When I began to speak about the abuse that happened in our family, I wrote to the House of Justice about how much contact I should have with them and they suggested:
Such an attitude (forgiveness and insight into their actions) does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such factors as their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past, the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings, and the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them. In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist. (Universal House of Justice to me, 9 September, 1992)
Based on this, I wrote letters to my parents, asking them to take responsibility for their actions by paying for my therapy and assuring me that my son would never be subjected to the same thing. They tried to have me declared crazy and have my son taken away. When that didn’t work, I was shunned by my parents and siblings, and no matter what efforts I made to overcome it, my parents passed away still estranged and my brothers have shown no desire to heal the rift between us.
As someone working to bring unity to the world, the fact that I could not have unity within my own family has been a considerable source of pain for most of my adult life.
As I look around though, I realize that there has always been estrangement in families. I’m not as unique as I once believed. It seems we were created that way:
Souls are inclined toward estrangement. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
The love of family is limited; the tie of blood relationship is not the strongest bond. Frequently members of the same family disagree, and even hate each other. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
How often it happens that in a family, love and agreement are changed into enmity and antagonism. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 79-80)
In Ruhi Book 1 we spent much time discussing the 5 things that inflict the greatest harm on the Cause, estrangement being one of the five:
Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy, among the loved ones of God. Flee them, through the power of God and His sovereign aid, and strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
The Baha’i standard would have us love each other so much we’d spend our money and give up our own desires for each other:
Cause them to love one another so as to sacrifice their spirits, expend their money and give up their desires for each other’s sake! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)
That’s a hard standard to live up to!
What are the Causes?
This hatred and enmity, this bigotry and intolerance are outcomes of misunderstandings . . . This is the real cause of enmity, hatred and bloodshed in the world; the reason of alienation and estrangement among mankind. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 96)
Everything which conduces to separation and estrangement is satanic because it emanates from the purposes of self. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)
Effects of Estrangement:
This “Most Great Separation”, as Bahá’u’lláh referred to the severing of the relationship [between Himself and Mírzá Yahyá], perplexed and confused believers who were unfamiliar with Mírzá Yahyá’s conduct … The anguish it brought upon Bahá’u’lláh is reflected in the term He used to refer to this period – Ayyám-i-Shidád, the “Days of Stress”. (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)
Death and Dissolution:
Consider how clearly it is shown in creation that the cause of existence is unity and cohesion and the cause of nonexistence is separation and dissension. By a divine power of creation the elements assemble together in affinity, and the result is a composite being. Certain of these elements have united, and man has come into existence . . . But when these elements separate, when their affinity and cohesion are overcome, death and dissolution of the body they have built inevitably follow. Therefore, affinity and unity among even these material elements mean life in the body of man, and their discord and disagreement mean death. Throughout all creation, in all the kingdoms, this law is written: that love and affinity are the cause of life, and discord and separation are the cause of death. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)
‘Abdu’l-Baha becomes overwhelmed by grief:
I swear this by the beauty of the Lord: whensoever I hear good of the friends, my heart filleth up with joy; but whensoever I find even a hint that they are on bad terms one with another, I am overwhelmed by grief. Such is the condition of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Then judge from this where your duty lieth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 231)
How to Prevent Estrangement:
Through love, respect and courtesy:
Where love, respect and courtesy are genuinely and mutually expressed, estrangement finds no accommodation and problems become soluble challenges. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
You have asked, however, for specific rules of conduct to govern the relationships of husbands and wives … If, God forbid, they fail to agree, and their disagreement leads to estrangement, they should seek counsel from those they trust and in whose sincerity and sound judgement they have confidence, in order to preserve and strengthen their ties as a united family. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 456)
How to Live with Estrangement:
You may have to sever your ties:
Although Bahá’u’lláh tried to conceal Mírzá Yahyá’s attempt on his life from His companions, further acts of treachery and betrayal forced Him to sever all ties with His younger half brother. (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)
Steps should first be taken to do away with this estrangement, for only then will the Word take effect. If a believer showeth kindness to one of the neglectful, and, with great love, gradually leadeth him to an understanding of the validity of the Holy Cause, so that he may come to know the fundamentals of God’s Faith and the implications thereof—such a one will certainly be transformed. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
Ways to Overcome Estrangement:
Through the powers of the Holy Spirit:
It is clear that limited material ties are insufficient to adequately express the universal love … No worldly power can accomplish the universal love … the Holy Spirit will give to man greater powers than these, if only he will strive after the things of the spirit and endeavour to attune his heart to the Divine infinite love. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
Bring them together again, O Lord, by the Power of Thy Covenant, and gather their dispersion by the Might of Thy Promise, and unite their hearts by the dominion of Thy Love! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)
Make every effort to remove any feelings of estrangement:
The people of the world are carefully watching the Bahá’ís today, and minutely observing them. The believers must make every effort, and take the utmost care to ward off and remove any feelings of estrangement. (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 207)
Fix your gaze on unity:
Shut your eyes to estrangement, then fix your gaze upon unity. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 67)
Love each other in God and for God:
When you love a member of your family or a compatriot, let it be with a ray of the Infinite Love! Let it be in God, and for God! Wherever you find the attributes of God love that person, whether he be of your family or of another. Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
Through truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness:
Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness; that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Bahá, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancor may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 445)
Through love, patience, resignation, forgiveness, friendship and reconciliation:
If the friends and relatives are keeping themselves at a distance from thee, be thou not sad, for God is near to thee. Associate thou, as much as thou canst, with the relatives and strangers; display thou loving kindness; show thou forth the utmost patience and resignation. The more they oppose thee, shower thou upon them the greater justice and equity; the more they show hatred and opposition toward thee, challenge thou them with great truthfulness, friendship and reconciliation. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 557-558)
Promote amity and concord and secure an active and whole-hearted cooperation:
They must endeavor to promote amity and concord amongst the friends, efface every lingering trace of distrust, coolness and estrangement from every heart, and secure in its stead an active and whole-hearted cooperation for the service of the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 38)
Benefits of Overcoming Estrangement:
Heaven will support you:
Heaven will support you while you work in this in-gathering of the scattered peoples of the world … You will be servants of God, who are dwelling near to Him, His divine helpers in the service, ministering to all Humanity. All Humanity! Every human being! Never forget this! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
The Grace of the Holy Spirit will be given and we will become the centre of the Divine blessings:
In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness…. If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One…. Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88-89)
Here’s a book you might find helpful:
How has this helped you understand this topic better? Post your comments below.
Sometimes we’re very hard on ourselves, and can’t forgive our mistakes in certain areas of life. Many of us lack self-esteem and consequently lose sight of life’s big picture.
When that happens to me, I often forget that life represents a collection of my good and bad actions—sort of a balance sheet that keeps track of my deeds, both good and bad. The negative side or the bad deeds are like an open account I have at a store or with a credit card company that keeps track of my purchases and payments. The expectation? Payments must be made by the end of the week or month at the most.
Our life’s open account is no different—because we are spiritually brought to account by the end of our physical existence. So when we know this tab is open, and understand that we are going to make many mistakes till we die, then why do we suddenly pick one mistake and become obsessed with it to the extent that we cannot forgive ourselves? Why one, when many could be singled out and made to be the stumbling block on the way of our human journey?
Forgiving others for what they have done is much easier for me than forgiving myself. The Bahá’í Teachings have a wealth of insight and knowledge on this subject to help us to forgive others—and ourselves. But my problem has always been being unable to forgive myself. For whatever reasons, my self-esteem has rarely been high enough to take me to the happier side of self-forgiveness. Even after finding out some great people too felt like me, not feeling worthy did not help me with my struggles. But when I read the holy scripture of many different Faiths, they take away some of the pain.
Even the great apostle Paul looked at his past with great regret:
For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9)
Shoghi Effendi considered himself a failure to “Rise to the situation the Master’s passing had placed him in” – and this distressed him for many years. (Rúhíyyih Rabbání, The Priceless Pearl, p. 72)
Maybe we need to be reminded that our account with the Creator remains open, and not let one mistake stop us from moving on with our lives. He has not given up on us, so why are we writing ourselves off? We will eventually balance our account.
As the result of doing so many wrong things in my life, I sometimes feel unbearable and paralyzed, filled with deep regret. This negativity reaches so high that I have to find ways not to deal with it, postponing that intense and difficult reckoning to some future time so that hopefully by then I am better equipped to face it and deal with it. So when those intense guilt attack moments occur, I repeat this to myself: “Please God, put it on my tab.”
That way I buy myself some time to deal with it later—to pray, to silently ask God for forgiveness, to find the inner strength to resolve to be a better and more spiritual soul.
By using this method I have survived many moments of utter despair. It also proved to me that God’s account with us is very flexible. He is kind because he sees our weaknesses and gives us opportunities to try again. Were it not for His flexibility, we would have had to give up trying.
The Baha’i teachings say that the coming of Bahá’u’lláh can wash our consciences clean, if we let it:
Now hath the Truth appeared, and falsehood fled away; now hath the day dawned and jubilation taken over, wherefore men’s souls are sanctified, their spirits purged, their hearts rejoiced, their minds purified, their secret thoughts made wholesome, their consciences washed clean, their inmost selves made holy: for the Day of Resurrection hath come to pass, and the bestowals of thy Lord, the Forgiving, have encompassed all things. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 38).
I finally resolved this inner problem later in life, when I made a pilgrimage trip to the Baha’i World Centre in the Holy Land. There I met a very wise Bahá’í who noticed my troubles, when I could not find myself worthy enough to go to the Baha’i Shrines. This wise person asked me if I believed God is forgiving, and I said yes. He said do you think he has forgiven you for the bad things you have done? I said I am sure He has. Then he looked at me with a look of disappointment and said “then who the hell do you think you are? Are you higher than God? Forgive yourself! He has!”
In that moment, my spiritual eye opened for the first time and I could see my life clearly.
When we occupy our minds and souls obsessively with negative thoughts, we lose sight of the big picture and forget who runs the show. If God has forgiven all your shortcomings, please do yourself a favor and accept it with gratefulness. After all, our lives are God’s gift to us, and He wants us to live wisely, cheerfully and free from guilt and regrets.
First we forgive; then we repent and finally we make amends.
To make amends for something means:
To say you’re sorry
To do penance
Atonement Done by the Manifestations
Real atonement was done by the Manifestations of God (including Christ), who bear every difficulty and ordeal in order to make us dawnings of light and confer on us eternal life.
As to the souls who are born into this world radiant entities and who through excessive difficulty are deprived of great benefits and thus leave the world — they are worthy of all sympathy, for in reality this is worthy of regret. It is for this purpose (that is, it is with regard to this wisdom) that the great Manifestations (of God) unveil themselves in this world, bear every difficulty and ordeal — to make these ready souls dawnings of light and confer upon them eternal life. This is the real atonement that His holiness Christ made-He sacrificed Himself for the life of the world. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 542)
Baha’u’llah consented to be made a prisoner, abased and bound in chains, so that the whole world would attain true liberty, attain abiding joy; be filled with gladness; be exalted, prosper and flourish:
The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness. This is of the mercy of your Lord, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We have accepted to be abased, O believers in the Unity of God, that ye may be exalted, and have suffered manifold afflictions, that ye might prosper and flourish. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 99)
The death of Mirza Mihdi, Baha’u’llah’s son, is an act of atonement comparable to those great acts of atonement associated with Abraham’s intended sacrifice of His son, with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn:
In a highly significant prayer, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh in memory of His son — a prayer that exalts his death to the rank of those great acts of atonement associated with Abraham’s intended sacrifice of His son, with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn — we read the following: “I have, O my Lord, offered up that which Thou hast given Me, that Thy servants may be quickened, and all that dwell on earth be united.” And, likewise, these prophetic words, addressed to His martyred son: “Thou art the Trust of God and His Treasure in this Land. Erelong will God reveal through thee that which He hath desired.” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 188)
It’s possible for us to follow His example, and atone for the sins of others by offering our suffering as a sacrifice, but not at the expense of our own health.
The Bahá’ís, in spite of their self-sacrificing desire to give the last drop of their strength to serving the Cause, must guard against utterly depleting their forces and having breakdowns. For this can sometimes do more harm than good, because they are so bound up in the lives of others…. “There is no doubt that there is vicarious atonement for others, and our sufferings sometimes can be in the nature of a sacrifice accepted for others. But where to draw the line is a mystery. If you take better care of your own health, and build up your reserves, it would certainly be better for you and for your work. Then your sensitive, yearning heart, although you may still often suffer for and with others, will be better able to withstand its trials, and you will not get so exhausted, which is certainly no asset to your work for the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 279)
It’s not only better for us to atone to God for our failures, but a commandment:
Arise, and, under the eyes of God, atone for your failures in duty towards Him. This is My commandment unto you, were ye to incline your ears unto My commandment. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 293)
There’s no bargaining with God on this one – we have to do it with a pure heart:
When, at a later time, Bahá’u’lláh had been banished to Baghdad, Husayn Khan sent Him a letter in which he expressed repentance and promised to atone for his past misdeeds on condition that he should regain his former position. Bahá’u’lláh refused to answer him. Sunk in misery and shame, he languished until his death. (Nabíl-i-A`zam, The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation, p. 197)
Atonement is between us and God; it’s not the same as asking another person for forgiveness.
Confession of sins and transgressions before human beings is not permissible, as it hath never been nor will ever be conducive to divine forgiveness. Moreover such confession before people results in one’s humiliation and abasement, and God — exalted be His glory — wisheth not the humiliation of His servants. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 24)
We can acknowledge we’ve done something wrong and ask someone for their forgiveness, but we aren’t obliged to do so:
. . . if we spontaneously desire to acknowledge we have been wrong in something and that we have some fault of character, and ask another person’s forgiveness or pardon, we are quite free to do so. The Guardian wants to point out, however, that we are not obliged to do so. It rests entirely with the individual. (From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 19 March, 1973)
If we’re punished for our misdeeds in this world it’s how we atone for our crime and we won’t be punished again in the next:
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-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 178)
He wants us to bestir ourselves so that the brief moments we have left on earth will not be dissipated and lost.
Bestir yourselves, that the brief moments that are still yours may not be dissipated and lost. Even as the swiftness of lightning your days shall pass, and your bodies shall be laid to rest beneath a canopy of dust. What can ye then achieve? How can ye atone for your past failure? (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 321)
There’s a degree of urgency to this, since we can’t atone for our sins in the next world:
Even as the swiftness of lightning your days shall pass, and your bodies shall be laid to rest beneath a canopy of dust. What can ye then achieve? How can ye atone for your past failure? (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 321)
It’s possible that there could only be a small window of opportunity and we wouldn’t want to miss it, as this man found out:
Siyyid Abdu’l-Baqi sat and listened to the Báb. He heard His voice, watched His movements, looked upon the expression of His face, and noted the words which streamed unceasingly from His lips, and yet failed to be moved by their majesty and power. Wrapt in the veils of his own idle fancy and learning, he was powerless to appreciate the meaning of the utterances of the Báb. He did not even trouble to enquire the name or the character of the Guest into whose presence he had been introduced. Unmoved by the things he had heard and seen, he retired from that presence, unaware of the unique opportunity which, through his apathy, he had irretrievably lost. A few days later, when informed of the name of the Youth whom he had treated with such careless indifference, he was filled with chagrin and remorse. It was too late, however, for him to seek His presence and atone for his conduct, for the Báb had already departed from Kashan. In his grief, he renounced the society of his fellowmen, and led, to the end of his days, a life of unrelieved seclusion. (Nabíl-i-A`zam, The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation, p. 221)
Be not despondent! As long as we’ve made efforts to forgive, repent and atone, He’s forgiven us and we are free from sin and error. God has purged us with His living waters and we’ve been born anew. We can be proud of ourselves for having attained this bounty.
We have attired his temple with the robe of forgiveness and adorned his head with the crown of pardon. It beseemeth him to pride himself among all men upon this resplendent, this radiant and manifest bounty. Say: Be not despondent. After the revelation of this blessed verse it is as though thou hast been born anew from thy mother’s womb. Say: Thou art free from sin and error. Truly God hath purged thee with the living waters of His utterance in His Most Great Prison. We entreat Him—blessed and exalted is He—to graciously confirm thee in extolling Him and in magnifying His glory and to strengthen thee through the power of His invisible hosts. Verily, He is the Almighty, the Omnipotent. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 77)
Now we give thanks, magnify His glory, and strengthened by the power of His invisible hosts, it’s time to forgive ourselves and move on! Thank you God for this great bounty!
Coming to forgiveness can be a process! Sometimes there’s something someone has done to us that seems so big, and so bad, that we can’t imagine ever being able to forgive.
Perhaps the idea of forgiveness might seem intellectually worthwhile; but at a heart level, we aren’t yet ready to let go and forgive. It’s at these times we can ask God to forgive the person for us.
That’s what I had to do with my parents.
As a child I was the victim of their sexual, physical and ritualistic abuse, for which they ultimately had their rights of parenthood removed. I knew from reading the writings that the standard was that I must “instantly forgive”, and I wanted to be obedient. I just didn’t know how. Coming to that place required a lot of little steps; and a LOT of understanding of the Bahá’í Writings on the purpose of life; the nature of tests and difficulties; justice etc.
When I took my question to the House of Justice they said:
As a devoted believer you are urged to strive to develop forgiveness in your heart toward your parents who have abused you in so disgraceful a manner . . . (Universal House of Justice to this author, 9 September, 1992)
You’ll note the date of this letter was 1992; and it wasn’t until 2010 that I was finally able to let it go and forgive them completely.
In the meantime, I was comforted knowing that I could “strive to develop forgiveness in my heart”.
The heart is the place where God resides, and He wants us to sanctify it for His descent.
In the Hidden Words alone, there are 37 references to the heart which teach us something about God’s desire to live there. Here are a couple of my favourites:
In the first one, Baha’u’llah tells us He’s given us everything except our hearts, which He made for His beauty and glory. He sees that we’ve given it to other things, including our hurt and anger, and whenever he found them there, He left, concealing our secret and desiring not our shame!
All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 27)
Because of this, we may never recognize that while we harbour unforgiveness, we can’t have God’s love too.
In the second one, Baha’u’llah says friend and foe can’t dwell in the same heart – or in this case, our love for him, and bitterness towards those who have hurt us. He’s asking us to cast out one, so we can have the other:
Ponder awhile. Hast thou ever heard that friend and foe should abide in one heart? Cast out then the stranger, that the Friend may enter His home. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 26)
All of this is helpful in advancing us along the process of forgiveness.
I was also comforted knowing that I could pray for my parents.
As I learned from the Báb:
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)
Obviously I wanted forgiveness for myself; so I recognized I had to ask forgiveness for them, and I did.
God can see our sincerity. He knows what’s in our hearts, and when we take one step towards becoming more in line with His teachings, He will take it from there; and start the healing and forgiveness process.
Here are two prayers you can use to ask God to forgive others:
O God, my God! Lowly, suppliant and fallen upon my face, I beseech Thee with all the ardor of my invocation to pardon whosoever hath hurt me, forgive him that hath conspired against me and offended me, and wash away the misdeeds of them that have wrought injustice upon me. Vouchsafe unto them Thy goodly gifts, give them joy, relieve them from sorrow, grant them peace and prosperity, give them Thy bliss and pour upon them Thy bounty. Thou art the Powerful, the Gracious, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Will and Testament, p. 19)
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, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 64)
Recently someone asked me if God would forgive an adulterer. I answered: Absolutely! There isn’t any sin too big for God. All we have to do is ask. He loves us so His mercy exceeds His fury! Once we’ve been forgiven, our sins are washed away!
Wherefore, hearken ye unto My speech, and return ye to God and repent, that He, through His grace, may have mercy upon you, may wash away your sins, and forgive your trespasses. The greatness of His mercy surpasseth the fury of His wrath, and His grace encompasseth all who have been called into being and been clothed with the robe of life. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 130)
God forgives anyone who asks! For those who sincerely want to change, He’s already forgiven us because he knows our intent.
We have assured forgiveness of sins, as known in the presence of the Best Beloved and in conformity with what Thou desirest. Verily His knowledge embraceth all things. (The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 54)
He’ll even forgive Covenant-Breakers!
It is important to note that should a Covenant-breaker recognize his mistakes, become conscious of his transgressions against the Cause of God and find the urge to repent, the Centre of the Cause, when satisfied he is sincerely repentant, will forgive his past deeds and restore his credibility and status as a Bahá’í in good standing in the community. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 240)
Not only does he forgive us, but he doesn’t want us to worry about our sins; but to be confident that we’ve been born anew from his forgiveness:
We have attired his temple with the robe of forgiveness and adorned his head with the crown of pardon. It beseemeth him to pride himself among all men upon this resplendent, this radiant and manifest bounty. Say: Be not despondent. After the revelation of this blessed verse it is as though thou hast been born anew from thy mother’s womb. Say: Thou art free from sin and error. Truly God hath purged thee with the living waters of His utterance in His Most Great Prison. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 77)
For this gift, He wants us to teach His Faith as a way to strengthen us from further temptation in this area.
We entreat Him—blessed and exalted is He—to graciously confirm thee in extolling Him and in magnifying His glory and to strengthen thee through the power of His invisible hosts. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 77)
Once I understood that God loved me and created me perfect, I realized I had to forgive the lies emanating from my lower nature about my being unworthy and unlovable. They weren’t God’s truth, therefore why would I make them mine?
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)
Then I had to look at the veils that had come between me and God as a result of my lack of forgiveness (anger, pride, self-pity, mistrust); and ask God for His forgiveness. I knew that I was forgiven because I started to feel lighter and happier, and because of quotes like this, I found myself doing more good deeds than ever before.
The more I grew in my understanding of God’s forgiveness, the more I realized that of course God has forgiven all of us! He did so a LONG time ago!
God hath forgiven what is past. Henceforward everyone should utter that which is meet and seemly, and should refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men. Lofty is the station of man! (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 219-220)
I took each individual act of abuse that had ever happened, for each person who had abused me. I looked at the lies I’d believed as an outcome of each single event. I forgave myself for each one; asked God for His forgiveness; and forgave each perpetrator. Immediately a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I’ve been free of anxiety (which is really fear) and depression (which is really self-pity) ever since.
Prayers for Forgiveness
God has given us prayers we can use when asking for His forgiveness:
Behold me, then, O my God, how I have fled from myself unto Thee, and have abandoned my own being that I may attain unto the splendors of the light of Thy Being, and have forsaken all that keepeth me back from Thee, and maketh me forgetful of Thee, in order that I may inhale the fragrances of Thy presence and Thy remembrance. Behold how I have stepped upon the dust of the city of Thy forgiveness and Thy bounty, and dwelt within the precincts of Thy transcendent mercy, and have besought Thee, through the sovereignty of Him Who is Thy Remembrance and Who hath appeared in the robe of Thy most pure and most august Beauty, to send down, in the course of this year, upon Thy loved ones what will enable them to dispense with any one except Thee, and will set them free to recognize the evidences of Thy sovereign will and all-conquering purpose, in such wise that they will seek only what Thou didst wish for them through Thy bidding, and will desire naught except what Thou didst desire for them through Thy will. Sanctify, then, their eyes, O my God, that they may behold the light of Thy Beauty, and purge their ears, that they may listen to the melodies of the Dove of Thy transcendent oneness. Flood, then, their hearts with the wonders of Thy love, and preserve their tongues from mentioning any one save Thee, and guard their faces from turning to aught else except Thyself. Potent art Thou to do what pleaseth Thee. Thou, verily, art the Almighty, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 335)
Cast, then, upon me, O my God, the glances of Thy mercy, and forgive me my trespasses and the trespasses of them that are dear to Thee, and which come in between us and the revelation of Thy triumph and Thy grace. Cancel Thou, moreover, our sins which have shut off our faces from the splendors of the Day-Star of Thy favors. Powerful art Thou to do Thy pleasure. Thou ordainest what Thou willest, and art not asked of what Thou wishest through the power of Thy sovereignty, nor canst Thou be frustrated in whatsoever Thou prescribest through Thine irrevocable decree. No God is there save Thee, the Almighty, the Most Powerful, the Ever-living, the Most Compassionate. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 337)
O God, my God! Have mercy then upon my helpless state, my poverty, my misery, my abasement! Give me to drink from the generous cup of Thy grace and forgiveness, stir me with the sweet scents of Thy love, gladden my bosom with the light of Thy knowledge, purify my soul with the mysteries of Thy oneness, raise me to life with the gentle breeze that cometh from the gardens of Thy mercy — till I sever myself from all else but Thee, and lay hold of the hem of Thy garment of grandeur, and consign to oblivion all that is not Thee, and be companioned by the sweet breathings that waft during these Thy days, and attain unto faithfulness at Thy Threshold of Holiness, and arise to serve Thy Cause, and to be humble before Thy loved ones, and, in the presence of Thy favoured ones, to be nothingness itself. Verily art Thou the Helper, the Sustainer, the Exalted, the Most Generous. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 4-5)
O Thou forgiving Lord! Thou art the shelter of all these Thy servants. Thou knowest the secrets and art aware of all things. We are all helpless, and Thou art the Mighty, the Omnipotent. We are all sinners, and Thou art the Forgiver of sins, the Merciful, the Compassionate. O Lord! Look not at our shortcomings. Deal with us according to Thy grace and bounty. Our shortcomings are many, but the ocean of Thy forgiveness is boundless. Our weakness is grievous, but the evidences of Thine aid and assistance are clear. Therefore, confirm and strengthen us. Enable us to do that which is worthy of Thy holy Threshold. Illumine our hearts, grant us discerning eyes and attentive ears. Resuscitate the dead and heal the sick. Bestow wealth upon the poor and give peace and security to the fearful. Accept us in Thy kingdom and illumine us with the light of guidance. Thou art the Powerful and the Omnipotent. Thou art the Generous. Thou art the Clement. Thou art the Kind. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 176)
O God! Sanctify me from all else save Thee, purge me from the dross of sins and transgressions and cause me to possess a spiritual heart and conscience. Verily thou art merciful and verily Thou art the Generous, the Helper. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 51)
I beg of God to forgive thy sins and to illumine thy face with the light of forgiveness, so that thou mayest conquer the self which desires the earthly world and prevent it from its wishes and appetites. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 80)
And here’s an easy mantra we can memorize and repeat often:
Forgive me, O my Lord, my sins which have hindered me from walking in the ways of Thy good-pleasure, and from attaining the shores of the ocean of Thy oneness. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 29)
How has God shown his forgiveness to you? Post your comments below.
We’ve all had people who’ve broken our hearts. It’s pretty universal. But what do we do with all the emotion around the heart-break? Forgive! Why?
The House of Justice tells us that to nurse a grievance or hatred towards anyone else is spiritually poisonous:
To nurse a grievance or hatred against another soul is spiritually poisonous to the soul which nurses it. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 5 January 1992)
The antidote is to see the person who hurt you as a child of God, and attempt to overlook his sins, if we want to remove bitterness from our soul:
To strive to see another person as a child of God and, however heinous his deeds, to attempt to overlook his sins for the sake of God, removes bitterness from the soul and both ennobles and strengthens it. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 5 January 1992)
We learn how to separate the sin from the sinner by seeing our oppressors as captives of their lower nature, whose actions only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God:
As a devoted believer you are urged to strive to develop forgiveness in your heart toward your parents who have abused you in so disgraceful a manner, and to attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
It’s not enough to forgive someone once, or even a few times. The Baha’i standard is to forgive someone a hundred thousand times:
. . . that if a person falls into errors for a hundred-thousand times he may yet turn his face to you, hopeful that you will forgive his sins; for he must not become hopeless, neither grieved nor despondent. This is the conduct and the manner of the people of Baha’. This is the foundation of the most high pathway! (Abdu’l-Baha, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 373)
Sometimes our need to forgive others can come to us in unexpected ways, as this story illustrates:
Why have you imprisoned my son? You only have three days to release him and ask for his forgiveness.
A Bahá’í who just returned from Iran told me the following story which apparently happened very recently in the city of Kerman (probably around March 1996). I am sure that someone will eventually record it properly and publish it along with other great stories from Iran . l have written it exactly as I heard it. The story really moved me and I hope that it will uplift everyone else as well. Feel free to distribute it to the friends. Warm Regards. Nili Moghaddam
One of the young Bahá’í of the city of Kerman in Iran had just started his mandatory military service in his town when one day he was approached by one of the mullás (priests) who are resident at Military Garrisons and provide “spiritual guidance” to the soldiers..
This mullá was referred to as Hájí and when he found out that this young man was a Bahá’í, he approached him and instructed him to publicly announce at next morning’s prayer assembly that he is a Bahá’í so that everyone would know. The young Bahá’í obeyed and agreed to comply with this instruction.. So the next morning when all the soldiers assembled for morning prayers and received the day’s instructions the young Bahá’í went in front of the crowd and he announced that he has been instructed by Hájí to tell everyone that he is a Bahá’í in case anyone would wish not to associate with him because of being a Bahá’í.
When he returned back to his duties, the Hájí approached him again and with great anger said, “I told you to only say that you are a Bahá’í. I didn’t ask you to give a lecture and tell them why, and now you have to be punished.”
So the Hájí instructed the other men to throw the young Bahá’í into a toilet room and keep him locked there until further instructions. So they locked up the young Bahá’í in a washroom and except for giving him a little food every day, kept him locked up. Almost two weeks had passed from his detention when one night this young Bahá’í soldier had a dream of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
In the dream ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed him with these words: “You have passed your test very well.”
The next morning, some soldiers opened the door and in great hurry took him to meet the Hájí. When they entered the room, the Hájí seemed very shaken and upset and with a trembling voice said: “The reason I released you from detention is that last night I had a very vivid dream in which a turbaned Siyyid (a descendent of Muhammad) addressed me and said: ‘Why have you imprisoned my son? You only have three days to release him and ask for his forgiveness.’ “So I am releasing you,” the Hájí said, “and I am begging for your forgiveness and will not go until you have forgiven me.”
The young Bahá’í soldier said that he has forgiven him.
Exactly three days later the Hájí died and just before he died he had told the story to his wife and children and had said to them, “Follow the way and example of this youth for the rest of your lives.”
I’ve gone through several stages in my understanding of if or why or how to forgive my abusers. In the early days, I found a quote which I assumed was the Bahá’í standard:
If someone commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 453)
I certainly wasn’t in a position to do that, but I sincerely wanted to be obedient, so my prayers in those days were: “OK God, I can’t forgive them, but You can, so please do!”
Then in one of my letters from the House of Justice, they told me:
As a devoted believer you are urged to strive to develop forgiveness in your heart toward your parents who have abused you in so disgraceful a manner, and to attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to this author, 9 September, 1992)
This was totally liberating! I loved their string of verbs “strive to develop”, which suggested that it could take a lifetime, and even if I never got there, as long as I was striving to develop, that was OK with God.
Secondly, I had to develop forgiveness “in my heart”, not between us! So if I was never able to spend time with them again, it was enough to develop it in my heart, between God and I.
Finally, they wanted me to separate my parents from their sin – a concept I’ve just learned recently, but when I come back to this quote now, I can see what this means “to attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature”. By refusing to forgive them, I was not honouring the perfect beings that God created, I was only seeing the monsters of their lower natures. That truly was liberating!
I thought that forgiving my parents would be the hardest thing, but once I understood this quote, it became easier:
To forgive him will not be easy, and this is not something to which either you or the members of your family can force yourselves. Nevertheless, you should know that forgiveness is the standard which individual Baha’is are called upon to attain. It is an essential part of the spiritual growth of a person who has been wronged. To nurse a grievance or hatred against another soul is spiritually poisonous to the soul which nurses it, but to strive to see another person as a child of God and, however heinous his deeds, to attempt to overlook his sins for the sake of God, removes bitterness from the soul and both ennobles and strengthens it. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 5 January 1992)
I found it comforting that the House of Justice understood how difficult it would be to forgive, yet they still upheld the standard to reach for.
It helped to understand that nursing a grievance is spiritually poisonous; and that by separating the person from the sin, not only would I remove the bitterness, but strengthen and ennoble my soul as well.
The key to being able to forgive was the compassion of the Institutions; understanding the law; and being given a concrete tool (separating the person from their lower nature etc) and how to use it.
Contact with Those Who Hurt Us
Having forgiven someone, you might still wonder how much contact to have with those who hurt you. The House of Justice offered me the following three steps, which you might find helpful:
Such an attitude [forgiveness] does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such factors as their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past, the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings, and the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them. In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist. (Universal House of Justice, to the author, 9 September 1992)
The steps to take include:
Be prudent (careful, cautious, practical, sensible, wise) in deciding upon the amount of contact you want to have
Determine their degree of remorse over what they did
Determine the extent of their present involvement in practices contrary to Bahá’í Teachings
Assess your level of vulnerability to being influenced adversely by them
Seek the advice of experts such as a therapist.
How has this helped you understand this topic? What’s been your experience? Post your comments below!