Based on a talk by Jeremy McClung of Muskoka Community Church
God has asked us to trust him and has made some strong promises to those who do:
He that giveth up himself wholly to God, God shall, assuredly, be with him; and he that placeth his complete trust in God, God shall, verily, protect him from whatsoever may harm him, and shield him from the wickedness of every evil plotter. (Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 47)
But how many of us are really able to hold on to that trust all the time?
Doubt creeps in; and is really what’s behind anxiety and fear. We might think we’ve accepted God’s love in our lives; we might think that we trust that He has a plan for us; but if we’re feeling anxious about the future, it’s because we doubt that He will really be there for us, opening the doors and paving the way. We believe in God today, but we doubt that He will provide for us or give us what we need tomorrow.
Perhaps you can relate to this story:
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)
Let’s look at how much faith and trust we really have in God’s bounties for our lives. Shoghi Effendi tells us:
We must be like the fountain or spring that is continually emptying itself of all that it has and is continually being refilled from an invisible source. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Funds: Contributions and Administration, p. 11)
Yet how many of us believe there is an invisible source willing to step in and refill our pockets? One minute we think we might trust God, and in another we take matters into our own hands because we don’t think He heard us; or that He is able to intervene. For example, maybe you’re having some trouble in the area of money. 60% of you trusts that God will provide and 40% doubts you’ll be able to meet your expenses next month.
In another part of your life, you’re worried about your children. Will you be able to do a good job as a parent? Will you be able to protect them from the tests of this world? Maybe you only trust God with 20% of that; and think you have to do the other 80%.
Or what about forgiveness? Do you believe that God has forgiven you for mistakes you’ve made in the past? Maybe you’ve just come back from feast; or heard a beautiful prayer chanted and you believe about 70% that God loves you and has forgiven you, but there’s still another 30% of you that believes he forgives others but not us, forgetting his promise to us:
Turn unto Him, and fear not because of thy deeds. He, in truth, forgiveth whomsoever He desireth as a bounty on His part; no God is there but Him, the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Bounteous. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 86)
Other areas you might doubt God’s presence is in your marriage, career path, job, health, finding purpose of fulfillment in life or bitterness over what someone has done to you. Maybe you know what the next step you need to take in life is; but you doubt that God will meet you there.
So life is going along, and you sort of trust God on all levels, until something bad happens. Perhaps you lose your job, and all of a sudden your trust level with God plummets down to 2% as you believe that your financial future is in your hands and not God’s. You become worried, and obsessed about what to do next, absolutely forgetting to trust God. Now your belief that God loves you has also plummeted because why would He cause you to lose your job if He loves you?
‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
You are encouraged to continue to keep in mind the spiritual dimension of your struggles. We are assured by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the following words: “The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes. That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribulations and difficulties to withstand. The more often the captain of a ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing the greater his knowledge becomes. Therefore I am happy that you have had great tribulations and difficulties… Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. XIV, No. 2, p. 41)
But how many of us believe it?
Every day the gauges of trust in God’s ability to provide for us in every area of our lives goes up and down with the changes and chances of this world. Sometimes they all go down to 2% trust in God at the same time, and that isn’t enough to hold us through the test. We forget that:
Generally speaking nine-tenths of the friends’ troubles are because they don’t do the Bahá’í thing, in relation to each other, to the administrative bodies or in their personal lives (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
This is what brings us to a crisis of faith. Everything we’ve built our life on in terms of trust in God goes down at once, and we’re on shaky ground regarding our faith. God gets blamed for actions we’ve failed to take, such as reliance on Him, submission to His decree and believing it’s for our highest good.
O thou who art turning thy face towards God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. He doeth as He doeth, and what recourse have we? He carrieth out His Will, He ordaineth what He pleaseth. Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Merciful Lord. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 51)
Doubt is a normal part of our spiritual journey. It’s one of the tests God sends us for the perfection of our souls, so when you’re faced with it, don’t freak out; don’t feel there’s anything wrong with you.
As the House of Justice explains, it takes time:
Since we are all imperfect and have to learn the perfect standard which Bahá’u’lláh has unveiled, there are often things in the Teachings themselves which individual believers find difficult, and which they have to strive to learn and understand. All the believers are growing and this is a gradual process. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 631)
And it’s a process, with many ups and downs as this story illustrates:
The following story in the life of Mirza Abu’l-Fadl, the outstanding scholar of the Cause and its famous apologist, is one which demonstrates that reading the Word of God with the eye of intellect can lead a man astray. He himself has recounted the story that soon after he came in contact with the believers, they gave him the Kitáb-i-Íqán to read. He read it with an air of intellectual superiority and was not impressed by it. He even commented that if the Kitáb-i-Íqán was a proof of Bahá’u’lláh’s claims, he himself could certainly write a better book.
At that time he was the head of a theological college in Tihran. The following day a prominent woman arrived at the college and approached some students asking them to write an important letter for her. In those days people who were not educated often paid a small sum of money to a learned man to write letters for them. The essential requirements for writing good letters were good composition and fine penmanship.
The students referred her to Mirza Abu’l-Fadl saying that he was an outstanding writer, a master of eloquence and a man unsurpassed in the art of composition. Mirza Abu’l-Fadl took up his pen to write, but found himself unable to compose the first sentence. He tried very hard but was unsuccessful. For several minutes he scribbled in the corner of the page and even drew lines on his own fingernail, until the woman realized that the learned scribe was unable to write. Losing her patience she arose to go and mockingly said to Mirza Abu’l-Fadl, ‘If you have forgotten how to write a simple letter why don’t you say so instead of keeping me here while you scrawl?’
Mirza Abu’l-Fadl says that he was overcome with feelings of shame as a result of this incident, and then suddenly remembered his own comments the night before about his being able to write a better book than the Kitáb-i-Íqán. He had a pure heart and knew that this incident was nothing but a clear answer to his arrogant attitude towards that holy Book.
However, it took Mirza Abu’l-Fadl several years to be convinced of the truth of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. He reached a stage where he accepted the Faith intellectually, but for years his heart was not convinced. The only thing which caused him to recognize the truth of the Cause of God after having struggled for so long was to submit himself and surrender his intellectual gifts to God. One evening he went into his chamber, and prayed with yearning as tears flowed from his eyes, beseeching God to open the channels of his heart. At the hour of dawn he suddenly found himself possessed of such faith that he felt he could lay down his life in the path of Bahá’u’lláh. The same person who once had said he could write a better book than the Kitáb-i-Íqán, read this book many times with the eye of faith and found it to be an ocean of knowledge, limitless in scope. Every time he read it he found new pearls of wisdom within it and discovered new mysteries which he had not come across before. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 219)
God wants us to trust Him, to have faith that he will provide us with everything we need, but He doesn’t expect that it will be 100% in all areas of our lives, all the time. Jesus said that all it would take to move a mountain was to have the faith as small as a mustard seed.
If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.’ (Matt. xvii. 20.)
God understands how hard it is for us to trust a God we can’t see. He asks us to be merciful to those who doubt.
The more clarity you have in terms of your own doubt, the easier it is to face them head-on. Like everything in our lower natures, doubt and fear don’t like to be brought out into the light of day. It often disguises itself as worry, anxiety, fear that something bad is going to happen, guilt, workaholism, pessimism, obsessive behavior or a need for control. Underneath it all is a doubt that God is going to do what he says He’s going to do.
Doubt is the opposite of faith and the tool God uses for our growth. It doesn’t need to be our enemy. For example, you can go to the gym and look at all the equipment as your enemy and see it as too hard; you will never be able to get healthy. It’s the same with doubt. Without doubt, your faith is never going to grow. We have to face each doubt as it comes along or we’re never going to grow.
We never get to the point where we’ve conquered doubt entirely. We conquer one and there’s another we need to work on; just like when we master a certain weight, we need to move on to the next level. We can’t just go to the gym for a few weeks and we’re strong for the rest of our lives. We have to keep exercising those muscles or they will atrophy.
God asks us to trust him a little more every day so our trust will grow. We need tests to help grow our faith. Our faith is the core of our relationship with God; without it, we can never grow closer to God.
Like everything in the Faith; we need opposites. Baha’u’llah, in The Fire Tablet, reminds us:
- Were it not for the cold, how would the heat of Thy words prevail, O Expounder of the worlds?
- Were it not for calamity, how would the sun of Thy patience shine, O Light of the worlds?
Here’s a story to help remind us:
Therefore, let us . . . review the events surrounding souls of bygone times in the beginning of their day; and again consider them when, through the aid and assistance of God, they proved to be the mighty ones of God. Remember that Peter was a fisherman, but through the bounty of the Kingdom he became the great apostle. Mary Magdalene was a villager of lowly type, yet that selfsame Mary was transformed and became the means through which the confirmation of God descended upon the disciples. Verily, she served the Kingdom of God with such efficiency that she became well-known and oft mentioned by the tongues of men. Even today she is shining from the horizon of eternal majesty. Consider how infinite is the bounty of God that a woman such as Mary Magdalene should be selected by God to become the channel of confirmation to the disciples and a light of nearness in His Kingdom. Consequently, trust ye in the bounty and grace of God, and rest assured in the bestowals of His eternal outpouring. I hope that each one of you may become a shining light even as these electric lights are now brilliant in their intensity. Nay, may each one of you be a luminary like unto a sparkling star in the heaven of the divine Will. This is my supplication at the throne of God. This is my hope through the favors of Bahá’u’lláh. I offer this prayer in behalf of all of you and beg with a contrite heart that you may be assisted and glorified with an eternal bestowal. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 420)
You can’t will yourself to trust God, any more than you can will yourself to trust another human being. Our faith grows the more we get to know Him, just as it does with other humans: by seeing his trustworthiness over time.
There are only 2 things we have control over – our thoughts and our actions. Most of us have developed mental patterns over time including our struggle with faith and doubt. If 40% of us trust God’s ability to take care of us and 60% don’t; we have a choice about which we’re going to be. We can turn our mind, thoughts and attention towards trusting God or we can trust the voice of our lower nature which says we can only trust ourselves.
Once you bring your doubt to the surface, you have a choice to make. Every doubt you can name is an opportunity to exercise faith.
Action Step: Make a list of all the ways God has come through for you in the past, to help you focus on believing he will continue to do so in the present and future.
Daily reading of the Writings, and memorizing passages is another way to help us remember to trust God. It helps us remember that God is who he says He is; and therefore we can trust Him.
If thy faith be fearful, seize thou My Tablet, and preserve it in the bosom of trust. (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 103)
Sometimes we need to lean on the faith of others. Perhaps we’ve never seen evidence of God working in a particular way in our lives, but we might have a friend who did; and we can trust that maybe if God was working in their lives; He could be working in ours too.
Trust no man save him whose breast hath been dilated by God through the light of faith, whom God hath confirmed in His religion, and who is severed from all else save God and attracted by His fragrances. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 411)
Here’s a story to demonstrate that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá understands our need for proof:
One point, the Master was speaking about Baha’u’llah’s Revelation and spiritual susceptibilities. Touching a young man named Mr. Robinson, Abdul-Bahá said ‘Because of the susceptibilities, this radiant youth is seated here, and in the utmost of love I am patting him on his shoulder’. Ramona Allen wondered why the Master had chosen to specifically bless the youth. Later, she found out. Seated at the same table as Mr. Robinson was John Matteson, who was on a search for spiritual truth. When Mr. Matteson saw the Master put His hands on the young man’s shoulder, Mr. Matteson thought to himself, ‘If Abdul-Bahá did that same thing to me, I would believe’. However, the Master strolled into the other rooms. Presently He returned to the room, walked straight to Mr. Matteson, and placed His hands upon the young man’s shoulders. From that moment Mr. Matteson became one of the most faithful followers of Bahá. (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 231)
Once we know the areas in which we don’t trust God; we can ignore it, and focus on turning our attention to all the ways in which we can and do, so that our trust can grow so big there’s no room for doubt.
You don’t have to trust God 100% in order to act as if you did. Even if you only trust God 1%, you still have a choice to “act as if” you trusted him 100%. Remember that in the 5 Steps of Prayer for Solving Problems, Shoghi Effendi tells us to:
Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 9)
That’s how we grow. We see God come through, so we can trust him more.
Sometimes we have such high levels of doubt that we don’t even have a grain of mustard seed of faith. Ask Him for a sign. God is merciful. He wants us to have faith. He stands ready to answer whatever we pray for.
For more in this series, please see:
What’s been your experiences of doubt? How has this helped you see things differently? Post your comments here: