So what Christ meant by forgiveness and magnanimity is not that if another nation were to assail you; burn your homes; plunder your possessions; assault your wives, children, and kin; and violate your honour, you must submit to that tyrannical host and permit them to carry out every manner of iniquity and oppression. Rather, the words of Christ refer to private transactions between two individuals, stating that if one person assaults another, the injured party should forgive. But the body politic must safeguard the rights of man. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 2014 ed. p. 77)
When I first came into the Faith someone introduced me to the idea that “If some one commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him.” (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 453), so I thought everything I needed to know about forgiveness was embedded in this quote. To compound the problem was the reputation that Bahá’ís (and Canadians) have of “being nice”. So being nice and being a good Bahá’í meant I was to instantly forgive. I knew I wasn’t at that standard. There were things that happened in my childhood that I couldn’t forgive. As a child, I did “submit to a tyrannical host and permit them to carry out every manner of iniquity and oppression” and no one safeguarded my rights. So where did that fit in? Sadly, in the many decades since, children are still being abused in their homes and society is doing little to protect them or to bring the perpetrators to justice and even when they do, the sentences don’t usually match the severity of the crimes. So what’s a Bahá’í to do?
I don’t understand (so I don’t like) the term “body politic”. In a previous translation of this quote, the word “communities” was used instead. So it seems clear. The standard is for us to forgive what’s done to us AND the communities must safeguard our rights. We’re not there yet as a society, but it’s helpful to know where the bar is to reach towards, so we can realign our thinking and our behavior. I can’t stop the tyrannical hosts, but I can call 911. I can reach out for help from the Institutions of the Faith. I can help the “body politic” hold the perpetrators accountable and I can lobby on behalf of others.
Knowing I’m not powerless against a tyrannical host, I am grateful.
What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation? I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!
If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Forgive