When we first come across the Bahá’í Faith, it’s easy to criticize and judge the standards through our own eyes, and it can be a great test to us when we find Writings we don’t agree with particularly those that require us to make significant changes to our behaviour.
Here is part of an answer I gave to someone recently, struggling with this very thing. Hope it helps you too!
It looks like your dilemma is caused by seeing this issue through your own eyes and not through the eyes of God. On a purely materialistic, human level, based on everything you know and hold dear, these laws don’t make sense, and I totally understand that!
There are 2 ways to look at this issue – our way or God’s way. Our way has gotten the world into the mess its in; and God way is teaching us how to undo it and build a better civilization for everyone.
We all long for world peace and Bahá’u’lláh’s given us the blueprint. In most cases, it’s 180 degrees away from what we’re doing now and to bring it about requires large numbers of people applying it as best they can.
Every one of us thinks we know what’s best for the world, but collectively, applying “our way” hasn’t worked out so well. That’s why I want to give God’s way a chance. If we don’t like it, we can always go back to our way!
We aren’t God and can never know how He thinks. We can’t judge His motives with our deficient standards:
It is for God to test His servants, and not for His servants to judge Him in accordance with their deficient standards. (The Bab, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 59)
We can get a glimmering through studying the Writings of His Messengers, but even then our understanding is limited since every word of His has seventy and one meanings!
We speak one word, and by it we intend one and seventy meanings; each one of these meanings we can explain. (Baha’u’llah, The Ki tab-i-Ian, p. 255)
Sometimes our own knowledge can be a barrier to understanding God’s Will:
We have decreed, O people, that the highest and last end of all learning be the recognition of Him Who is the Object of all knowledge; and yet, behold how ye have allowed your learning to shut you out, as by a veil, from Him Who is the Dayspring of this Light, through Whom every hidden thing hath been revealed. (Baha’u’llah, Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 22)
Truly it calls on our faith and trust in something greater than us, which doesn’t come easy. Even after a person recognizes the Manifestation of God for this age, our faith and trust are continually tested, to strengthen the virtues we’ll need with us in the next world.
We must strive with energies of heart, soul and mind to develop and manifest the perfections and virtues latent within the realities of the phenomenal world, for the human reality may be compared to a seed. If we sow the seed, a mighty tree appears from it. The virtues of the seed are revealed in the tree; it puts forth branches, leaves, blossoms, and produces fruits. All these virtues were hidden and potential in the seed. Through the blessing and bounty of cultivation these virtues became apparent. Similarly the merciful God our creator has deposited within human realities certain virtues latent and potential. Through education and culture, these virtues deposited by the loving God will become apparent in the human reality even as the unfoldment of the tree from within the germinating seed. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 267)
It’s important for us to understand the difference between us and God. Some of the names of God are a good reminder and a place to start.
If God is:
Him Who hath no peer nor equal
Then, we are not and never can be equal to Him in our knowledge or understanding of His ways. It would be like a painting trying to understand why the painter chose one colour over another. It can’t be done.
If God is:
The Best Informed
The Eternal Truth
The Knower of all things
The Most Great Infallibility
The Truth, Who knoweth the secret things
Then He probably knows and understands things from a different plane than we do.
Once we accept that we can’t know His ways or His reasons; and trust that He probably has a better grasp on reality than we do, the desire to become obedient is the next step, as we embark on the lifelong process of endeavouring to implement the teachings on personal conduct:
When an individual becomes a Bahá’í, he or she accepts the claim of Bahá’u’lláh to be the Manifestation of God bringing a divinely-inspired message from God for the benefit of mankind. Implicit in the acceptance of this claim is the commitment of the believer to embark on the lifelong process of endeavouring to implement the teachings on personal conduct. (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)
As Ian Semple, former member of the Universal House of Justice explains, it’s a process. I refer you to his article on Obedience as a process, and urge you to read it. It explains obedience in eloquent, easy to understand terms, and leaves me feeling proud to be part of such a moderate Faith.
God would not ask us to do things we don’t want to do if He didn’t have a good reason, and as we obey, we’ll soon come to see the wisdom of His commands:
Bahá’u’lláh would not have given us these things if they would not greatly benefit us, and, like children who are sensible enough to realize their father is wise and does what is good for them, we must accept to obey these ordinances even though at first we may not see any need for them. As we obey them we will gradually come to see in ourselves the benefits they confer. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights Of Guidance, p. 343)
Our spirits are what is important, not our bodies – otherwise we’d be no better than animals. We’ve been created for something higher:
You belong to the world of purity, and are not content to live the life of the animal, spending your days in eating, drinking, and sleeping. You are indeed men! Your thoughts and ambitions are set to acquire human perfection. You live to do good and to bring happiness to others. Your greatest longing is to comfort those who mourn, to strengthen the weak, and to be the cause of hope to the despairing soul. Day and night your thoughts are turned to the Kingdom, and your hearts are full of the Love of God . . . These are perfect human sentiments and virtues. If a man has none of these, he had better cease to exist. If a lamp has ceased to give light, it had better be destroyed. If a tree bear no fruit, it had better be cut down, for it only cumbereth the ground. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 112)
You ask: Why bother having any hopes and dreams? Of course we can! If our hopes and dreams are aligned with the will of God, our lives will unfold easily and effortlessly.
Will is the center or focus of human understanding. We must will to know God, just as we must will in order to possess the life He has given us. The human will must be subdued and trained into the will of God. It is a great power to have a strong will, but a greater power to give that will to God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 502)
God’s will and ours is often at variance and I can see that this is the area at which you are struggling. Shoghi Effendi suggests that the will of man is shadowy, impotent, crude and transient when compared to the will of God.
The Will of God he [Shoghi Effendi] asserts is “at variance with the shadowy views, the impotent doctrines, the crude theories, the idle imaginings, the fashionable conceptions of a transient and troublous age.” (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 73)
Whose will then will you follow?
If we deliberately choose not to follow God’s will, it’s because we’ve fallen back into the trap of thinking we know better than God what’s best for us, which is coming from a place of ego, which our Heavenly Father warns us, leads us down the path to sin and error.
As long as the ego is subject to carnal desires, sin and error continue. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i World Faith, p. 184)
The ego is the animal in us, the heritage of the flesh which is full of selfish desires. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
To give up our wills to God truly requires an act of submission on our part:
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-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 51)
You ask “What about careers? What about having families? What about eating? Just give it all up?” Of course not! We have to change the way we think about those things. A materialistic view of the world suggests that these things are the purpose of our lives. Bahá’u’lláh has redefined our life’s purpose for us. It’s simple and we remind ourselves every day when we say the short obligatory prayer. The purpose of our lives is to know and worship God.
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)
Within that context then, the purpose of careers is to render service to the community:
BAHA’O’LLAH’S solution of the social question provides for new laws, but the different social classes are preserved. An artisan remains an artisan; a merchant, a merchant; a banker, a banker; a ruler, a ruler; the different degrees must persist, so that each can render service to the community. Nevertheless, every one has the right to a happy, comfortable life. Work is to be provided for all and there will be no needy ones to be seen in the streets. The vocational labor adjustment provided by BAHA’O’LLAH precludes there being people too poor to have the necessaries of life on the one hand, nor the idle rich on the other. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 83-84)
The purpose of having children is to render service to the world by carrying forward an ever-advancing civilization:
All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214)
The purpose of eating is to maintain our bodies for service:
You should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It — the body — is like a horse which carries the personality and spirit, and as such should be well cared for so it can do its work! (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)
It’s all about having an outward-looking orientation!
The purpose of God’s Revelation in this day is to unite all mankind. We can’t achieve this purpose without subduing our wills and our understanding to God’s, so we can begin to apply God’s blueprint in our lives. When we do, we’re helping to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth.
Divine Revelation is, He says, the motive power of civilization. When it occurs, its transforming effect on the minds and souls of those who respond to it is replicated in the new society that slowly takes shape around their experience. (Baha’i International Community, 1992 May 29, Statement on Baha’u’llah, p. 13)
The choice is yours, though, and must be freely made.
A person who accepts that Bahá’í Faith undertakes a spiritual struggle which can never be easy. The struggle involves many changes of attitude and behaviour and frequently demands great sacrifices . The path of obedience to the laws of Baha’u’llah, however, is freely chosen. The laws are never forced on anyone. (Counsellor Wilma Ellis, the Administrator-General of the Bahá’í International Community)
Finally, I want to address your concerns about other people committing unpardonable sins. As individuals, we never condemn anyone for anything. Every single one of us is a sinner, and responsible before a Forgiving, Merciful and Compassionate God:
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)
He stands ready to forgive the sins of anyone who asks:
Thus have We recounted unto you the tales of the one true God, and sent down unto you the things He had preordained, that haply ye may ask forgiveness of Him, may return unto Him, may truly repent, may realize your misdeeds, may shake off your slumber, may be roused from your heedlessness, may atone for the things that have escaped you, and be of them that do good. Let him who will, acknowledge the truth of My words; and as to him that willeth not, let him turn aside. My sole duty is to remind you of your failure in duty towards the Cause of God, if perchance ye may be of them that heed My warning. Wherefore, hearken ye unto My speech, and return ye to God and repent, that He, through His grace, may have mercy upon you, may wash away your sins, and forgive your trespasses. The greatness of His mercy surpasseth the fury of His wrath, and His grace encompasseth all who have been called into being and been clothed with the robe of life, be they of the past or of the future. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 130)
This is a meaty quote, so let’s go through it point by point. According to this quote, for those who are willing to ask God for forgiveness, it’s based on:
- ask forgiveness of Him
- return unto Him
- truly repent
- realize your misdeeds
- shake off your slumber
- be roused from your heedlessness
- atone for the things that have escaped you
- be of them that do good.
For those who don’t want to acknowledge the truth of God’s words, He says “let him turn aside.”
For those who turn towards God and repent, He promises He will:
- have mercy upon you
- wash away your sins
- forgive your trespasses.
And for everyone, He promises
The greatness of His mercy surpasseth the fury of His wrath, and His grace encompasseth all who have been called into being and been clothed with the robe of life, be they of the past or of the future.
We’re only responsible for one life – our own, and we need to pay attention to our own development, so that we can make sure we’re going in the right direction.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
Let your thoughts dwell on your own spiritual development, and close your eyes to the deficiencies of other souls. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 203)
If we’re busy looking at the faults of others, we’ll quickly get off track:
If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
You’re absolutely right – God’s standards of justice are not humanity’s standards.
We could spend a lifetime trying to understand the meaning of the following Hidden Word:
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)
In the end, it comes down to your choice.
You have the capacity to disentangle yourself from the embroilments of the society around you, but it will take courage on your part, to cling to the high standards of rectitude, characterized by purity of thought and action, and your life directed by love and indomitable faith:
Trust in the capacity of this generation to disentangle itself from the embroilments of a divided society. To discharge your responsibilities, you will have to show forth courage, the courage of those who cling to standards of rectitude, whose lives are characterized by purity of thought and action, and whose purpose is directed by love and indomitable faith. As you dedicate yourselves to healing the wounds with which your peoples have been afflicted, you will become invincible champions of justice. (The Universal House of Justice, message to the Paraguay Youth Congress, 2000)
I’d like to leave you with these stirring words – the marching orders given by the Bab to the very first to believe in Him, but still relevant today:
O My beloved friends! You are the bearers of the name of God in this Day. You have been chosen as the repositories of His mystery. It behoves each one of you to manifest the attributes of God, and to exemplify by your deeds and words the signs of His righteousness, His power and glory. The very members of your body must bear witness to the loftiness of your purpose, the integrity of your life, the reality of your faith, and the exalted character of your devotion . . . Ye are even as the fire which in the darkness of the night has been kindled upon the mountain-top. Let your light shine before the eyes of men. Such must be the purity of your character and the degree of your renunciation, that the people of the earth may through you recognize and be drawn closer to the heavenly Father who is the Source of purity and grace . . . For verily I say, the heavenly Father is ever with you and keeps watch over you. If you be faithful to Him, He will assuredly deliver into your hands all the treasures of the earth, and will exalt you above all the rulers and kings of the world. (The Bab, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 92)
My prayer is that you choose to draw close to your Heavenly Father, so He can deliver into your hands, all the treasures of earth!
How has this helped you understand this topic differently? Post your comments here: