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None of us get through life without having people hurt us in one way or another.  Most of us have been taught to nurse the hurt and seek revenge one way or another.  This approach to problem solving has got the world into a mess, which Baha’u’llah came to fix.  Everything He taught was about unity, and every part of His blueprint relates to unity one way or another.

In this next series of articles, we’re going to look at forgiveness, repentance and atonement as all parts of the puzzle.

I’ve learned that forgiveness is a 5 step Process:

  • Identify the hurt and the lies you told yourself because of it
  • Forgive yourself for believing the lies
  • Forgive the people who hurt you
  • Forgive God for sending you these tests
  • Ask God to forgive you for believing the lies and holding on to them

We can do this for every single incident we can think of.

It’s a simple process but unbelievably powerful, effective and life-changing.  I encourage you to try it once and you’ll be hooked! 

My Story

For the first 17 years of my life, I was subjected to some of the worst forms of abuse possible, at the hands of my parents.  By the standards current today, particularly in the abuse recovery movement, what was done to me was unforgiveable, and yet I forgave!

I came to realize that the abuse perpetrated on me by myself, was far worse than anything my parents had done to me, and I did it every minute of every day for the next 36 years.  How?  By believing the meaning I gave to their actions:  that I was unworthy; a worthless piece of XXX; unwanted; unloved; and unlovable.

I believed these lies I told myself about what it meant that my parents could treat me in such an abhorrent manner; as though I was a “thing”.  I told myself that if they treated me that way, they must not love me, therefore, I must not be loveable.

Believing these lies kept me from being able to seek out friendships and a second marriage; kept me from fulfilling my potential in the work-world, because they filled me with self-doubt, self-loathing, self-hatred and self-pity.

In short, I came to realize that I was full of self, which is exactly what the Bahá’í Writings teach us we need to let go of:

If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults and not the faults of My creatures, inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self better than he knoweth others.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 66)

If Baha’u’llah is right (and I’m sure He is!) that:

The world is but a show, vain and empty, a mere nothing, bearing the semblance of reality. Set not your affections upon it.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 328)

Then maybe I need to look at what’s going on through God’s eyes, instead of the eyes of the current world.  He tells us:

Close one eye and open the other. Close one to the world and all that is therein, and open the other to the hallowed beauty of the Beloved.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words)

With that in mind, everything I consider and reflect on is now done totally through the eyes of the Bahá’í Writings.  I certainly don’t have all the answers and I welcome other people to share their understanding of the Writings related to any given issue in a humble posture of learning, so that we can all advance the process of better understanding how to recover from abusive situations and forgive those who broke our hearts.

Expecting Others to Ask You for Forgiveness

It’s entirely possible that the person who committed the sin towards you is unwilling to ask for forgiveness.  In any case, they are required to confess it and ask for God’s forgiveness, not mans.

The sinner, when in a state wherein he finds himself free and severed from all else save God, must beg for forgiveness and pardon. It is not allowable to declare one’s sins and transgressions before any man, inasmuch as this has not been, nor is, conducive to securing God’s forgiveness and pardon. At the same time such confession before the creatures leads to one’s humiliation and abasement, and God exalted in His glory! — does not wish for the humiliation of His servants. Verily He is compassionate and beneficent!  (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i World Faith, p. 193-194)

They may even have passed on to the next world, and you are unable to talk to them about the impact their actions have had on you.  It’s still important to forgive.

As the spirit of man after putting off this material form has an everlasting life, certainly any existing being is capable of making progress; therefore, it is permitted to ask for advancement, forgiveness, mercy, beneficence and blessings for a man after his death because existence is capable of progression. That is why in the prayers of Bahá’u’lláh forgiveness and remission of sins are asked for those who have died. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 230)

Getting out of Unsafe Situations 

When the offense is ongoing, for example, where there is ongoing abuse or violence of any kind, you will need to get to a place of safety before starting the process of forgiveness.

Sometimes people are a little confused about the Christian teaching to “turn the other cheek.”  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:

Then what Christ meant by forgiveness and pardon is not that, when nations attack you, burn your homes, plunder your goods, assault your wives, children and relatives, and violate your honour, you should be submissive in the pres­ence of these tyrannical foes and allow then to perform all their cruelties and oppressions. No, the words of Christ refer to the conduct of two individuals toward each other.  If one person assaults another, the injured one should forgive him. But the communities must protect the rights of man.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, pp. 270-271)

It’s important to speak to the Assemblies who can provide guidance:

In general, it is preferable that the abused person rather than a third party bring the issue to a Local Assembly.  In some cases, the abused person may be willing to go to an Assembly if accompanied by a friend.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the united States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 63)

The local Spiritual Assembly can assist the individual believer to find a counsellor and with the believer’s permission can send a delegation to meet with the counsellor.  The aims, goals and standards of the Faith can be shared with the counsellor and the Assembly can ask for information on how they might better assist, encourage and support the individual concerned.  If the believer is willing, a release form may be signed by him, which would release information from the counsellor to the local Spiritual Assembly or which would enable information to be released by the local Spiritual Assembly to the counsellor concerned. (source unknown)

When it’s not safe to go to your local Assembly, go through the National!

However, there may be situations in which the abused person does not want to go to an Assembly directly and also does not want anyone else to bring the matter to an Assembly.  If the abuse is severe, this may present the third party with a difficult decision.  In some situations, reporting domestic violence to an Assembly might further endanger the abused party, particularly if there were to be a breach of Assembly confidentiality and the abuser were to become aware of the report.  This danger is particularly apparent when the alleged abuser or a relative or close friend of the alleged abuser, serves on the Assembly.  Any individual who is not sure how to proceed in a situation of domestic violence is encouraged to request guidance from the National Assembly.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the united States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 63)

In situations where the alleged abuser or relative or close friend of the alleged abuser is a member of the Assembly, it is suggested that the Assembly member receiving the report contact the National Spiritual Assembly for guidance rather than conveying the report directly to the Local Assembly.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the united States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 77)

Important Guidance

Here are some quotes to consider.

First of all, violent acts are forbidden and Assemblies are not to tolerate domestic violence.

The National Spiritual Assembly will not tolerate domestic violence and condemns its existence. Violent acts are forbidden. The Universal House of Justice has said: “Acts of violence might properly be regarded as a negation of the persistent emphasis on concord, understanding and unity which are at the heart of the Bahá’í Teachings.” (Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 22 September, 1983)

The Baha’i Faith recognizes that domestic violence is a criminal act connected with an inability or unwillingness to apply the principle of equality and to recognize the right of everyone to be treated with consideration and respect.

The National Spiritual Assembly wishes to convey to the Bahá’í community a clear message that acts of domestic violence are at complete variance with the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and that violence in the family is a practice to be condemned. In addition, domestic violence is a criminal act in the United States. Such behaviors, on the part of either men or women, are rooted in longstanding social practices connected with an inability or unwillingness to apply the fundamental spiritual principle of the equality of women and men, and to recognize the fundamental right of every human being to be treated with consideration and respect. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 20)

While we know that suffering may be the cause of spiritual development, it’s never a justification to

  • ignore abuse
  • fail to assist those who are suffering
  • fail to call to account one who is perpetrating abuse

Recognizing that suffering may be the cause of spiritual development is never a justification for inflicting or ignoring abuse, failing to assist those who are suffering abuse, or failing to call to account one who is perpetrating abuse. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 134)

If a woman suffers abuse or rape by her husband, she can turn to the Assembly for assistance and counsel and seek legal protection. This abuse would gravely jeopardize the continuation of the marriage and could well lead to irreconcilable antipathy.

If a Bahá’í woman suffers abuse or is subjected to rape by her husband, she has the right to turn to the assembly for assistance and counsel, or to seek legal protection. Such an abuse would gravely jeopardize the continuation of the marriage, and could well lead to a condition of irreconcilable antipathy. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself suggested that women remain faithful and forbearing towards her husband but if his cruelty became unendurable, she should leave him to himself and live separately from him:

There is a case recorded where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to a Western believer who had sought His advice. She was told that she should remain faithful and forbearing towards her husband but, should his cruelty become unendurable, she should leave him to himself and live separately from him, as this was better and more acceptable. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 July, 1987)

It takes courage to report an offence but it can provide the perpetrator with the motivation to change; and allowing the situation to continue through our silence could be a greater evil than the abuse itself.

This motivation [to change] is often propelled by the courage of those who report the offence, even in the face of the possibility of temporarily increasing the danger to the victim. Allowing the situation to continue, by silence, may very well be the greater evil. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Canadian Bahá’í News, Kalimát, B.E. 150, p. 44)

If Assemblies counsel a couple to stay together under these circumstances, there’s no guarantee the violence will not recur and if so, the Assemblies would appear to be condoning it.

If, alternatively, the couple is counseled to remain together to try and reconcile their differences, there can be no guarantee that the violence will not recur, in which case the Assembly could appear, inadvertently, to be condoning it. (National Spiritual Assembly of Australia’s Policy Regarding Domestic Violence, From Australian Bahá’í Bulletin, July 1990)

Couples are encouraged to separate and seek treatment from professional counselors:

At present the prevailing method, within the Australian community, of treating domestic violence, is to advise the couple to separate and to seek treatment from professional counseling services. It is suggested that Assemblies follow this method of treating domestic violence also. (National Spiritual Assembly of Australia’s Policy Regarding Domestic Violence, From Australian Bahá’í Bulletin, July 1990)

Overcoming domestic violence in Baha’i communities requires us to develop an environment where:

  • abusive behavior is not tolerated
  • individuals are sensitive to the warning signs of abuse
  • no individuals or families are so isolated that they have no one to turn to in times of difficulty
  • there is a “spirit of loving encouragement and support to families

Overcoming domestic violence requires developing an environment in the community in which abusive behavior is not tolerated, in which individuals are sensitive to the warning signs of abuse, in which no individuals or families are so isolated that they have no one to turn to in times of difficulty, and in which there is a “spirit of loving encouragement and support to families…” (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 119)

If you are in an abusive relationship, please get help!

A Brief Note on Justice

There is a difference between justice and forgiveness.  We all have to meet our Maker and justice is in the hands of God.  This is why we’re told to call ourselves to account each day.  When we repent for our failures, God forgives us and that’s the end of it.

Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 31)

He promises He notices everyone’s sins:

Think not the secrets of hearts are hidden, nay, know ye of a certainty that in clear characters they are engraved and are openly manifest in the holy Presence.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 59)

Verily I say, whatsoever ye have concealed within your hearts is to Us open and manifest as the day; but that it is hidden is of Our grace and favor, and not of your deserving.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 60)

Know, verily, that while the radiant dawn breaketh above the horizon of eternal holiness, the satanic secrets and deeds done in the gloom of night shall be laid bare and manifest before the peoples of the world.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 67)

He’s promised to never forgive another man’s injustice:

O OPPRESSORS ON EARTH!

Withdraw your hands from tyranny, for I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed with My seal.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 64)

Justice is also in the hands of the institutions:

. . . the Universal House of Justice underscores the responsi­bility of the Institutions of the Faith in unequivocal language: “It is inevitable that this community will, at times, be subject to delinquent behaviour of members whose actions do not conform to the standards of the Teachings. At such times, the institutions of the Faith will not hesitate to apply Bahá’í law with justice and fairness in full confi­dence that this Divine Law is the means for the true happiness of all concerned.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 24 January, 1993)

Forgiveness is in the hands of the individual.  It’s important that we not get the two (justice and forgiveness) mixed up:

It should be realized that there is a distinction drawn in the Faith between the attitudes which should characterize individuals in their relationship to other people, namely, loving forgiveness, forbearance, and concern with one’s own sins, not the sins of others, and those attitudes which should be shown by the Spiritual Assemblies, whose duty is to administer the law of God with Justice.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 110)

My Story

There’s a big temptation to focus on the injustices, to want to bring “the other guy” to justice, but this is not our job.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us to have patience and overlook the person’s shortcomings for the sake of love and affection.

If one of thy relations oppress thee, complain not against him before the magistrate; rather manifest magnificent patience during every calamity and hardship. Verily thy Master is the Lord of Faithfulness! Forgive and overlook the shortcomings which have appeared in that one, for the sake of love and affection.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 97)

Part of my experience as a child was witnessing and unknowingly participating in ritualistic murders.  When trying to process this through Baha’i eyes, I found several quotes which led to my understanding.

In the first, the Báb tells us that whatever we wish for our parents, our recompense would be a thousand-fold:

Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense!  (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 94)

At that time, all I wished for my parents was vengeance, exposure and abasement, so this quote brought me up short!  This world had been such a disappointment, that I wanted to do everything I could to guarantee that the next world would be better, so this was important advice!  I needed to start praying for the advancement of their souls; and God’s mercy and forgiveness instead!

Now I try to remember to say this prayer for them every day:

O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love, Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 64)

Next I found a quote which suggests that if a murderer is charged with murder in this world, he wouldn’t face another punishment in the next world:

As to the question regarding the soul of a murderer, and what his punishment would be, the answer given was that the murderer must expiate his crime: that is, if they put the murderer to death, his death is his atonement for his crime, and following the death, God in His justice will impose no second penalty upon him, for divine justice would not allow this.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 179)

I thought it was my job to have my parents charged, so that they wouldn’t have to face God’s wrath, but when I wrote to the House of Justice about this, they wisely told me:

You enquire whether you should take action to have your parents charged with murder, following the death of your brother. You should ascertain from a competent lawyer what are your legal obligations in this regard, and follow such requirements. If there is no legal obligation, it is left to your discretion to decide on this matter, in light of the circumstances. However, you might well ask yourself, in the course of this decision-making, what beneficial result is to be gained from such an action, more especially if the action occurred some years ago and if legally-acceptable proof is difficult to establish; you should also weigh carefully the effect this might have on yourself, in the process of re-opening the subject, testifying about it in court, and doubtless incurring the antagonism of your parents.  (Universal House of Justice, to me 9 September 1992)

While this was the guidance sent to me, specific to my situation, it may not be applicable in every situation.

I did consult with a lawyer, who told me the case had exceeded the statute of limitations; and I couldn’t apply for victim’s compensation because the murders had taken place in another jurisdiction with different regulations.  So I was off the hook and I was grateful!

We are All Sinners

The Writings tell us that:

We are all sinners.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 176)

Knowing ourselves is our responsibility and a full time job.  Baha’u’llah tells us:

The first Taráz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty . . . (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 34-35)

So we are to focus all of our attention on ourselves, and to not even breathe the sins of others:

Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 27)

Each of us is responsible to God for our own lives; and none of us is perfect.  Catching our own sins and asking God for forgive us requires all of our attention:

Each of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect: and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will-power and energy… On no subject are the Bahá’í teachings more emphatic that on the necessity to abstain from fault-finding, while being ever eager to discover and root out our own faults and overcome our own failings.”  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)

So it’s not appropriate to look to the abuser and focus on what they did to us, but to focus all of our energy on perfecting our own souls and looking after our own spiritual development.

Shoghi Effendi succinctly tells us what happens when we focus on the sins of others:

If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)

How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments below!