It can be hard to accept that God causes the bad things to happen, but in a way it’s comforting too:
Through suffering he will attain to an eternal happiness which nothing can take from him. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)
‘Abdul-Bahá promises there’s light at the end of our suffering:
But the end of all these is bliss, overflowing joy, everlasting exultation, happiness and supreme contentment. It is eternal life, never ending glory, a lordly gift and divine sovereignty! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 547)
God promises that even the suffering of children will be compensated:
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. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 372).
With regard to the spiritual significance of the suffering of chil¬dren ‘who are afflicted at the hands of the oppressor’, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá . . . 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 af¬flictions that they bear in life become the cause for them of such an outpouring of Divine mercy and bestowal as is preferable to a hun¬dred 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).
God knows that we need suffering for the perfection of our souls, which is the purpose of our lives.
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. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquir¬ing forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so, likewise, the indis¬pensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world . . . By what means can man acquire these things? . . . through self-sacrifice [and] . . . through severance from this world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 226)
God uses suffering to build our characters. He wants us to trust Him, which is easy to do when things are going well, but not so easy when our lives are in chaos. It’s easy to obey God when we’re not being tempted, but when things get hard, it’s a lot harder:
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)
In every human being, there are two opposing forces. Our higher nature wants us to progress and our lower nature wants us to regress. Some people grow in faith through tests, while others lose their faith.
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. They cause progress and they also cause retrogression. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 324)
God wants us to develop perseverance through our trials. For example, if you plant a lawn and you want it to be green and healthy, you start out by watering the seeds, but once they take root, you have to deny them water in order for it to reach its roots down deep looking for it and becoming stronger. Otherwise, the roots will be too shallow to last long. By allowing us to face our hardships God helps us develop spiritual qualities:
If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in the ways of them that are content with My pleasure? If trials afflict thee not in thy longing to meet Me, how wilt thou attain the light in thy love for My beauty? (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 50)
If you see people who’ve gone through hard times, you’ll see a lot of depth there, which is attractive. I think God wants us to learn empathy: He comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others. If we haven’t gone through a hard time, we can’t relate to others going through the same test. Perhaps this is why Bahá’u’lláh says:
. . . the wisdom of every command shall be tested. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Ahmad, Baha’i Prayers, p. 208)
God wants us to grow closer to others, so that we can grow together through adversity. We can have pity on those who fall and have no one to pick them up. In our society, relationships have become very shallow, and men especially have no close friends. We value our independence and don’t know what it is to lean on other people in times of need:
Indeed the believers have not yet fully learned to draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to fully draw on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith . . . (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 8).
God wants us to learn to rely on each other, so He uses trouble to help us draw closer together in interdependence.
God wants us to draw closer to Him. When we feel close, that’s a high point in our lives. He uses the hard times to draw us closer, even though it feels like He’s abandoned us.
Can you think of other things that can come from suffering? Post your comments here:
For more in this series:
And previous blog postings on the same topic: