What is faith?
Ruhiyyih Khanum describes it this way:
THIS IS FAITH
by Amatu’l-Bahá Ruhiyyih Khanum
To walk where there is no path
To breathe where there is no air
To see where there is not light-
This is Faith.
To cry out in the silence,
The silence of the night,
And hearing no echo believe
And believe again and again-
This is Faith.
To hold pebbles and see jewels
To raise sticks and see forests
To smile with weeping eyes-
This is Faith.
To say: “God, I believe” when others deny,
“I hear” when there is no answer,
“I see” though naught is seen-
This is Faith.
And the fierce love in the heart,
The savage love that cries
Hidden Thou art yet there !
Veil Thy face and mute Thy tongue
yet I see and hear Thee, Love,
Beat me down to the bare earth,
Yet I rise and love Thee, Love !”
This is Faith.
Faith and fear are both belief systems. You have to choose which one you’re going to follow. You cannot defeat fear without faith.
God wants us to have faith in Him in all things. Nothing is more important.
No matter what happens, nothing is as important as our feeling of trust in God, our inner peacefulness and faith that all, in the end, in spite of the severity of the ordeals we may pass through will come out as Bahá’u’lláh has promised. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 237)
The words of God will defeat fear (which is the work of our lower nature) and give us faith in God’s plan for us. Faith is one of God’s attributes, which He’s already bestowed on us.
Faith is walking with God as far as we know how to walk and then taking the next step into the black oblivion, and then keep on walking. We don’t know what’s next so we keep on going because He tells us:
As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 504)
All healing comes from the Word of God but we just can’t acquire faith simply by reading the Word of God.
We have to trust the One who wrote it
We have to trust His words
We have to act on them.
This is an important three-part process.
When I first became a Baha’i, I somehow managed to accomplish the first two but ever since then I’ve been picking and choosing which Writings to act on: the easy ones. I was like a child stuffing myself with candy and relishing every mouthful so I didn’t have room for the whole meal.
Our hopes are what motivate us, because that is what faith is. We hope to be freed from anxiety, we accept Baha’u’llah’s authority, we immerse ourselves in His words and then we act on them in faith. The process draws us closer to God, because nowhere else will you find this approach to healing anxiety. You have to try it in faith, trusting God’s authority.
Fear produces an emotion and feeling that we think is real but they are just emanations of our lower nature. We could also call them veils between us and God, or sin.
God gave us emotions to enhance our lives. The emotion of fear was intended to alert us to real danger so our bodies can activate the fight or flight response. When a person panics, their cerebral cortex sends signals to the hypothalamus gland—the brain of the endocrine system. It in turn sends out impulses and chemicals that make the body respond with a faster heartbeat, slower metabolism, an adrenaline rush, dry mouth, shaking knees, etc. This “fight or flight” reaction normally lasts only a few minutes. However, when a person is in bondage to fear, when stress and anxiety are a way of life, their body is going to stay stuck in this reaction.
Many of us live lives ruled by another kind of fear that comes from an imagined enemy, and this was not given to us by God. This fear is not the fight or flight God created us with but an aberration. It does not warn us or protect us, but instead brings about our destruction because we put our faith in the wrong thing. We weren’t wired to remain in constant “fight or flight,” and many serious illnesses are the result of the body being on constant high alert.
Faith and fear are both belief systems starting in our imagination. Both project into the future and both demand to be fulfilled. If we’re going to use it to imagine the worst, why not use it to imagine the best?
You have no guarantee that the object of your faith will ever happen or that the object of your fear will ever happen. We’re giving more faith to what we fear than what we should believe in (that God has a plan and His plan is better for us than anything we could conceive).
Imagination is the link between fear and faith. One comes from God and the other comes from the imagination of a darkened soul:
Knowledge is divided into two kinds: – divine knowledge and satanic knowledge. One appears from the inspiration of the Ideal King; the other emanates from the imaginations of darkened souls. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 23)
Fear and anxiety always project into the future, and they focus on something specific, perhaps a person or thing in our environment. It’s true that imagination is a quality of the soul, but ‘Abdu’l-Baha makes a distinction between idle fancies and vain imaginations – one has fruit and the other doesn’t.
But many things come to the mind of man which are like the waves of the sea of imaginations; they have no fruit, and no result comes from them. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 252)
Fear is not real, though. It’s just our lower nature at work. Once you understand that and separate yourself from fear, your quality of life will greatly improve.
Baha’u’llah doesn’t want us to make fear our god:
O My brother! Forsake thine own desires, turn thy face unto thy Lord, and walk not in the footsteps of those who have taken their corrupt inclinations for their god, that perchance thou mayest find shelter in the heart of existence, beneath the redeeming shadow of Him Who traineth all names and attributes. (Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 48-49)
Take heed lest thou cling to the cord of idle fancy and withhold thyself from that which hath been ordained in the Kingdom of God, the Almighty, the All-Bountiful. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 62)
God asks us to have faith in Him, and to fear Him and nothing else:
Fear ye God and follow not your idle fancies and corrupt imaginings, but rather follow Him Who is come unto you invested with undeniable knowledge and unshakeable certitude. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 61)
When we don’t, we’re guilty of sin.
Fear is a lack of trust in God. It makes us sinners because God told us not to fear. If he tells us not to have fear and we do, it’s a sin, even though we might not want to think of it that way.
How do the Writings link sin and fear?
Wash away, then, my sins, O my God, by Thy grace and bounty, and reckon me among such as are not overtaken by fear nor put to grief. Thou art, verily, the Almighty, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 212)
Before the throne of Thy oneness, amid the blaze of the beauty of Thy countenance, cause me to abide, for fear and trembling have violently crushed me. Beneath the ocean of Thy forgiveness, faced with the restlessness of the leviathan of glory, immerse me, for my sins have utterly doomed me. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 234)
God wants us to quaff from His teachings and not from the god of our idle fancies and vain imaginations:
Cleanse them, then, O my God, from all idle fancies and vain imaginations, that they may inhale the fragrances of sanctity from the robe of Thy Revelation and Thy commandment. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 307)
He wants us to secure His good pleasure, but we can’t do it if we have faith in the wrong thing:
The object of thy belief in God is but to secure His good-pleasure. How then dost thou seek as a proof of thy faith a thing which hath been and is contrary to His good-pleasure? (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 122)
It’s important that we understand that choosing to hold on to fear is sin. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that loss of faith is blameworthy because the soul is then overwhelmed by desires and passions, and man will become a source of imperfections, for which he is held responsible.
The differences among mankind are of two sorts: one is a difference of station, and this difference is not blameworthy. The other is a difference of faith and assurance; the loss of these is blameworthy, for then the soul is overwhelmed by his desires and passions, which deprive him of these blessings and prevent him from feeling the power of attraction of the love of God. Though that man is praiseworthy and acceptable in his station, yet as he is deprived of the perfections of that degree, he will become a source of imperfections, for which he is held responsible. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 130)
Nonetheless, most of us seem to learn by doing, and learn from our mistakes, and in this God is reassuring. He tell us we are all sinners, so we shouldn’t be afraid of the word, or the label. It’s just the reality of our life and everyone else’s too.
We are all sinners, and Thou art the Forgiver of sins, the Merciful, the Compassionate. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 176)
In the Tablet of Ahmad, it says “the wisdom of every command shall be tested” so how can we test the wisdom of God’s command if we don’t sin (make mistakes, fall short)?
Since the purpose of our lives is to know and love God, everything that happens to us is uniquely designed to bring us to this place. We sin and feel the consequences so that we can recognize it, turn to God and ask His forgiveness. This is where faith comes in.
Without faith, we’re bereft of all powers and blessings:
And now I give you a commandment that shall be for a covenant between you and me – that ye have faith; that your faith be steadfast as a rock that no earthly storms can move, that nothing can disturb, and that it endure through all things even to the end . . . As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. This is the balance – this is the balance – this is the balance. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Readings, p. 313)
What you fear is headed your way because it’s a form of faith, but it’s not God’s faith. It’s the faith in our lower nature and it has the power to overthrow God’s faith in our lives.
Fear is a lack of trust, and it says:
“God, you need help. You’re not doing things fast enough. You’re not answering the way I need you to answer. I wonder if you’re going to answer at all?”
We may not be saying this in words but that’s what’s happening inside.
Fear is a form of insanity because it reminds you of what you are not; of what you don’t have and of all the things in your life that you did wrong or failed to do. These thoughts get onto a hamster wheel that goes round and round, tormenting you for years!
Peace comes from God; fear comes from not believing God’s word and trusting it. We don’t have to be afraid. God loves us. He brought us to whatever is in front of us today, and He will bring us through it. He promises that victory always follows crisis.
[Life] brings each one of us crises as well as victories. Our own lives and even the lives of the central Figures of the Faith have been fraught with agony as well as blessing, with failure and frustration and grief, as frequently as with progress. This is the nature of life. (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 117)
It may take years and needs lots of patience. It’s important for us to see the end in the beginning, so we can hold on to our faith.
Look ye not upon the present, fix your gaze upon the times to come. In the beginning, how small is the seed, yet in the end it is a mighty tree. Look ye not upon the seed, look ye upon the tree, and its blossoms and its leaves and its fruits. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections, 40.3, p. 87)
If Fear is a form of faith and you believe what Fear says and not what God says, then according to your Fear-faith so be it unto you. Both are demanding to be fulfilled.
Yesterday’s projected fear is here today. Today I have blessings and troubles from yesterday’s beliefs. What I’m feeling today is being projected onto tomorrow could be fulfilled.
Man must not imagine disease but must ever trust God. Anyway, a man’s life here in this world is temporary. He is in a world that is like a house, susceptible to every invasion, and God must protect man—man must be submissive to God. He must not occupy himself with things—imaginings. If a man thinks too much of his health, he will become afflicted. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Throne of the Inner Temple, p 22)
Is this truly what you want to have faith for?
‘Abdu’l-Bahá suggests it’s wise to avoid this kind of “fate”.
But conditional fate may be likened to this: while there is still oil, a violent wind blows on the lamp, which extinguishes it. This is a conditional fate. It is wise to avoid it, to protect oneself from it, to be cautious and circumspect. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.244)
How then do we acquire faith? In the Covenant of Baha’u’llah, Adib Taherzideh gives us some clues.
To achieve this exalted goal man needs to recognize the station of Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for this age and then observe His commandments with clear vision, mature reflection and a prayerful attitude. This can be achieved through deepening one’s knowledge of the Faith and in serving His Cause. It is then that the heart will become the recipient of the knowledge of God, and will attain certitude in its faith. It is then that obedience to the teachings of the Faith becomes wholehearted, as the individual grasps the significance of God’s commandments, and comes to understand their wisdom, their excellence and their necessity. It is then that his thoughts, his vision, his aspirations, his words, and his deeds will all be in harmony with the Covenant of God. And it is then that his soul will acquire spiritual qualities and virtues. This is the ultimate outcome of obedience to the Covenant, which will enable the soul to progress in the spiritual worlds of God. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, p. 28)
To acquire faith man must cast out the ‘stranger’ from his heart. To the extent that he succeeds in doing this, he will acquire faith. Once the spark of faith is ignited within the heart it must be allowed to grow steadily into a flame, otherwise it could die because of attachment to this world. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 217-218)
Faith comes to a man through submission to God. The surrendering of the self with all its accomplishments renders the soul free of attachment to this mortal world. It drives the ‘stranger’ away from the heart and enables him to receive the ‘Friend’ within its sanctuary. Bahá’u’lláh states: O Son of Man! Humble thyself before Me, that I may graciously visit thee… In another passage He reveals: O Son of Man! If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself; and if thou seekest My pleasure, regard not thine own; that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 220)
To sum up these quotes, we need to:
- recognize the station of Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for this age
- observe His commandments with clear vision, mature reflection and a prayerful attitude.
- deepen one’s knowledge of the Faith
- serve His Cause.
- cast out the ‘stranger’ from his heart.
- allow the spark of faith to grow steadily into a flame
- submission to God
- surrendering of the self with all its accomplishments
It’s possible to have fear disguised as faith.
Have you ever heard a voice that sounds like it’s coming from God because it comes from the Writings? Be careful, because it could be your lower nature trying to trick you! It’s a kind of fear-based faith; a counterfeit faith. It’s dangerous because it doesn’t come out of real believing, but out of a fear need.
For example: I suffer from the addiction of perfectionism. My life so far has been so full of misery that I want to do everything in my power to ensure that the next life is better than this one. Much of what I’ve done in the past to follow every single law and injunction has been for the wrong reasons. It’s come out of fear of God’s punishment; that if I don’t do it all and do it right, I will be making the next world just as bad, or worse than this one. As you can imagine, this hasn’t been much fun!
For years I was listening to the wrong Writings and using them to beat myself up, in the name of “calling myself to account”. The abuse I was perpetrating on myself was far worse than anything anyone else had ever done to me!
The messages that I heard were that it was important to get off of disability and “earn my livelihood by my calling”, otherwise my life would “not bring forth fruit” and therefore only be “fit for the fire”.
Can you see how punitive this voice was? Even though these quotes can all be found in the Writings, I was taking the wrong “remedy” and wondering why I was getting sicker.
One way to know if a voice is coming from your lower nature or from God is to ask yourself whether it’s loving or condemning. God’s voice is always loving. The voices I was listening to were definitely condemning!
I now know that God has another plan for me. Now I trust that my job is to be of service and His job is to look after the money. I’m a lot less stressed, knowing He’s forgiven me and in His mercy, He’s kept me out of a workforce I’m not equipped to handle.
Here’s another example:
Fear took me all over North America looking for healing, in the name of faith. I was praying for healing and it wasn’t happening the way I thought it should, so I went from healer to healer trying to find the right one for me. It says in the Baha’i Writings that we are to find the best healer even if we have to go to another city to find one so at one point I even went to Hawaii to work with a Baha’i healer there. I believed that God was being faithful to his word, because suddenly the money appeared so I could go. That’s what fear was doing to me. I wanted to get healed but I didn’t know that my need was driven by fear. If you’d told me I would’ve denied it. This was not God’s will at all, since I was putting my faith in the healer and not in the “Divine Physician” and His “Divine Remedy.” By sharing these teachings with you, I hope you’ll know where and how to look for and apply the right “remedy” for your anxiety!
Every time we turn from fear to faith, we can hear ‘Abdu’l-Bahá cheering us on:
Thy letter was like a perfumed nosegay and from that nosegay the fragrance of faith and assurance was inhaled. Well done! Well done! that thou hast turned thy face toward the invisible Kingdom. Excellent! Excellent that thou art attracted to the Beauty of His Highness the Almighty! Well done! Well done! How happy thou art that thou hast attained to this Most Great Gift! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 530)
For More in this Series:
What stood out for you as you read this? Post your comments here: