I was reading a talk by Peter Khan, former member of the Universal House of Justice this morning on the Nature and Challenge of Tests in which he gave some clear guidance on this topic, which I haven’t seen before. I encourage you to read his talk in its entirety – it’s so full of wisdom!
In an attempt to understand it myself, I have put together this summary and thought I’d share what I learned from the talk here. Let’s explore it together!
We can expect to be tested in the following ways:
1. Intellectual tests from outside the Faith, from the onslaught of ecclesiastical leaders, the traditional defenders of religious orthodoxy which would be powerful detractors aiming at the extinction of the Faith from without.
2. Tests which lead to an erosion of faith and belief and which can give rise to disorder in the Bahá’í community
Our challenge is to develop a sense of spirituality in an environment which is increasingly preoccupied and obsessed with the materialistic dimensions of life. We need to spiritualize our lives in order to develop a world view which accommodates the spiritual dimension of existence together with and having priority over its material dimension.
When this does not occur, we will find ourselves drawn inevitably into the materialistic perception of the world events and course of world history. WE will be obsessed with the fears, the anxieties, the preoccupations, the apprehensions and suspicions of those around us and our world view of the spiritual progress of humanity will be lost. Our community life will degenerate into ritualistic practice if this process of spiritualization is not embarked on and energetically pursued.
Why do we find it so difficult? I think it is because we–no matter how many Bahá’ís there are in any location, we are relatively few. We spend most of our lives interacting with people who are not Bahá’ís, some of whom are wonderful people of fine and exalted values and others are not. WE are subject to forces and influences and inclinations and advice and ideas which are essentially materialistic. And this unconsciously molds our world view.
The process of spiritual development rests upon three principles.
- There are certain prescriptions given in the Teachings of our religion which we accept with faith on the understanding that if we follow these prescriptions, we will attract in a mysterious, incomprehensible manner a great spiritual power. This is a complex and difficult point for us to understand.
- The second principle is that if we pray, if we fast, if we teach the Faith, if we practice unity, if we hold spiritual meetings, we attract spiritual forces and powers. You start off with a little bit. It attracts some forces, makes you stronger. You do more which attracts even more forces and so it builds up. And, in that sense, we are called upon to practice these spiritual virtues, to carry out these devotional practices–the practice of teaching and contributing to the Fund, of participating in the work of the Faith–confident that they will attract spiritual forces which will reinforce our endeavors and make us do even more and more.
- The third principle is that of testing to see if we really have the fortitude, the strength, the determination to persist in the face of adversity, in the face of distraction, in the face of ridicule, in the face of the desire to relax, to avoid the hardship and the effort that is involved.
3. We may be blinded by the standards and values of a non-Bahá’í society and by being blinded thereby may fail these tests.
We differ from the people around us very much in certain concepts. For example, we differ in the concept of duty. The concept of duty has in many ways become unpopular. But we are people of duty. We are people who do things we don’t particularly want to do out of a sense of duty. We are people who do things we find difficult, which we find uncomfortable, which we find disconcerting. Why? Not out of a desire for martyrdom, but out of a sense of duty.
We Bahá’ís are a people of duty. We are a people of discipline. We are a people of responsibility. We are a people who revere and honor such concepts as honesty and trustworthiness. We need to pass the test of spiritualization in a materialistic environment.
We need, above all, courage; the courage and the willingness to be different, to persevere, to persist in the work of the spiritualization of our lives irrespective of other considerations and the forces and influences of the people around us.
4. We may underestimate the danger of such tests, of being complacent, of not becoming aware of these tests until it is too late.
5. We are tested in our level of commitment to the betterment of humanity in an environment which is increasingly characterized by apathy and lethargy.
Those around us increasingly lack zeal and idealism and a passion for changing the world. Society around us has lost its vision. It lacks heroes and heroines. They have become discredited. Exposes have been written about them. They have been found to have feet of clay. There are no heroes. There are no heroines. There is no vision.
It is a matter of making it through day by day, being concerned only for one’s self because no one else is interested in us. You survive or not. It is a hard, cruel world out there.
We need to overcome the apathy and lethargy of society and stand apart as people dedicated to the creation of a new world.
What does this mean? How do we achieve this? How will it come about? I believe that we, as believers, need a far deeper understanding of the role of the Faith in the redemption of mankind.
I think if we can revive in our minds the vision of the magnitude of the aims and objectives of the Cause–aims which are far beyond human comprehension, which are feasible only because of the power of God which we believe animates Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation –if we do this, then we will revive that vision and we will become once more committed human beings dedicated to the welfare of humanity in this generation and countless generations yet unborn into the future.
6. We’re tested by the need to acquire an entirely new attitude toward social organizations and institutions.
These attitudes are firstly that people are suspicious and distrustful of their government and its bureaucracy. They have found through bitter experience that their governmental leaders have become corrupt, that the bureaucracy of their social organization suffocates them, restricts their freedom and, in many ways, is a source of their suffering.
People in our society increasingly feel a sense of powerlessness in relation to their authorities. They find themselves insignificant, unable to change the system, doomed to suffer its adverse and oppressive circumstances and consequences. Therefore, they often resort to radical actions outside the system. They become terrorist. They become anarchists. They seek the overthrow of the system. They seek its destruction. They say, often with a certain justification, anything is better than what we’ve got.
The great mental test we face as believers is test that we may, unconsciously and inadvertently, transfer those attitudes from the larger society which is manifestly in decline into the Bahá’í administrative system.
That is our test. Because if we bring those attitudes in with us, without even realizing it, we will disrupt and damage the administrative system ordained by Bahá’u’lláh.
If we bring the way of the world into the Bahá’í Administrative Order, all we will do is temporarily disrupt it. All we will do is irreparably damage our own personal spiritual development.
7. People today do not have a sense of community. They have learned, at bitter cost, not to trust each other, not to trust those who appear honest and upright and of good character because, so often, they have been found to be opposite. They have, therefore, developed a sense of extreme individualism, of worship of unfettered personal freedom.
8. Our speculations about the coming calamity: One of the favourite and most wasteful and destructive practices in Bahá’í community life in certain quarters is that of speculation about calamity. I am sure you’ve all had experiences at certain times of spectacular remarks about the evaporation of skyscrapers and submarines off the coast and so on.
There is a passage–there are many passages in the Bahá’í Writings–where Shoghi Effendi says we don’t know in what form the calamity will occur. Calamity is occurring now and so on and so forth.
Solutions to These Tests:
We need to develop new attitudes.
We need to develop a far deeper understanding of the Covenants of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. It is not enough to sign the card to say, “I believe there is a Covenant. There are these people around with a variety of titles. Whatever they are I accept them. Fine, that’s it.” This is not enough, friends.
We will be swept away because there are dangerous forces in our society. There are insidious influences. We have to protect ourselves now, and our protection is deepening in the Covenant.
Let me read to you a very, very difficult and challenging paragraph from the Guardian. In this paragraph the Guardian makes statements which I would never dare to say. I read them because it is the Guardian. I am safe. You can’t attack me for reading them. The Guardian is writing. I would never had the courage to stand before you and make the kind of statements I am going to read to you now.
Shoghi Effendi says that “the believers need to be deepened in the knowledge and appreciation of the Covenants of both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This is the stronghold of the faith of every Bahá’í, and that which enables him to withstand every test and the attacks of the enemies outside the Faith.” So far it’s not too bad. I would have said that. Now comes the difficult part.
“This is the stronghold of the Faith of every Bahá’í, and that which enables him to withstand every test and the attacks of the enemies outside the Faith and the far more dangerous, insidious, lukewarm people inside the Faith who have no real attachment to the Covenant, and consequently uphold the intellectual aspect of the teachings while at the same time undermining the spiritual foundation upon which the whole Cause of God rests.”
We need to make ourselves spiritually healthy:
We are here to make ourselves spiritually healthy and strong so that whoever they are, wherever they are, we are not to judge, but we will be immune to their dangerous, insidious influence.
We need to rethink what is criticism.
There is criticism and there is criticism. There are passages in the Writings which refer to criticism as being an appropriate measure, an appropriate element of Bahá’í consultative and community practice, and nobody is disagreeing with that. But what we also have in our Writings are references to the extremely dangerous character of what the Guardian refers to as “vicious and negative” criticism.
“Criticism and discussions of a negative character, which may result in undermining the authority of the Assembly as a body, should be strictly avoided.”
The letter, written on behalf of the Guardian, December 18, 1949, was published in the Bahá’í News in July 1950–and what does he say? He defines a calamity. He says:
“Vicious criticism is indeed a calamity. But its root is lack of faith in the system of Bahá’u’lláh (i.e. the administrative order) and lack of obedience to Him–for He has forbidden it. If the Bahá’ís would follow the Bahá’í laws in voting, in electing, in serving, and in abiding by assembly decisions, all this waste of strength through criticizing others could be diverted into cooperation.”
Real love for the institutions:
There is a statement where Shoghi Effendi was asked to define what were the parameters for the Cause in bringing in large numbers of people. And he set out four parameters; three of them are obvious and the fourth is very unusual. He said these were the requirements without which the Cause can never really bring in large numbers of people. He said:
“Without the spirit of real love for Bahá’u’lláh, for His Faith, and its institutions, and the believers for each other.” Three of those are obvious, the fourth one isn’t.
We would expect the believers to have real love for Bahá’u’lláh. We would expect them to love His Faith. We would expect them, in fact, hope that the believers would love each other.
But Shoghi Effendi defines as one of the four requirements for bringing in large numbers of people that we develop a sense of love, a sense of real love for the institutions of the Faith.
How has this summary helped deepen your understanding of your own tests? Post your comments below!