The whole world is suffering it seems, and for those who are conscious of it, the feeling can be excruciatingly painful. In my Bahá’í-inspired life coaching practice, I often work with people who are acutely aware of their pain, and desperately searching reasons for it. It’s so much easier for them to believe that somehow they’ve caused it because of things they’ve done, than to believe that it’s the result of Divine intervention. Here are some of the questions I hear, and answers from the Bahá’í Writings.
I must have done something really bad for all these tests to be happening to me.
- If Khidr did wreck the vessel on the sea, yet in this wrong there are a thousand rights. (Bahá’u’lláh, Seven Valleys, p. 26.)
It’s all my fault.
- Tests are benefits from God, for which we should thank Him. Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 50.)
- . . . the Almighty hath tried, and will continue to try, his servants, so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns. Even as He hath revealed: ‘Do men think when they say “We believe” they shall be let alone and not be put to proof?’ (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp. 8-9.)
- . . . we must realize that everything which happens is due to some wisdom and that nothing happens without a reason. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 46.)
- Tests are a means by which a soul is measured as to its fitness and proven out by its own acts. God knows its fitness beforehand, and also its unpreparedness, but man, with an ego, would not believe himself unfit unless proof were given him. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Book 4, Vol. VI, #6, p. 108.)
- And yet, how often we seem to forget the clear and repeated warnings of our beloved Master, who, in particular during the concluding years of His mission on earth, laid stress on the “severe mental tests” that would inevitably sweep over His loved ones of the West – tests that would purge, purify and prepare them for their noble mission in life. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 50.)
- In such an afflicted time, when mankind is bewildered and the wisest of men are perplexed as to the remedy, the people of Bahá, who have confidence in His unfailing grace and divine guidance, are assured that each of these tormenting trials has a cause, a purpose, and a definite result, and all are essential instruments for the establishment of the immutable Will of God on earth. In other words, on the one hand humanity is struck by the scourge of His chastisement which will inevitably bring together the scattered and vanquished tribes of the earth; and on the other, the weak few whom He has nurtured under the protection of His loving guidance are, in this Formative Age and period of transition, continuing to build amidst these tumultuous waves an impregnable stronghold which will be the sole remaining refuge for those lost multitudes. (Universal House of Justice, Compilation of Compilations, Vol. 1, #326, pp. 166-167.)
Why can’t life be easier? Why does everything have to be so difficult?
- But for the tribulations which are sustained in Thy path, how could Thy true lovers be recognized; and were it not for the trials which are born for love of Thee, how could the station of such as yearn for Thee he revealed? Thy might beareth me witness! The companions of all who adore Thee are the tears they shed, and the comforters of such as seek Thee are the groans they utter, and the food of them who haste to meet Thee is the fragments of their broken hearts. (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p. 155.)
- Were it not for tests, pure gold could not be distinguished from the impure. Were it not for tests, the courageous could not be separated from the cowardly. Were it not for tests, the people of faithfulness could not be known from the disloyal. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Art of Living, p. 87.)
- While a man is happy he may forget his God; but when grief comes and sorrows overwhelms him, then will he remember his Fa¬ther who is in Heaven, and who is able to deliver him from his humiliations. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 50-51)
- Even if all the losses of the world were to be sustained by one of the friends of God, he would still profit thereby (Bahá’u’lláh, Crisis & Victory, p. 154.
Why can’t I ever get ahead?
- These are not days of prosperity and triumph. The whole of mankind is in the grip of manifold ills. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 81.)
- Life in this world is a succession of tests and achievements, of falling short and of making new spiritual advances. Sometimes the course may seem very hard, but one can witness, again and again, that the soul who steadfastly obeys the Law of Bahá’u’lláh, however hard it may seem, grows spiritually, while the one who compromises with the law for the sake of his own apparent happiness is seen to have been following a chimera: he does not attain the happiness he sought, he retards his spiritual advance and often brings new problems upon himself. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, pp. 359-360.)
- Even or odd, thou shalt win the wager.’ The friends of God shall win and profit under all conditions, and shall attain true wealth. (Bahá’u’lláh, Crisis & Victory, p. 154.)
Why do I keep falling into the same trap, over and over again?
- Just as the earth attracts everything to the centre of gravity, and every object thrown upward into space will come down, so also material ideas and worldly thoughts attract man to the centre of self. Anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion prevent man from ascending to the realms of holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the cage of egotism. The physical man, unassisted by the divine power, trying to escape from one of these invisible enemies, will unconsciously fall into hands of another. No sooner does he attempt to soar upward than the density of the love of self, like the power of gravity, draws him to the centre of the earth. The only power that is capable of delivering man from this captivity is the power of the Holy Spirit. The attraction of the power of the Holy Spirit is so effective that it keeps man ever on the path of upward ascension. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241.)
God must surely be punishing me.
- He will never deal unjustly with any one, neither will He task a soul beyond its power. He, verily, is the Compassionate, the All-Merciful. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 106.)
- In addition, we know from the Bahá’í Writings that man’s soul “is independent of all infirmities of body or mind,” and not only continues to exist “after departing from this mortal world”, but progresses “through the bounty and grace of the Lord”. Therefore, an evaluation of man’s material existence and achievements cannot ignore the potential spiritual development stimulated by the individual’s desire to manifest the attributes of God and his response to the exigencies of his life, nor can it exclude the possibility of the operation of God’s mercy in terms of compensation for earthly suffering, in the next life. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 2 December, 1985.)
All I want is what everyone else has: a family, a job, a home . . .
- The world is but a show, vain and empty, a mere nothing, bearing the semblance of reality. Set not your affections upon it . . . Verily I say, the world is like the vapour in a desert, which the thirsty dreameth to be water and striveth after it with all his might, until when he cometh unto it, he findeth it to be mere illusion. It may, moreover, be likened unto the lifeless image of the beloved whom the lover hath sought and found, in the end, after long search and to his utmost regret, to be such as cannot “fatten nor appease his hunger.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 328-329.)
What good ever comes from tests anyway?
- Were it not for tests, the intellectuals and the faculties of the scholars in great colleges would not develop. Were it not for tests, sparkling gems could not be known from worthless pebbles. Were it not for tests, nothing would progress in this contingent world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Art of Living, p. 87.)
- Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 50-51)
- 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 . . . 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.)
- How could the [God’s] teachers teach and guide others in the way if they themselves did not undergo every species of suffering to which other human beings are subjected? (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. VII, #11, p. 108.)
- . . . The souls who bear the tests of God become the manifestations of great bounties; for the divine trials cause some souls to become entirely lifeless, while they cause the holy souls to ascend to the highest degree of love and solidity. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 2 December, 1985.)
- They are the means of your spirit growing and developing. (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, pp. 35-36.)
- Suffering is both a reminder and a guide. It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self improvement. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 434.)
- Whenever you see tremendous personal problems in your private lives . . . you must remember that these afflictions are part of human life; and, according to our teachings one of their wisdoms is to teach us the impermanence of this world and the permanence of the spiritual bonds that we establish with God, His Prophet, and those who are alive in the faith of God. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, pp. 459-60.)
- These tests, even as thou didst write, do but cleanse the spotting of self from off the mirror of the heart, till the Sun of Truth can cast its rays thereon (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 182.)
- . . . in this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here . . . In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that eternal life ready for him. That divine world is manifestly a world of lights; therefore, man has need of illumination here. That is a world of love; the love of God is essential. It is a world of perfections; virtues, or perfections, must be acquired. That world is vivified by the breaths of the Holy Spirit; in this world we must seek them. That is the Kingdom of everlasting life; it must be attained during vanishing existence . . .
Unless he acquires these forces and attains to these requirements, he will surely be deprived of the life that is eternal. But if he possesses the knowledge of God, becomes ignited through the fire of the love of God, witnesses the great and mighty signs of the Kingdom, becomes the cause of love among mankind and lives in the utmost state of sanctity and holiness, he shall surely attain to second birth, be baptized by the Holy Spirit and enjoy everlasting existence. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226.)
- In considering the effect of obedience to the laws on individual lives, one must remember that the purpose of this life is to prepare the soul for the next. Here one must learn to control and direct one’s animal impulses, not to be a slave to them. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, pp. 359-360.)
Why is everything I do so difficult?
- But regarding the tests: Undoubtedly they must be violent so that those souls who are weak may fall back, while the souls who are firm and sincere may shine forth from the horizon of the Most Great Guidance like unto the sparkling stars. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 471.)
Why does God make children suffer?
- As to the subject of babes and infants and weak ones who are afflicted by the hands of oppressors: this contains great wisdom and this subject is of paramount importance. In brief, for those souls there is a recompense in another world and many details are connected with this matter. For those souls that suffering is the greatest mercy of God. Verily that mercy of the Lord is far better and preferable to all the comfort of this world and the growth and development of this place of mortality. If it be the will of God, when thou shalt be present this will be explained in detail by word of mouth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 372.)
- On this plane of existence, there are many injustices that the human mind cannot fathom. Among these are heart-rending trials of the innocent . . . With regard to the spiritual significance of the suffering of children ‘who are afflicted at the hands of the oppressor’, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá not only states that for those souls ‘the afflictions that they bear in life become a cause for them of . . . an outpouring of divine mercy and bestowal’, He also explains that to be a recipient of God’s mercy is ‘preferable to a hundred thousand earthly comforts’, and He promised that ‘in the world to come a mighty recompense awaiteth such souls’. Much, indeed, might be said upon this theme, and upon how the afflictions that they bear in life become the cause for them of such an outpouring of Divine mercy and bestowal as is preferable to a hundred thousand comforts and to a world of growth and development in this transitory abode . . . (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 2 December, 1985.)
Does God even care how much it hurts?
- It is easy to approach the Kingdom of Heaven, but hard to stand firm and staunch within it, for the tests are rigorous, and heavy to bear. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 274. )
- However, to those souls who are firm and steadfast, tests are the greatest favours. Consider thou that at the time of an examination in sciences and arts, the dull and lazy pupil finds himself in calamity. But to the intelligent and sagacious student examination in learning produces honour and infinite happiness. Alloyed gold, subjected to the fire, portrays its baseness, while the intensity of the flame enhances the beauty of pure gold. Therefore, tests of the weak souls are calam¬ity and to the veiled ones the cause of their disgrace and humiliation. The point is this, that in the path of Truth every difficulty is made plain and every trial is the matchless bounty. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 2. No. 15, pp. 5-6.)
Is it ever going to get better?
- In winter come the storms, and the great winds blow, but then will follow spring in all its beauty, adorning hill and plain with perfumed plants and red anemones, fair to see. Then will the birds trill out upon the branches their songs of joy, and sermonize in lilting tones from the pulpits of the trees. Ere long shall ye bear witness that the lights are streaming forth, the banners of the realm above are waving, the sweet scents of the All-Merciful are wafted abroad, the hosts of the Kingdom are marching down, the angels of heaven are rushing forward, and the Holy Spirit is breathing upon all those regions . . . This is decreed by the Lord, the Revealer of Verses. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 163-134.)
- You will suddenly find that you have conquered many of the problems which upset you, and then you will wonder why they should have troubled you at all. (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, pp. 35-36.)
- O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 329)
Will I ever see the benefits of these tests in this world?
- In every suffering one can find a meaning and a wisdom. But it is not always easy to find the secret of that wisdom. It is sometimes only when all our suffering has passed that we become aware of its usefulness. What man considers to be evil turns often to be a cause of infinite blessings. And this is due to his desire to know more than he can. God’s wisdom is, indeed, inscrutable to us all, and it is no use pushing too far trying to discover that which shall always remain a mystery to our mind. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 434.)
What can I do in the midst of my suffering?
- I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 100.)
- Therefore, the believers of God and maid-servants of the Merciful must not relax during trial and no disaster must deter their service in the Cause of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 2. No. 15, pp. 5-6.)
- You are encouraged to continue to keep in mind the spiritual dimension of your struggles. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. XIV, No. 2, p. 41.)
- The more one is severed from the world, from desires, from human affairs, and conditions, the more impervious does one become to the test of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Book 4, Vol. VI, #6, p. 108.)
- Clearly, the difficult periods in our lives are not without pur¬pose. Among other things, they offer us a prime opportunity to express our love for Bahá’u’lláh in a meaningful way. It is relatively easy to he a believer when one is not challenged, when one is happy. However, in times of adversity, we must draw upon our inner, spiritual resources. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October, 1994.)
- Convey thou unto the handmaids of the Merciful the message that when a test turneth violent they must stand unmoved, and faithful to their love for Bahá. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 163-134.)
- Naturally there will be periods of distress and difficulty, and even severe tests; but if the person turns firmly towards the Divine Manifestation, studies carefully His spiritual teachings and receives the blessings of the Holy Spirit, he will find that in reality these tests and difficulties have been the gifts of God to enable him to grow and develop. (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, pp. 35-36.)
- Therefore, the dear friends of God who have such a broad and clear vision before them are not perturbed by such events, nor are they panic-stricken by such thundering sounds, nor will they face such convulsions with fear and trepidation, nor will they be deterred, even for a moment, from fulfilling their sacred responsibilities. (Universal House of Justice, Compilation of Compilations, Vol. 1, #326, pp. 166-167.)
- . . . the way to peace and security for you and for humanity as a whole, is through service to the Cause, to which you have so earnestly committed yourself. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 2 December, 1985.)
- Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute! This is the work of a true Bahá’í, and this is what is expected of him. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 81.)
- First, through the knowledge of God. Second, through the love of God. Third, through faith. Fourth, through philanthropic deeds. Fifth, through self-sacrifice. Sixth, through severance from this world. Seventh, through sanctity and holiness. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226.
- The working out of God’s Major Plan proceeds mysteriously in ways directed by Him alone, but the Minor Plan that He has given us to execute, as our part in His grand design for the redemption of mankind, is clearly delineated. It is to this work that we must devote all our energies, for there is no one else to do it (Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, pp. 133-134.)
What should my attitude towards tests be?
- O Thou Whose tests are a healing medicine to such as are nigh unto Thee, Whose sword is the ardent desire of all them that love Thee, Whose dart is the dearest wish of those hearts that yearn after Thee, Whose decree is the sole hope of them that have recognized Thy truth! I implore Thee, by Thy divine sweetness and by the splendours of the glory of Thy face, to send down upon us from Thy retreats on high that which will enable us to draw nigh unto Thee. Set, then, our feet firm, O my God, in Thy Cause, and enlighten our hearts with the effulgence of Thy knowledge, and illumine our breasts with the brightness of Thy names. (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, pp. 220-221.)
- The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls, so it is to this we must look – to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through. (Shoghi Effendi, Directives of the Guardian, p. 68.)
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