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The Process of Change

I first heard this story in a group for Adult Children of Alcoholics, nearly 25 years ago, and was delighted to find it again tonight.  If you aren’t familiar with it, I hope you enjoy it!  If you are, I hope you enjoy reading it again.

 

An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

A poem by Portia Nelson that appears in Claudia Black’s book. Repeat After Me

I

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in

I am lost . . . I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in . . . it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

 

 

Role of Free Will in Suffering

 

God created us perfect:

O SON OF BEING!

With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof.  (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 12)

And in that perfection, He also gave us a lower nature (ego, animalistic side) and free will.

Throughout history, mankind has used free will badly, but God won’t step in and intervene.

God in His justice gives His creatures the opportunity to carry out their duties without His interference; they have free will to behave as they please. Of course, He has full knowledge of how each individual will behave in discharging the obligations which the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh has placed on him but He leaves the person free to play his part and He does not judge him before he commits an error. This is similar to the relationship between a teacher and pupil. In the course of teaching his students the teacher usually comes to know the ability and capacity of each one. Suppose that he finds one of his pupils to be inattentive to his work and negligent in his school duties. He may be certain that his pupil is going to fail his examinations but foreknowledge of that failure does not entitle the teacher to prevent the student from taking part. It is the student’s prerogative to sit his examinations and no one has the right to deprive him of that privilege.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 258)

If people use their free will instead of aligning themselves with the will of God, they must bear the consequences:

There is, unfortunately, no way that one can force his own good upon a man. The element of free will is there, and all we believers — and even the Manifestation of God Himself — can do is to offer the truth to mankind. If the people of the world persist, as they seem to be doing, in their blind materialism, they must bear the consequences in a prolongation of their present condition, and even a worsening of it. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

The consequences might be personal (disease), or might affect a lot of people (floods, hurricanes, earthquakes):

According to the teaching of the Prophets, disease and all other forms of calamity are due to disobedience to the Divine Commands. Even disasters due to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are attributed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá indirectly to this cause. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 95)

The suffering that follows is not meant to be vindictive, but educative and remedial, helping us to turn back to the right path:

The suffering that follows error is not vindictive, however, but educative and remedial. It is God’s Voice proclaiming to man that he has strayed from the right path. If the suffering is terrible, it is only because the danger of wrongdoing is more terrible, for “the wages of sin is death.”  Just as calamity is due to disobedience, so deliverance from calamity can be obtained only by obedience. There is no chance or uncertainty about the matter. Turning from God inevitably brings disaster, and turning to God as inevitably brings blessing.  (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 95)

God won’t stop someone from acting in a certain way, but He is with us at all times:

In all the action or inaction of man, he receives power from the help of God; but the choice of good or evil belongs to the man himself.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 249)

For example, if we all had cushy lives, everyone would be Bahá’í, but no one would have come to the Faith through an act of faith.

While the Manifestations of God all shine with the splendours of God’s Revelation, they can reveal themselves in only two ways. The first is to appear in their naked glory. Should this happen, all human beings would witness their awesome power, would bow before their majesty and would submit their will entirely to God’s Viceregent on earth. People would thus become puppets of God and lose their free will; all would follow the path of truth, not by their own volition but by capitulating to the irresistible power of the Manifestation of God. By the force of God’s command, all would obey His teachings and would live a goodly life; no one would have the choice to be different. The Covenant of God would become meaningless because if there were no free will, how could human beings observe the laws of the Covenant? Should the Manifestation of God appear in this way and expose His august attributes to the generality of mankind, people would be devoid of the power of creativity, becoming creatures whose actions were controlled from a higher realm. The principles of justice and of reward and punishment would then become inoperative in society.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 17)

We may think we know what’s best for us and how to get it, but God’s plan is bigger than anything we can imagine.  It’s for the redemption of the entire human race.

We are told by Shoghi Effendi that two great processes are at work in the world: the great Plan of God, tumultuous in its progress, working through mankind as a whole, tearing down barriers to world unity and forging humankind into a unified body in the fires of suffering and experience. This process will produce, in God s due time, the Lesser Peace, the political unification of the world. (Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 133-34)

It’s easy to see what other people “should” do, but we can’t “make” them do anything:

There is, unfortunately, no way that one can force his own good upon a man. The element of free will is there, and all we believers — and even the Manifestation of God Himself — can do is to offer the truth to mankind. If the people of the world persist, as they seem to be doing, in their blind materialism, they must bear the consequences in a prolongation of their present condition, and even a worsening of it. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

This doesn’t mean God has abandoned us to our own selves.  He’s always standing ready to help, but we have to make the choice:

In all the action or inaction of man, he receives power from the help of God; but the choice of good or evil belongs to the man himself.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 249)

What are your thoughts on free will.  Post your comments below!

 

For more in this series:

Suffering is Inescapable

Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Misconceptions about Suffering

What Good Can Come From Suffering?

How Should We Respond To Suffering

How Can We Help Someone Who is Suffering

And previous blog postings on the same topic:

Why Does Life Have to Hurt So Much?

Suffering Through Tests:

Suffering is Not Optional, But We Can Change How Long We Stay Stuck: