!
|Synonym||Occurrences||One of the Key Teachings
|Blameworthy||130||The natural emotions are blameworthy and are like rust which deprives the heart of the bounties of God. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 244)|
|Censurable||9||For example, if someone oppresses, injures and wrongs another, and the wronged man retaliates, this is vengeance and is censurable. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 269)|
|Corrupt||924||We enjoin the servants of God and His handmaidens to be pure and to fear God, that they may shake off the slumber of their corrupt desires, and turn toward God, the Maker of the heavens and of the earth. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 23)|
|Depraved||46||But left in his natural condition without education and training, it is certain that he will become more depraved and vicious than the animal. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 309)|
|Depravity||63||Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 335)|
|Disgraceful||93||Let those who, driven by their passions or by their inability to exercise discipline in the control of their anger, might be tempted to inflict violence on another human being, be mindful of the condemnation of such disgraceful behavior by the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)|
|Erring||119||I know not how long they shall ride the steed of desire and wander erringly in the desert of heedlessness and error. (Bahá’u’lláh, Lawh-i-Sultan, Tablet to Nasiri’d Din Shah – Browne)|
|Error||1816||The emphatic and vigorous language of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will and Testament is at this time of His own passing, the safeguard of the Cause: “Unto the Most Holy Book every one must turn and all that is not expressly recorded therein must be referred to the Universal House of Justice. That which this body, whether unanimously or by majority doth carry, that is verily the Truth and the Purpose of God Himself. Whoso doth deviate therefrom is verily of them that love discord, hath shown forth malice, and turned away from the Lord of the Covenant.” And again: “All must seek guidance and turn unto the Centre of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whosoever else is indeed in grievous error. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 317-318)|
|Evil||3696||The reality underlying this question is that the evil spirit, Satan or whatever is interpreted as evil, refers to the lower nature in man. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 77)|
|Failing||2714||We must supplicate Bahá’u’lláh to assist us to overcome the failings in our own characters, and also exert our own will power in mastering ourselves. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 115)|
|Fault||522||The great tragedy of mankind at this time is the failure of the vast majority of human beings to heed the Divine Call, and this is in large part occasioned by the failure of most of those who have believed to live up to the high standard that Bahá’u’lláh has set. This is the condition in which we must work in our service to mankind, turning a sin-covering eye to the faults of others, and striving in our own inmost selves to purify our lives in accordance with the divine Teachings. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 498)|
|Guilty||253||If, God forbid, he should be guilty of the least breach of trust, or approach his duties in a slack or desultory fashion, or extort so much as a farthing from the populace, or seek to further his own selfish interests and personal gain — then it is certain that he shall be deprived of the outpourings of God’s grace. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 452)|
|Immoral||151||In one of His Tablets, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá refers to some of the spiritual and social implications of the violation of the laws of morality and, concerning the penalty here described, He indicates that the aim of this law is to make clear to all that such an action is shameful in the eyes of God and that, in the event that the offence can be established and the fine imposed, the principal purpose is the exposure of the offenders — that they are shamed and disgraced in the eyes of society. He affirms that such exposure is in itself the greatest punishment. (Notes to The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 200)|
|Iniquity||292||Thou seest the sinner, O my Lord, who hath turned towards the dawning-place of Thy forgiveness and Thy bounty, and the mountain of iniquity that hath sought the heaven of Thy mercy and pardon. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 5)|
|Led Astray||41||The people, however, have been led astray, and are truly of the heedless. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 296)|
|Misconduct||31||Then there are those high ethical standards to which Bahá’u’lláh calls His followers, such as trustworthiness, abstention from backbiting, and so on; generally speaking, obedience to these is a matter for individual conscience, and the Assemblies should not pry into people’s lives to see whether or not they are following them; nevertheless, if a believer’s conduct falls so far below the standard set by Bahá’u’lláh that it becomes a flagrant disgrace and brings the name of the Faith into disrepute, the Assembly would have to intervene, to encourage the believer to correct his ways, to warn him of the consequences of continued misconduct, and possibly, if he does not respond, to deprive him of his administrative rights. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 638)|
|Mistake||651||Perhaps the greatest test Bahá’ís are ever subjected to is from each other; but for the sake of the Master they should be ever ready to overlook each other’s mistakes, apologize for harsh words they have uttered, forgive and forget. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 601)|
|Offense||175||While Bahá’u’lláh specified that the extent of the penalty
depends upon “the severity of the injury”, there is no record of His having set out the details of the size of the indemnity with regard to each degree of offence. The responsibility to determine these devolves upon the Universal House of Justice. (Notes to The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 201)
|Reprehensible||156||Every intelligent man comprehends that murder, theft, treachery, falsehood, hypocrisy and cruelty are evil and reprehensible. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 266)|
|Sin||876||All sin comes from the demands of nature, and these demands, which arise from the physical qualities, are not sins with respect to the animals, while for man they are sin. The animal is the source of imperfections, such as anger, sensuality, jealousy, avarice, cruelty, pride: all these defects are found in animals but do not constitute sins. But in man they are sins. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 119)|
|Sinful||122||Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 62)|
|Sinner||302||We are all sinners, and Thou art the Forgiver of sins, the Merciful, the Compassionate. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 176)|
|Transgression||387||Nevertheless, after a certain time, and through the transgression of both the Muhammadans and the Christians, hatred and enmity arose between them. Beyond this fact, all the narrations of the Muslims, Christians and others are simply fabrications, which have their origin in fanaticism, or ignorance, or emanate from intense hostility. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 21-22)|
|Ungodly||273||In the passage ‘eschew all fellowship with the ungodly, ‘Bahá’u’lláh means that we should shun the company of those who disbelieve in God and are wayward. The word ‘ungodly’ is a reference to such perverse people. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 483)|
|Vile||172||How foolish and ignorant must a man be, how base his nature, and how vile the clay of which he is fashioned, if he would defile himself with the contamination of bribery, corruption and perfidy towards the state! Truly, the vermin of the earth are to be preferred to such people! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 345)|
|Wicked||736||Nevertheless, it is certain that between the good, the sinners and the wicked who are veiled from God there is a difference. For the veiled one who has good principles and character deserves the pardon of God, while he who is a sinner, and has bad qualities and character, is deprived of the bounties and blessings of God. Herein lies the difference. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 238)|
|Wickedness||227||Commit not, O people, that which will bring shame upon you or dishonor the Cause of God in the eyes of men, and be not of the mischief-makers. Approach 278 not the things which your minds condemn. Eschew all manner of wickedness, for such things are forbidden unto you in the Book which none touch except such as God hath cleansed from every taint of guilt, and numbered among the purified. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 277)|
|Wrong||3010||Also the child should be made to understand that we don’t fear God because He is cruel, but we fear Him because He is Just, and, if we do wrong and deserve to be punished, then in His Justice He may see fit to punish us. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 237)|
|Wrongdoing||107||. . . in the world of mankind there are two safeguards that protect man from wrongdoing. One is the law which punishes the criminal . . . whereas the ideal safeguard, namely, the religion of God, prevents both the manifest and the concealed crime, trains man, educates morals, compels the adoption of virtues and is the all-inclusive power which guarantees the felicity of the world of mankind. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 302)|
That’s over 18,000 occurrences, just on those synonyms! If I did a word search on the synonyms of the synonyms, the permutations and combinations would take a lifetime of immersion in God’s Ocean to unravel! Suffice it to say that the Bahá’í Writings indeed focus on sin; and teach us how to overcome it.
With that in mind, let’s see what the Writings teach us about sin, over the next few blog postings.