One of the hardest parts of recovery from abuse, is to leave the justice to God, but how do we know that God sees the violence and abuse which goes on in homes and on streets around the world?
Think not the deeds ye have committed have been blotted from My sight . . . All your doings hath My pen graven with open characters upon tablets of chrysolite. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian 63.)
What is justice and what does it mean in this instance?
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice . . . 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 neighbour. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 2.)
The Canopy of existence, resteth on the pole of justice, and not of forgiveness, and the life of mankind dependeth on justice and not on forgiveness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted from Shoghi Effendis letters published in Guidance for Today and Tomorrow, Chapter Xll.)
That which traineth the world is Justice, for it is upheld by two pillars, reward and punishment. These two pillars are the sources of life to the world. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 27.)
Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves . . . I hope that each one of you will become just, and direct your thoughts towards the unity of mankind; that you will never harm your neighbours nor speak ill of any one; that you will respect the rights of all men, and be more concerned for the interests of others than for your own. Thus will you become torches of Divine justice, acting in accordance with the Teaching of Baha’u’llah. (`Abdu’l-Bahá: Paris Talks, pages 159‑160)
Is it better for a perpetrator to be punished in this world or in the next? Does it matter?
As to the question regarding the soul of a murderer, and what his punishment would be. The answer given was that the murderer must expiate his crime: that is, if they put the murderer to death, his death is his atonement for his crime, and following the death, God in His justice will impose no second penalty upon him, for divine justice would not allow this. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 179)
Someone once asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá this question: Should a criminal be punished, or forgiven and his crime overlooked? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered:
There are two sorts of retributory punishments. One is vengeance, the other, chastisement. Man has not the right to take vengeance, but the community has the right to punish the criminal; and this punishment is intended to warn and to prevent so that no other person will dare to commit a like crime. This punishment is for the protection of mans rights, but it is not vengeance; vengeance appeases the anger of the heart by opposing one evil to another. This is not allowable, for man has not the right to take vengeance. But if criminals were entirely forgiven, the order of the world would be upset. So punishment is one of the essential necessities for the safety of communities. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 268.)
Whose job is it to administer justice – the individual or the Institutions?
The greatest need it seems everywhere inside the Cause is to impress upon the friends the need for love among them. There is a tendency to mix up the functions of the Administration and try to apply it in individual relationships, which is abortive, because the Assembly is a nascent House of Justice and is supposed to administer, according to the Teachings, the affairs of the Community. But individuals towards each other are governed by love, unity, forgiveness and a sin-covering eye. Once the friends grasp this they will get along much better, but they keep playing Spiritual Assembly to each other and expect the Assembly to behave like an individual. (Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 41)
Do the Writings support the punishments meted out by our present justice system?
Observe how many penal institutions, houses of detention and places of torture are made ready to receive the sons of men, the purpose being to prevent them, by punitive measures, from committing terrible crimes – whereas this very torment and punishment only increaseth depravity, and by such means the desired aim cannot be properly achieved. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from a previously untranslated tablet, quoted in Bahá’í Education, p. 16.)
When the justice system fails to punish or protect, do we have any guarantees that there will be punishment done from a spiritual context?
Baha’u’llah is pretty clear:
The rod with which I can chastise the wicked is grievous, and the fierceness of Mine anger against them terrible. (Bahá’u’lláh, in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 68.)
He also says:
O Oppressors on Earth! Withdraw your hand from tyranny, for I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed it with My seal of glory. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian 64.)
What happens to a person who abuses someone else? Sometimes it looks as though their lives are so much better than the lives of the victim. How is this possible?
The Báb gives us an answer:
Shouldst Thou ordain evil for a servant by reason of that which his hands have unjustly wrought before Thy face, Thou wouldst test him with the benefits of this world and of the next that he might become preoccupied therewith and forget Thy remembrance. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 192.)
Sometimes it looks as if their lives go on as usual, and that nothing very severe happens, but ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that they will:
see for themselves beyond any doubt that there is no fiercer hell, no more fiery abyss, than to possess a character that is evil and unsound; no more darksome pit nor loathsome torment than to show forth qualities which deserve to be condemned. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 136.)
I swear by God! The promised day is come, the day when tormenting trials will have surged above your heads, and beneath your feet, saying: Taste ye what your hands have wrought! (Bahá’u’lláh in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 68.)
If they do not achieve this level of awareness in this world,
It is clear and evident that all men shall, after their physical death, estimate the worth of their deeds, and realize all that their hands have wrought … they that live in error shall be seized with such fear and trembling, and shall be filled with such consternation, as nothing can exceed. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 171.)
What sort of chastisement does God hand out to the abuser?
Know thou that ordeals are of two kinds. One is for tests, and the other for punishment of misdeeds . . . that which is for punishment of deeds is severe retribution. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in Divine Art of Living, p. 85.)
With the perpetrating of vile and ignoble acts, his attention was engrossed, and he abandoned the temperance and moderation of a natural way of life. The result was the engendering of diseases both violent and diverse. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 152-3.)
He hath, however, caused you to be entangled with (the) affairs (of the world) , in return for what your hands have wrought in His Cause. This, indeed, is a chastisement which ye, of your own will, have inflicted upon yourselves, could ye but perceive it. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 209.)
The other kind of torment is gross – such as penalties, imprisonment, beating, expulsion and banishment. But for the people of God separation from God is the greatest torment of all. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 265.)
Are there no consequences in this world?
It is inevitable that this community will, at times, be subject to delinquent behaviour of members whose actions do not conform to the standards of the Teachings. At such times, the institutions of the Faith will not hesitate to apply Bahá’í law with justice and fairness in full confidence that the Divine Law is the means for the true happiness of all concerned. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January 1993.)
Under certain circumstances, the parents could be deprived of the right of parenthood as a consequence of their actions. The Universal House of Justice has the right to legislate on this matter. It has decided for the present that all cases should be referred to it in which the conduct or character of a parent appears to render him unworthy of having such parental rights as that of giving consent to marriage. Such questions could arise, for example, when a parent has committed incest, or when the child was conceived as a consequence of rape, and also when a parent consciously fails to protect the child from flagrant sexual abuse. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January 1993.)
As to the punishments for such acts as rape, these will be determined in the future by the Universal House of Justice. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 8 June 1982.)
What compensation is there for the victim?
Grieve thou not over those that have busied themselves with the things of this world, and have forgotten the remembrance of God . . . The day is approaching when the wrathful anger of the Almighty will have taken hold of them . . . He shall cleanse the earth from the defilement of their corruption, and shall give it for an heritage unto such of His servants as are nigh unto Him. (Bahá’u’lláh in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 68-9.)
What about making amends?
If we spontaneously desire to acknowledge we have been wrong in something and that we have some fault of character, and ask another person’s forgiveness or pardon, we are quite free to do so. The Guardian wants to point out, however, that we are not obliged to do so. It rests entirely with the individual” (From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 19 March 1973.)
Do the Writings of the Faith give guidance to those who have been punished?
You have already, through at last facing yourself and acknowledging that you have both failed and erred in managing your life so far, set your feet on the right path. But now this new and spiritual condition in you is going to be proved – and the proving, the testing, will surely consist of the way you determine to take your punishment.
Life is based on laws: physical, man-made, and spiritual. As you have broken the laws of the society in which you live, you will have to stand up like a man and take your punishment. The spirit in which you do this is the most important thing, and constitutes a great opportunity for you . . . at present, until your sentence is up, you must live within yourself in a way not to spoil the new future awaiting you. You must not become bitter – for after all you are only reaping what you planted. Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, through no crime of their own, spent the better part of their lives in exile and imprisoned, but they never became embittered although they were the victims of injustice. You, on the other hand, are the victim of injustice which you have inflicted on yourself – therefore you certainly have no right to be bitter towards the world.
He urges you to grasp firmly the teachings of our Faith, the love of your family and many Bahá’í friends, to put the past behind entirely, realizing that it can do you no more harm; on the contrary, through changing you and making you spiritually aware, this very past can be a means of enriching your life in the future! (Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 8 April 1948. Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, pp. 449-50.)
Is there a prayer which the abuser can use to turn his life around?
O Lord! I have fled from Thy justice, and have sought Thy grace, have turned from thy wrath and implored Thy pardon. I beseech Thee, by Thy power, Thy sovereignty, Thy glory and Thy favour to illumine mankind with the light of thy knowledge, that all things may show Thy handiwork, may unfold the mysteries of thy power, and may reveal the light of Thy knowledge. Thou art the One that hath caused all things to be made manifest and hath shone upon them with the light of Thy care and Thy providence. (Bahá’í Prayers (UK), p. 32-4.)
However, it should be recognized that the ultimate solution to the problems of humanity lies not in penalties and punishments, but rather in spiritual education and illumination. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has written:
It is incumbent upon human society to expend all its forces on the education of the people, and to copiously enter men’s hearts with the sacred streams that pour down from the Realm of the All‑Merciful, and to teach them the manners of Heaven and spiritual ways of life, until every member of the community of man will be schooled, refined, and exalted to such a degree of perfection that the very committing of a shameful act will seem in itself the direst infliction and most agonizing of punishments, and man will fly in terror and seek refuge in his God from the very idea of crime, as something far harsher and more grievous than the punishment assigned to it.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January 1993.)