First we forgive; then we repent and finally we make amends.
To make amends for something means:
- To atone
- To compensate
- To apologize
- To recompense
- 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!