In my blog posting “Primary Relationships”, I looked at how God comes first, your spouse second and everyone else after that. A reader asked some very important questions:
- the rest of the non-Baha’i world that is either atheist or agnostic seems to believe that familial relationships can be cultivated without God’s assistance.
- While I believe in a strong deference to God, it is difficult for me to accept that we can only know others through God.
- I am Bahá’í and marrying into a Baha’i family, but what about those who parent(s) are not Bahá’í, does this mean that they will necessarily be handicapped in their family closeness because one party is choosing not to look at it through God’s eyes?
There’s a lot to think about for each of these questions, and like everything in the Faith, there are no easy or simple answers. As a result, I thought these questions deserved a blog posting all of its own.
First of all, the point I was trying to make in the previous posting, is that the easiest way to get closer to each other is to get closer to God. Obviously this is easier if both parties believe in God and are willing to move towards Him! As the diagram below shows, the relationship would be closer than if neither partner was moving closer to God, but not nearly as close as it could be.
The reason the Manifestations of God have come to earth is because mankind has turned away from God’s injunctions. Everything is easier when we follow His guidance no matter in which religion it is found. Many people think they can make their own decisions or do things their way, but without God as the uniting factor, it won’t work. Shoghi Effendi tells us how the pendulum can swing from one extreme to another, and then back again:
These fashions are not permanent they are bound to change. Today the fad is a materialistic view of life and of the world. A day will soon come when it will become deeply religious and spiritual. In fact, we can discern the beginning of such a change in the writings of some of the most eminent souls and liberal minds. When the pendulum will start its full swing then we shall see all such eminent men turn again to God. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 211)
Today as our reader observed, our society is largely content to go through life without God.
All religions have some form of the “Golden Rule” which guides human relationships, and without it, we’re rudderless. In the following quote we see the state of the world at the time of Baha’u’llah; and the effect His teachings have had on people:
In the nineteenth century strife and hostility prevailed among the people of the Orient. Apathy and ignorance characterized the nations. They were indeed gloomy and dark, negligent of God and under the subjection of the baser instincts and passions of mankind. The struggle for existence was intense and universal. At such a time as this Bahá’u’lláh appeared among them like a luminary in the heavens. He flooded the East with light. He proclaimed new principles and teachings. He laid a basis for new institutions which are the very spirit of modernism, the light of the world, the development of the body politic and eternal honor.
The souls who hearkened to these teachings among the various oriental nations immediately renounced the spirit of strife and hostility and began to associate in goodwill and fellowship. From extremes of animosity they attained the acme of love and brotherhood. They had been warring and quarreling; now they became loving and lived together in complete unity and agreement.
Among them today you will find no religious, political or patriotic prejudice; they are friendly, loving and associate in the greatest happiness. They have no part in the war and strife which take place in the East; their attitude toward all men is that of goodwill and loving-kindness. A standard of universal peace has been unfurled among them. The light of guidance has flooded their souls. It is light upon light, love upon love.
This is the education and training of Bahá’u’lláh. He has led these souls to this standard and given them teachings which ensure eternal illumination. Anyone who becomes well versed in His teachings will say, “Verily, I declare that these words constitute the illumination of humanity, that this is the everlasting honor, that these are heavenly precepts and the cause of never-ending life among men. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 401)
As the effects of the Revelation of Baha’u’llah begin to permeate the consciousness of the world, we’ll see God put back into the equation. Without God in the equation, none of our relationships can be as strong as they could be; and in fact the glue that holds them together is not strong enough to hold.
But the love which sometimes exists between friends is not (true) love, because it is subject to transmutation; this is merely fascination. As the breeze blows, the slender trees yield. If the wind is in the East the tree leans to the West, and if the wind turns to the West the tree leans to the East. This kind of love is originated by the accidental conditions of life. This is not love, it is merely acquaintanceship; it is subject to change. Today you will see two souls apparently in close friendship; tomorrow all this may be changed. Yesterday they were ready to die for one another, today they shun one another’s society! This is not love; it is the yielding of the hearts to the accidents of life. When that which has caused this “love” to exist passes, the love passes also; this is not in reality love. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Paris Talks, pp. 179-181)
In her diary, Juliet Thompson quotes ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as using this analogy:
Now associate with good people. You must try to associate with those who will do you good and who will be the cause of your being more awakened, and not with those who will make you negligent of God. For example, if one goes into a garden and associates with flowers, one will surely inhale the beautiful fragrance, but if one goes to a place where there are bad-scented plants, it is sure he will inhale an unpleasant odour. In short, I mean that you will try to be with those who are purified and sanctified souls. Man must always associate with those from whom he can get light, or be with those to whom he can give light. He must either receive or give instructions. Otherwise, being with people without these two intentions, he is spending his time for nothing, and, by so doing, he is neither gaining nor causing others to gain. (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá further tells us the difference between associating with those who have God in their hearts:
True friends are even as skilled physicians, and the Teachings of God are as healing balm, a medicine for the conscience of man. They clear the head, so that a man can breathe them in and delight in their sweet fragrance. They waken those who sleep. They bring awareness to the unheeding, and a portion to the outcast, and to the hopeless, hope. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 23)
He further tells us:
When any souls grow to be true believers, they will attain a spiritual relationship with one another, and show forth a tenderness which is not of this world. They will, all of them, become elated from a draught of divine love, and that union of theirs, that connection, will also abide forever. Souls, that is, who will consign their own selves to oblivion, strip from themselves the defects of humankind, and unchain themselves from human bondage, will beyond any doubt be illumined with the heavenly splendours of oneness, and will all attain unto real union in the world that dieth not. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 84-85)
Without the love of God in our hearts, we will never be able to attain the standard the Faith sets before us for turning strangers into friends:
One of the teachings is that love and faithfulness must so prevail in the hearts that men may see the stranger as a friend, the sinner as an intimate fellow, may count enemies as allies, regard foes as loving comrades, call their executioner the giver of life, and consider the denier as a believer and the unbeliever as a faithful one — that is, men must behave in such a manner as may befit the believers, the faithful, the friend and the confidant. If this lamp may shine in a befitting manner in the assemblage of the world you will find that the regions will become fragrant and the world will become a delectable paradise, the surface of the earth will become an excellent garden, the world will become as one home, the different nations will become as one kind, and the peoples and nationalities of the East and West will become as one household. I hope such a day will come and such lights may dawn and such a Countenance may appear in the utmost beauty. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 479)
Spiritual relationships endure through all the worlds of God:
Bodily relationships may pass; even two sisters may be inimical to each other, but the spiritual relationship is eternal, and brings about mutual love and service. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 75)
Marriage should lead to a profound friendship of spirit, which will endure in the next world, where there is no sex, and no giving and taking in marriage; just the way we should establish with our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters and friends deep spiritual bond which will be ever-lasting, and not merely physical bonds of human relationship. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 206)
As we know from the short obligatory prayer, the purpose of every soul in this world is to know and worship God;
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3)
When we say this prayer every day, and strive to implement it in our own lives, we can’t help but draw closer to God.
We also know that even after death, all souls continue to progress towards God.
And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 155-156)
Obviously there are many paths to God, and it’s even been said that “there are not atheists in foxholes”, meaning that when the tests get most severe, even an atheist will reach out to God. God doesn’t distinguish between Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í. Even when relationships are strained in this world, there is hope for closeness in the next world:
Are not all the people in that world the creatures of God? Therefore, in that world also they can make progress. As here they can receive light by their supplications, there also they can plead for forgiveness and receive light through entreaties and supplications. Thus as souls in this world, through the help of the supplications, the entreaties and the prayers of the holy ones, can acquire development, so is it the same after death. Through their own prayers and supplications they can also progress, more especially when they are the object of the intercession of the Holy Manifestations. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 17)
Those of us who are Bahá’í know that spiritual relationships are stronger than blood relationships:
The friends should … draw closer to each other, knowing that they form one spiritual family, closer to each other, in the sight of God, than those united by ties of blood. (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 8 May, 1948).
This doesn’t mean that we won’t see our non-Bahá’í loved ones in the next world. Far from it, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
A love that one may have entertained for any one will not be forgotten in the world of the Kingdom. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 205-206)
When family members are focused on God, there is more likely to be unity in a family, which will have a positive effect on the whole family:
Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquility, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 278)
On a practical level, Baha’u’llah gives us some guidance on how we can do this:
If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 315)
Forming friendships with those who think they can do it without God are to be avoided as a protection to ourselves:
Expect not that they who violate the ordinances of God will be trustworthy or sincere in the faith they profess. Avoid them, and preserve strict guard over thyself, lest their devices and mischief hurt thee. Turn away from them, and fix thy gaze upon God, thy Lord, the All-Glorious, the Most Bountiful. 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 Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 210)
A good test you can use is to ask yourself: after I have contact with this person, is my faith strengthened or weakened? Is my commitment to the laws of God strengthened or weakened?
Then act accordingly.
When we take Baha’u’llah’s injunctions seriously and to seek the company of the righteous, we will draw closer to God; have more unified relationships; and ensure happiness in all the worlds of God.
I think that’s a good reason to put God at the core of all of our relationships. What do you think?
Click here to read “Primary Relationships”