On becoming a member of the Bahá’í Faith, we understand that there are certain laws which we must obey, not out of “blind obedience” which is contrary to the spirit of the Faith, but as the free exercise of our will to follow what we believe to be right. With blind obedience we abdicate our free will; with true obedience, we make a conscious choice to obey.
The standard of the Faith is “instant exact obedience and submissiveness” to Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice; and if we hesitate, even for a moment, we will be regarded as transgressors:
Those who have reached the pinnacle of faith and recognize the station of Bahá’u’lláh with absolute certitude — that He and no one else is God’s Viceregent on earth — cannot but render instant and exact obedience to every one of His commandments. In a spirit of love and devotion, they will also show the same measure of obedience and submissiveness to the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and to the directives of the Universal House of Justice.
The following words of Bahá’u’lláh revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas establish for all time the criterion for constancy and firmness in His Covenant:
“Were He to decree as lawful the thing which from time immemorial had been forbidden, and forbid that which had, at all times, been regarded as lawful, to none is given the right to question His authority. Whoso will hesitate, though it be for less than a moment, should be regarded as a transgressor.” (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 268)
Instant, exact obedience and submissiveness doesn’t come easy for many of us who grew up with tyranny!
The Bahá’í Writings teach us that as children, we are to learn to obey our parents, so that as adults, we will know how to obey God. In this sense, our parent’s role in our lives when we are small children is that of “god”.
Parents must exert every effort to rear their offspring to be religious, for should the children not attain this greatest of adornments, they will not obey their parents, which in a certain sense means that they will not obey God. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 6)
Unfortunately, most of them didn’t do a very good job representing God to us, and as a result, we have a hard time translating our allegiance to a loving God as adults.
I’m not blaming our parents! This kind of poor parenting is pretty universal! Our parents didn’t know how to parent us because their parents didn’t know how to parent them, and so on, and so on, back through the generations.
Because many of us didn’t have these kinds of “loving parents”, we have no concept of how to turn to or trust in a “Heavenly Father”, let alone want to obey Him! Fortunately the Baha’i Writings can teach us what we need to know in order to obey God.
Attitudes toward Obedience
It’s not easy being obedient, since it entails suffering; is often difficult; and requires hardship and great personal sacrifice:
. . . suffer me to remain steadfast in my obedience to Thee . . . (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers (US edition), p. 265.
The Baha’is everywhere . . . find it very difficult to adjust themselves. They have to learn to obey . . . for the sake of unity. . . These things are difficult. (Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
As you point out, it is particularly difficult to follow the Laws of Bahá’u’lláh in present-day society whose accepted practice is so at variance with the standards of the Faith. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 342)
Obedience to the Laws of Baha’u’llah will necessarily impose hardships in individual cases. (Universal House of Justice: Lights of Guidance, p. 341)
This involves often great personal sacrifice, but we know that, when we do the right thing, God gives us the strength to carry it out, and we attract His blessing. We learn at such times that our calamity is indeed a blessing. (Shoghi Effendi: Living the Life, p. 26)
We can’t expect that once we become Bahá’í we’re somehow protected from tests that can seem almost unbearable:
No one should expect, upon becoming a Baha’i, that his faith will not be tested, and to our finite understanding of such matters these tests may occasionally seem unbearable. But we are aware of the assurance which Baha’u’llah Himself has given the believers that they will never be called upon to meet a test greater than their capacity to endure. (Universal House of Justice: Lights of Guidance, p. 341)
When other people see us striving to be obedient, they’re likely to not understand and try to encourage us to take the easier, softer way. At these times it’s important to not allow them to come between us and obeying Baha’u’llah:
Although it is good not to provoke conventional people too much, on the other hand, we must not allow them to come between us and obeying Baha’u’llah. (Shoghi Effendi: Guidelines for Teaching, p. 317)
It’s good that we know this, because it makes it easier to do the right thing when we know what to expect
It’s a Process
Obedience doesn’t come naturally – we need to learn to obey:
They have to learn to obey, even when the Assembly may be wrong, for the sake of unity. They have to sacrifice their personalities, to a certain extent, in order that the community life may grow and develop as a whole. These things are difficult – but we must realize that they will lead us to a very much greater, more perfect, way of life when the Faith is properly established according to the administration. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
It is often difficult for us to do things when they are so very different from what we are used to, and when the people around us are not doing them. When we can accept the need for obedience, even though at first we may not see any need for it, we will gradually come to see the benefits obedience confers:
It is often difficult for us to do things because they are so very different from what we are used to, not because the thing itself is particularly difficult. With you, and indeed most Baha’is, who are now, as adults, accepting this glorious Faith, no doubt some of the ordinances, like fasting and daily prayer, are hard to understand and obey at first. But we must always think that these things are given to all men for a thousand years to come. For Baha’i children who see these things practised in the home, they will be as natural and necessary a thing as going to church on Sunday was to the more pious generation of Christians. Baha’u’llah 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: Living the Life, p. 19-20)
While everything else in nature has a cycle of ebb and flow and ultimately leads to disintegration, the human soul’s only movement is toward perfection:
All creation, whether of the mineral, vegetable or animal kingdom, is compelled to obey the law of motion; it must either ascend or descend. But with the human soul, there is no decline. Its only movement is towards perfection; growth and progress alone constitute the motion of the soul. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 89)
Advantages to the Individual
It helps keep us motivated when we see “what’s in it for me”.
Obedience is man’s highest distinction; his greatest glory; his most exalted rank and honor, and our progress, achievement and happiness depends on it!
It is certain that man’s highest distinction is to be lowly before and obedient to his God; that his greatest glory, his most exalted rank and honor, depend on his close observance of the Divine commands and prohibitions. Religion is the light of the world, and the progress, achievement, and happiness of man result from obedience to the laws set down in the holy Books. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 71)
When we do the right thing, we establish our Faith and win other people’s hearts to it. In addition, God gives us the strength to carry it out, and we attract His blessings:
. . . the Baha’is must, in view of the condition of the world today, stand forth firmly and courageously as followers of Baha’u’llah, obeying His Laws, and seeking to build His World Order. Through compromise we will never be able to establish our Faith or win others’ hearts to it. This involves often great personal sacrifice, but we know that, when we do the right thing, God gives us the strength to carry it out, and we attract His blessing. (Shoghi Effendi: Living the Life, p. 26)
We’re able to solve our own personal problems and set a noble example for others:
You should have confidence that in obeying the orders of your National Assembly you will not only succeed in solving your own personal problems with the friends, but will in addition set a noble example before them. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 62)
We’ll be led to a much greater, more perfect, way of life
These things are difficult – but we must realize that they will lead us to a very much greater, more perfect, way of life when the Faith is properly established . . . (Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
Nothing can shake us:
But once a Baha’i has the profound conviction of the authority from God, . . . and creates order based on obedience – once a Baha’i has this, nothing can shake him. (Shoghi Effendi, Light of Divine Guidance, Vol.2, p. 84)
Our health depends on it!
Physical healing cannot be complete and lasting unless it is reinforced by spiritual healing. And this last one can be best obtained through obedience to the laws and commandments of God. (Shoghi Effendi: Compilation of Compilations vol. 1, p. 477)
We gain greater strength in teaching and are able to direct our energies towards different channels of service:
They must come to realize that the Administration is a system both living and dynamic, and that, through obedience to its principles and regulations, they will gain greater strength in teaching the Faith, and be able to direct their energies as a united force into the different channels of service that lie open to them. (Shoghi Effendi, Light of Divine Guidance Vol.1, p. 181)
We grow spiritually and prepare our souls for the next life:
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. 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 Baha’u’llah, 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, p. 359)
Advantages to the World
In addition to benefiting ourselves, our obedience also has a positive effect on the whole world.
We know that it only takes one soul to be the cause of the spiritual illumination of a continent.
But the only way, or perhaps I should say the first and best way, to remedy such situations, is to oneself do what is right. One soul can be the cause of the spiritual illumination of a continent. (Shoghi Effendi, The Importance of Deepening, p. 230-231)
Your example will enkindle the hearts of your fellow Bahá’ís:
Now that you have seen, and remedied, a great fault in your own life, now that you see more clearly what is lacking in your own community, there is nothing to prevent you from arising and showing such an example, such a love and spirit of service, as to enkindle the hearts of your fellow Baha’is. (Shoghi Effendi, The Importance of Deepening, p. 230-231)
Our community life will grow and develop
They have to learn to obey, even when the Assembly may be wrong, for the sake of unity. They have to sacrifice their personalities, to a certain extent, in order that the community life may grow and develop as a whole. (Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
The Faith will expand:
Not until your group learns to work efficiently through obedience to the local assembly and under its guidance can there be any hope for future expansion. (Shoghi Effendi, Light of Divine Guidance Vol.1, p. 80)
Society will be reformed and prevented from sinking into an ever-worsening condition:
[O]nce they are applied, [these laws] must be followed, or else society will not be reformed but will sink into an ever worsening condition. It is the challenging task of the Baha’is to obey the law of God in their own lives, and gradually to win the rest of mankind to its acceptance. (Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, p. 106)
The world will become illumined with love and reconciliation:
All are commanded to seek the good pleasure of the Lord of unity, to follow His command and obey His will; in this way the world of humanity shall become illumined with the reality of love and reconciliation. (`Abdu’l-Baha: Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 316)
The world will become flooded with light; the dead body of mankind will arise and live and every soul will ask for immortality:
Wherefore, O ye who are God’s lovers, know ye the value of this precious Faith, obey its teachings, walk in this road that is drawn straight, and show ye this way to the people . . . Spread far and wide the precepts and counsels of the loving Lord, so that this world will change into another world, and this darksome earth will be flooded with light, and the dead body of mankind will arise and live; so that every soul will ask for immortality, through the holy breaths of God. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 2-3)
Our achievements will be both constructive and enduring:
. . . by this means alone can the community work as a united body and achieve something constructive and enduring. (Shoghi Effendi: Light of Divine Guidance Vol.1, p. 80)
Prayers for Assistance with Obedience
Strengthen my heart, O my God, in Thine obedience and in Thy love and grant that I may be clear of the entire company of Thine adversaries. Verily I swear by Thy glory that I yearn for naught besides Thyself, nor do I desire anything except Thy mercy, nor am I apprehensive of aught save Thy justice. I beg Thee to forgive me as well as those whom Thou lovest, howsoever Thou pleasest. Verily Thou art the Almighty, the Bountiful. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 215)
Assist me and assist them, O my Lord, to obey Thee and to keep Thy precepts. Thou, verily, hast power to do what Thou choosest. (Baha’u’llah: Prayers and Meditations, p. 10)
I, therefore, beseech Thee . . . to enable us to serve and obey Him, and to empower us to become the helpers of His Cause and the dispersers of His adversaries. Powerful art Thou to do all that pleaseth Thee. No God is there beside Thee, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the One Whose help is sought by all men! (Baha’u’llah: Prayers and Meditations, p. 86)
Attire, O my Lord, both my inner and outer being with the raiment of Thy favors and Thy loving-kindness. Keep me safe, then, from whatsoever may be abhorrent unto Thee, and graciously assist me and my kindred to obey Thee, and to shun whatsoever may stir up any evil or corrupt desire within me. Thou, truly, art the Lord of all mankind, and the Possessor of this world and of the next. No God is there save Thee, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. 225)
O God! as my body has become purified and cleansed from physical impurities, in the same way purify and sanctify my spirit from the impurities of the world of nature, which are not worthy of the Threshold of Thy Unity! (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91).
O God! make my heart good and pure, freed and sanctified from all save Thy love. (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91).
How has this helped you understand obedience better? Post your comments below!