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We All See Reality Differently

Participants in a consultative process see reality from different points of view, and as these views are examined and understood, clarity is achieved.  (Office of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá’í World Centre, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 13.  Bahá’í Library Online)

I like this quote because it reminds me that not everyone sees reality from my point of view.  Nowhere has this been more obvious than during this pandemic, where my choice to adhere to government directives and guidance from the House of Justice has been at odds with the behaviour and actions of many of my closest Bahá’í friends.

I became aware of a huge difference of opinions during the first lockdown, when they chose to gather at a cottage for our semi-annual retreat at a time when people were being asked not to come up to their cottages and to avoid the 3-C’s (close faces; closed spaces and crowded places).  I was furious that they would so blatantly disregard the lockdown and potentially put each other at risk.  I was afraid that the gulf between us had widened to such a degree that I’d never be able to find my way back.  I found myself incredibly judgemental, superior and self-righteous and at the same time, I was also jealous because they were continuing on and having fun without me.  They continued to have a retreat in the fall, when we still weren’t allowed to gather in each other’s houses, and it is now is happening again in the third lockdown.  Many of them are not planning to get vaccinated and I wonder if I will ever feel safe to go back to these retreats again.  I am swimming in a sea of poisonous, attack thoughts aimed at people I thought of as my closest friends for over 30 years.

I realized that I had a choice.  I could find a way to allow a difference of opinion and approach them with love and forgiveness; or I could let my bitterness eat away at the foundations of our friendship.  I know how to walk away when the going gets rough.  Now I’ve had to learn how to apply the things I’ve been teaching others in this blog and in my books, so I can keep these friends and at the same time keep my integrity and walk with my head held high with the effect of my decisions too.  Consultation with others has been an important key to remind me that we all have COVID-fatigue and everyone has their limits.  This has helped me be more understanding, and please God, may I continue to let go of judgement so I can hold love in my heart.

Remembering that consultation helps me see reality from different points of view, I can relax and 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 Consult Effectively

 

 

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Promoting Health

 But man hath perversely continued to serve his lustful appetites, and he would not content himself with simple foods. Rather, he prepared for himself food that was compounded of many ingredients, of substances differing one from the other. With this, and with the perpetrat­ing of vile and ignoble acts, his attention was engrossed, and he aban­doned the temperance and moderation of a natural way of life. The result was the engendering of diseases both violent and diverse.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 152-153)

This is a scary quote for me because it means that if I want to have good health, I have to change the way I think about a lot of things:  I need to stop serving my lustful appetites (comfort eating, getting lost in social media, every addiction etc).

I need to be content with simple foods with simple ingredients (no packaged food, casseroles, most recipes).  I wonder what this means for Bahá’í pot lucks in the future!

And I need to stop perpetrating vile and ignoble acts (shameful, depraved, base, despicable, ugly, unworthy, worthless, wretched, evil, morally bad or wrong, immoral, unethical or perverted).

In addition to the more obvious breaking of Bahá’í law, this means I also need to give up things like telling or listening to tasteless jokes, taking advantage of others, selling shoddy goods, being in a bad mood, having a bad attitude, swearing, lying and backbiting.  “Ignoble” also means “common” and “completely lacking nobility in character or quality or purpose”, so in this age of the decline of the old world order, pretty much everything everyone around us is doing, will endanger our health if we don’t align our behavior with the Bahá’í Writings.

To protect myself from violent and diverse diseases, I need to focus on temperance and moderation as a way of life, and I am grateful to know these steps I can take.

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 Making Friends with Sin and Temptation

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13 Steps To Becoming Obedient

 

In a previous article, we’ve looked at Understanding Obedience, and now we’re going to look at how we can become obedient.

There are certain steps we can take on our path towards obedience:

  1. Enter into a covenant with God:

He must enter into a covenant with his Lord in order that he shall obey the divine commands.  (`Abdu’l-Baha:  Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 163).

  1. Fear God:

. . . lacking the fear of God an infinity of odious and abominable actions will spring up, and sentiments will be uttered that transgress all bounds.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 6)

  1. Mention God’s name day and night:

Fear thou God, thy Lord, and make mention of His Name in the day-time and at eventide. (The Bab, Fire and Light, p. 16)

Well is it with them who obey him, and call him to remembrance.  (Baha’u’llah:  Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 79)

  1. Don’t follow the faithless:

Follow not the promptings of the faithless, lest thou be reckoned among the exponents of idle fancies.  Faithfully obey the Primal Point Who is the Lord Himself, and be of the righteous. (The Bab:  Selections from the Bab, p. 160)

  1. Don’t follow the ungodly or those who are also committing sins:

Obey ye My commandments, and follow not the ungodly, they who have been reckoned as sinners in God’s Holy Tablet.  (Baha’u’llah:  The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 43)

  1. Make an effort so God can guide you:

Whensoever he hath fulfilled the conditions implied in the verse:  “Whoso maketh efforts for Us,” he shall enjoy the blessings conferred by the words: “In Our Way shall We assuredly guide him.”   (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 266)

  1. Guard yourself, defend your Faith and Oppose your passions (desires, hungers, cravings, lusts, urges, rage, fury, outbursts, obsessions, crazes):

Whoso among the learned guardeth his self, defendeth his faith, opposeth his desires, and obeyeth his Lord’s command, it is incumbent upon the generality of the people to pattern themselves after him.  (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 118)

  1. Pattern yourself after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

. . . he must guard himself, defend his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord.  It is then the duty of the people to pattern themselves after him.  (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 34)

  1. Have faith:

It is often difficult for us to do things because they are so very different from what we are used to, not because the thing itself is particularly difficult. With you, and indeed most Bahá’ís, who are now, as adults, accepting this glorious Faith, no doubt some of the ordinances, like fasting and daily prayer, are hard to understand and obey at first. But we must always think that these things are given to all men for a thousand years to come . . . Bahá’u’lláh would not have given us these things if they would not greatly benefit us, and, like children who are sensible enough to realize their father is wise and does what is good for them, we must accept to obey these ordinances even though at first we may not see any need for them. As we obey them we will gradually come to see in ourselves the benefits they confer.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 342)

  1. Let all your actions conform to His laws:

Through the power of faith, obey ye the teachings of God, and let all your actions conform to His laws.  (`Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 35)

  1. Sacrifice your personality:

They have to sacrifice their personalities, to a certain extent . . .  (Shoghi Effendi: Lights of Guidance, p. 83)

. . . when He desired to impress a person with the necessity of obeying the Teachings and rectifying his life, He never said: You must do thus and so, be self-sacrificing, see no fault in others, and so on — He always said: We must…  (Marzieh Gail, Dawn Over Mount Hira, p. 200)

  1. Know that no matter how difficult it might seem, the solution is within your power:

Certainly the problem confronting you is a difficult one.  However, its solution lies within your power . . . (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 366)

  1. Use doctors, pray and meditate and serve the Faith and your community:

You can be confident that with the help of doctors, by prayer and meditation, by self-abnegation and by giving as much time as possible to serving the Cause in your community you can eventually succeed in overcoming your problem.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 366)

What helps you become obedient?  Post your comments below.

The Nature and Challenge of Tests – a Summary of a Talk by Peter Khan

 

I was reading a talk by Peter Khan, former member of the Universal House of Justice this morning on the Nature and Challenge of Tests in which he gave some clear guidance on this topic, which I haven’t seen before. I encourage you to read his talk in its entirety – it’s so full of wisdom!

In an attempt to understand it myself, I have put together this summary and thought I’d share what I learned from the talk here. Let’s explore it together!

We can expect to be tested in the following ways:

1.    Intellectual tests from outside the Faith, from the onslaught of ecclesiastical leaders, the traditional defenders of religious orthodoxy which would be powerful detractors aiming at the extinction of the Faith from without.

2.    Tests which lead to an erosion of faith and belief and which can give rise to disorder in the Bahá’í community

Our challenge is to develop a sense of spirituality in an environment which is increasingly preoccupied and obsessed with the materialistic dimensions of life. We need to spiritualize our lives in order to develop a world view which accommodates the spiritual dimension of existence together with and having priority over its material dimension.

When this does not occur, we will find ourselves drawn inevitably into the materialistic perception of the world events and course of world history. WE will be obsessed with the fears, the anxieties, the preoccupations, the apprehensions and suspicions of those around us and our world view of the spiritual progress of humanity will be lost. Our community life will degenerate into ritualistic practice if this process of spiritualization is not embarked on and energetically pursued.

Why do we find it so difficult? I think it is because we–no matter how many Bahá’ís there are in any location, we are relatively few. We spend most of our lives interacting with people who are not Bahá’ís, some of whom are wonderful people of fine and exalted values and others are not. WE are subject to forces and influences and inclinations and advice and ideas which are essentially materialistic. And this unconsciously molds our world view.

The process of spiritual development rests upon three principles.

  • There are certain prescriptions given in the Teachings of our religion which we accept with faith on the understanding that if we follow these prescriptions, we will attract in a mysterious, incomprehensible manner a great spiritual power. This is a complex and difficult point for us to understand.
  • The second principle is that if we pray, if we fast, if we teach the Faith, if we practice unity, if we hold spiritual meetings, we attract spiritual forces and powers. You start off with a little bit. It attracts some forces, makes you stronger. You do more which attracts even more forces and so it builds up. And, in that sense, we are called upon to practice these spiritual virtues, to carry out these devotional practices–the practice of teaching and contributing to the Fund, of participating in the work of the Faith–confident that they will attract spiritual forces which will reinforce our endeavors and make us do even more and more.
  • The third principle is that of testing to see if we really have the fortitude, the strength, the determination to persist in the face of adversity, in the face of distraction, in the face of ridicule, in the face of the desire to relax, to avoid the hardship and the effort that is involved.

3.    We may be blinded by the standards and values of a non-Bahá’í society and by being blinded thereby may fail these tests.

We differ from the people around us very much in certain concepts. For example, we differ in the concept of duty. The concept of duty has in many ways become unpopular. But we are people of duty. We are people who do things we don’t particularly want to do out of a sense of duty. We are people who do things we find difficult, which we find uncomfortable, which we find disconcerting. Why? Not out of a desire for martyrdom, but out of a sense of duty.

We Bahá’ís are a people of duty. We are a people of discipline. We are a people of responsibility. We are a people who revere and honor such concepts as honesty and trustworthiness. We need to pass the test of spiritualization in a materialistic environment.

We need, above all, courage; the courage and the willingness to be different, to persevere, to persist in the work of the spiritualization of our lives irrespective of other considerations and the forces and influences of the people around us.

4.    We may underestimate the danger of such tests, of being complacent, of not becoming aware of these tests until it is too late.

5.    We are tested in our level of commitment to the betterment of humanity in an environment which is increasingly characterized by apathy and lethargy.

Those around us increasingly lack zeal and idealism and a passion for changing the world. Society around us has lost its vision. It lacks heroes and heroines. They have become discredited. Exposes have been written about them. They have been found to have feet of clay. There are no heroes. There are no heroines. There is no vision.

It is a matter of making it through day by day, being concerned only for one’s self because no one else is interested in us. You survive or not. It is a hard, cruel world out there.

We need to overcome the apathy and lethargy of society and stand apart as people dedicated to the creation of a new world.

What does this mean? How do we achieve this? How will it come about? I believe that we, as believers, need a far deeper understanding of the role of the Faith in the redemption of mankind.

I think if we can revive in our minds the vision of the magnitude of the aims and objectives of the Cause–aims which are far beyond human comprehension, which are feasible only because of the power of God which we believe animates Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation –if we do this, then we will revive that vision and we will become once more committed human beings dedicated to the welfare of humanity in this generation and countless generations yet unborn into the future.

6.    We’re tested by the need to acquire an entirely new attitude toward social organizations and institutions.

These attitudes are firstly that people are suspicious and distrustful of their government and its bureaucracy. They have found through bitter experience that their governmental leaders have become corrupt, that the bureaucracy of their social organization suffocates them, restricts their freedom and, in many ways, is a source of their suffering.

People in our society increasingly feel a sense of powerlessness in relation to their authorities. They find themselves insignificant, unable to change the system, doomed to suffer its adverse and oppressive circumstances and consequences. Therefore, they often resort to radical actions outside the system. They become terrorist. They become anarchists. They seek the overthrow of the system. They seek its destruction. They say, often with a certain justification, anything is better than what we’ve got.

The great mental test we face as believers is test that we may, unconsciously and inadvertently, transfer those attitudes from the larger society which is manifestly in decline into the Bahá’í administrative system.

That is our test. Because if we bring those attitudes in with us, without even realizing it, we will disrupt and damage the administrative system ordained by Bahá’u’lláh.

If we bring the way of the world into the Bahá’í Administrative Order, all we will do is temporarily disrupt it. All we will do is irreparably damage our own personal spiritual development.

7.    People today do not have a sense of community. They have learned, at bitter cost, not to trust each other, not to trust those who appear honest and upright and of good character because, so often, they have been found to be opposite. They have, therefore, developed a sense of extreme individualism, of worship of unfettered personal freedom.

8.  Our speculations about the coming calamity: One of the favourite and most wasteful and destructive practices in Bahá’í community life in certain quarters is that of speculation about calamity. I am sure you’ve all had experiences at certain times of spectacular remarks about the evaporation of skyscrapers and submarines off the coast and so on.

There is a passage–there are many passages in the Bahá’í Writings–where Shoghi Effendi says we don’t know in what form the calamity will occur. Calamity is occurring now and so on and so forth.

Solutions to These Tests:

We need to develop new attitudes.

We need to develop a far deeper understanding of the Covenants of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. It is not enough to sign the card to say, “I believe there is a Covenant. There are these people around with a variety of titles. Whatever they are I accept them. Fine, that’s it.” This is not enough, friends.

We will be swept away because there are dangerous forces in our society. There are insidious influences. We have to protect ourselves now, and our protection is deepening in the Covenant.

Let me read to you a very, very difficult and challenging paragraph from the Guardian. In this paragraph the Guardian makes statements which I would never dare to say. I read them because it is the Guardian. I am safe. You can’t attack me for reading them. The Guardian is writing. I would never had the courage to stand before you and make the kind of statements I am going to read to you now.

Shoghi Effendi says that “the believers need to be deepened in the knowledge and appreciation of the Covenants of both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. This is the stronghold of the faith of every Bahá’í, and that which enables him to withstand every test and the attacks of the enemies outside the Faith.” So far it’s not too bad. I would have said that. Now comes the difficult part.

“This is the stronghold of the Faith of every Bahá’í, and that which enables him to withstand every test and the attacks of the enemies outside the Faith and the far more dangerous, insidious, lukewarm people inside the Faith who have no real attachment to the Covenant, and consequently uphold the intellectual aspect of the teachings while at the same time undermining the spiritual foundation upon which the whole Cause of God rests.”

We need to make ourselves spiritually healthy:

We are here to make ourselves spiritually healthy and strong so that whoever they are, wherever they are, we are not to judge, but we will be immune to their dangerous, insidious influence.

We need to rethink what is criticism.

There is criticism and there is criticism. There are passages in the Writings which refer to criticism as being an appropriate measure, an appropriate element of Bahá’í consultative and community practice, and nobody is disagreeing with that. But what we also have in our Writings are references to the extremely dangerous character of what the Guardian refers to as “vicious and negative” criticism.

“Criticism and discussions of a negative character, which may result in undermining the authority of the Assembly as a body, should be strictly avoided.”

The letter, written on behalf of the Guardian, December 18, 1949, was published in the Bahá’í News in July 1950–and what does he say? He defines a calamity. He says:

“Vicious criticism is indeed a calamity. But its root is lack of faith in the system of Bahá’u’lláh (i.e. the administrative order) and lack of obedience to Him–for He has forbidden it. If the Bahá’ís would follow the Bahá’í laws in voting, in electing, in serving, and in abiding by assembly decisions, all this waste of strength through criticizing others could be diverted into cooperation.”

Real love for the institutions:

There is a statement where Shoghi Effendi was asked to define what were the parameters for the Cause in bringing in large numbers of people. And he set out four parameters; three of them are obvious and the fourth is very unusual. He said these were the requirements without which the Cause can never really bring in large numbers of people. He said:

“Without the spirit of real love for Bahá’u’lláh, for His Faith, and its institutions, and the believers for each other.” Three of those are obvious, the fourth one isn’t.

We would expect the believers to have real love for Bahá’u’lláh. We would expect them to love His Faith. We would expect them, in fact, hope that the believers would love each other.

But Shoghi Effendi defines as one of the four requirements for bringing in large numbers of people that we develop a sense of love, a sense of real love for the institutions of the Faith.

How has this summary helped deepen your understanding of your own tests? Post your comments below!

Summary of a Talk by Ian Semple on Obedience

 

Ian Semple, former member of the Universal House of Justice, gave a wonderful talk on Obedience, in which he talks about coming to obey the laws of Baha’u’llah as being a 5-Step process:

  1. Accept ourselves as the ultimate source of authority

Bahá’u’lláh’s first call to us is not to obey, but to use our minds, to judge fairly, to recognize, and then to believe and then to obey. He assures us that we have the capacity to recognize the truth and to follow it.

We know that ultimate authority resides in ourselves, whether we understand it or not. We can choose not to use this authority, drifting along like a bit of flotsam at the pull of the tide, or we can take charge of our own life.  The choice is ours to make.

Many people exist from day to day, following the fashions and whims of the society in which they live, absorbing its prejudices and pursuing its standards.   Making the choice to take the steps necessary to change may take effort and result in hardship, and we may decide it’s not worth our while, but that is our decision.  We always have a choice.

  1. Recognize our insufficiency.

As soon as we begin to consider not what we can do to please ourselves, but what we ought to do, we begin to look around for examples, for patterns of behaviour that are apparently successful and which we can follow to achieve similar success.

We start out with a whole range of behaviours learned in childhood and absorbed from society around us, but unless we find a central point of reference outside ourselves, we will find it very difficult to rise above our current level. It’s like pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps– you just can’t do it.

So long as he remains the centre of his own universe, he remains limited by his own nature. To enable the full development of the individual and enable it to work in harmony with others for the betterment of the world, it is essential for each of us to recognize our own insufficiency and seek a collective centre outside ourselves. 

  1. Validate a source of authority outside our self.

If we are going to submit ourselves to an external authority, we have a duty to validate the source of that authority.

The essential difference between religion and philosophy is that religion claims to be linked to God Himself, the Creator, Upholder and Mover of the universe. It is not merely a formulation of well-argued ideas, but a revelation of eternal truth. The authority it claims is absolute. When we are linked to God, we are in harmony with all Truth and Justice and Beauty but if we give the obedience due to God Himself to a false prophet, we can descend into a perversion far worse than any that a philosophy can create.

No knowledge is more important than the understanding that, while we are responsible for seeking truth and distinguishing it from error, once we’ve found it, we have the obligation to follow it wherever it may lead. God cannot be bargained with.  As we come to realize that, if God is God, we can’t say anything to God; we can’t bargain with God.

C.S. Lewis commented on this once. When he was drawn to recognize the reality of God he realized a demand was being made of him. God wasn’t saying “Give me all or nothing.” There was no choice; He said, “All.” That’s it, there is no alternative. God is God.

There is no way for us to understand the nature of God or His purposes, and we have to accept that.

To admit that God is God, to accept that we are a tiny part of His creation, and to understand that we need to surrender our will to the authority of God, can be a very humbling and painful experience. Once done, however, it brings an increase in joy and strength that can scarcely be imagined.

  1. Understand the requirements of that source of authority

Finding Bahá’u’lláh is not the end.  When we accept that He is the Manifestation of God, that He and His actions and His words are a perfect mirror of the nature of God, of His Truth and of His intentions for this age, then we begin the long task of learning exactly what He is telling us, putting His commands into practice and permitting the light of His Revelation to illumine our hearts and our understanding. We need to draw ever closer to Him, to absorb His teachings and to integrate them into our lives.  In order to deepen ourselves in the teachings, we must think about them, relate them to one another, try them out and study them in the light of experience.  It is only through independent, clear thinking about the vast range of the teachings that we can foster the growth of our understanding.  This cannot take place if we close the shutters of our minds.

Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings will be in effect for at least a thousand years. Can we imagine then that, without a lot of profound thinking, we can really understand what He is saying and what He intends us to do?

What can we do when we find ourselves unable to accept His requirements?

This can happen at various levels, and is a problem that should be squarely faced and tackled:

  1. there may be a law of Bahá’u’lláh’s which we either fail to understand or feel averse to obeying
  2. there may be a principle of the Faith or an instruction of the Guardian or of the Universal House of Justice which causes us great inconvenience or even danger to obey
  3. there may be a decision of a Spiritual Assembly which we are convinced is wrong

How are we to react in such cases?

They all lead back to validating the source of authority. If we have trouble with understanding or obeying a law of Bahá’u’lláh’s, we should not balk from examining the basis of our faith. We have accepted Him as the Manifestation of God for reasons which we were convinced were valid.

What does this one disagreement with His Writings signify? Is it sufficiently serious to throw into doubt all the evidence on which we have accepted Him in the first place, or is it an indication of a shortcoming in myself?

If we find that our faith in Bahá’u’lláh is not shaken, and that it is merely the particular law that is a problem, we should obey on the basis of faith. This is not blind faith or blind obedience. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said:

By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 383)

We have a solidly based reliance on Bahá’u’lláh as a source of authority in all things. Sometimes we can go forward in clear understanding of what He wants us to do. Sometimes we are left in the dark because our understanding has not yet grown sufficiently. The light that enable us to go forward through such dark patches is our faith in Him, our conscious knowledge that, in spite of immediate appearances, He is right, and He really does know better than we do. This knowledge enables us to act with full confidence.

It isn’t reluctant obedience to a law that one disagrees with; it is full-hearted obedience to a law one cannot understand but knows must be right. As Shoghi Effendi wrote:

Is not faith but another word for implicit obedience, whole-hearted allegiance, uncompromising adherence to that which we believe is the revealed and express will of God, however perplexing it might first appear, however at variance with the shadowy views, the impotent doctrines, the crude theories, the idle imaginings, the fashionable conceptions of a transient and troublous age? If we are to falter or hesitate, if our love for Him should fail to direct us and keep us within His path, if we desert Divine and emphatic principles, what hope can we any more cherish for healing the ills and sicknesses of this world?  (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 62-63)

The authority of the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice go back to the authority of Bahá’u’lláh Himself, so similar principles apply. We should obey them because we know that they are divinely guided. The ways of God are mysterious, even when they come through His institutions. We can’t expect to know everything at the outset.

Obeying out of faith causes us to grow spiritually, enriches our understanding and promotes the growth of the soul.

Obeying a Spiritual Assembly which we believe to be wrong can be much more difficult. Here we obey because of the overriding principle of upholding unity in the Faith.  If we judge the matter to be serious enough, we can always appeal the decision.

Although we have the right to appeal a decision, we should consider not only our own interest or the principle of the matter, but also the interests of the Cause.  Consider:  Is it right to occupy the time of the Assembly by insistently pursuing the point, even if we are sure that its decision is wrong, or is it better to pass it over and allow the Assembly to carry on with its main task, which is the teaching of the Cause of God?  Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong; sometimes we should insist, sometimes we should let it go.  It’s a matter of judgement and good reason.

  1. Exercise judgement in carrying out these requirements.

There are two different sources of authority we need to think about, because they are a little bit different. One is an issuer of commands, and the other is laws and regulations.

A specific command coming from a source of authority is often quite clear, explicit and related to a particular matter, while a law or regulation is usually a more general commandment and its application to a specific case may need study and correlation with other regulations.

For example:  During the 1960s in America was a time when there was great tension between the races. The problem put before the House of Justice was: What happens if you’re in one of the southern states where there’s a law that prohibits a certain degree of association between people of different colours?  Do the Bahá’ís have to obey it because we obey the civil law and it’s a principle to obey the government, no matter which one it is?

The House of Justice said, no, the Bahá’ís should carry out the principles of the Faith as far as they can, but if a person in authority says, “Don’t do it”, you don’t do it. In other words, if the law says that whites and blacks shouldn’t be around together, the Faith obviously says they should be. All right, they should go around together. But if a policeman comes up and says, “You sit in different places,” you go and sit in different places.

This came up in similar situations in Nazi Germany. I am told that there, for example, when the Nazi authorities instructed the Bahá’ís to segregate their meetings between Jews and non-Jews, their solution was simply to stop having meetings. You can get around such problems in various ways.

There is also the matter of obeying laws and principles of the Faith when to do so causes one difficulty or even suffering. Obedience through faith and accepting unpleasant choices makes us grow spiritually. It is a difficult balance to be firm and principled, but not fanatical or bigoted.

Life is not easy, nor was it meant to be. If we acknowledge and accept this and work with it, we grow and progress through all trials and tribulations.  All growth in life causes pain at certain stages.

True obedience requires courage, endurance and the exercise of judgement in carrying out the requirements of the authority we have accepted.  We need to know when to be strict, when to be lenient, which exceptions are justifiable and which are not; how to be forbearing without sacrificing principles, how to be righteous without being fanatical. Generally speaking, it is a good guideline to be very strict with ourselves and lenient with others.

The exercise of our minds and the use of judgment in obeying a law or instruction are also avenues for divine guidance. I was profoundly impressed by something that the Hand of the Cause Paul Haney once related. He said that sometimes when the Universal House of Justice asked him to undertake a task, he was able at the outset neither to see the wisdom of it, nor how he was to carry it out but, confident in the divine guidance given to the House of Justice, he would set out to do it, and he would find that at every step that he took forward a door would open and the next step would become clear, and he would find at the end that he had been enabled to achieve just what he had been requested to do and he could see the reason for it. This is a perfect example of obedience, faith, wisdom and judgement.

The processes of accepting personal responsibility, recognizing our insufficiency, seeking and validating an external source of authority and finding the Manifestation of God, understanding His teachings and using our intelligence in implementing them are essential for the development of our souls and enable us to fulfil our destiny of coming into harmony with the purpose of God and living in perfect obedience to His designs.

Only the guidance of God and Bahá’u’lláh’s system of united and willing obedience of individual souls to His guidance can carry mankind from a world of tyranny and oppression across the narrow bridge over the abyss of fragmentation and chaos to the bliss of the Kingdom of God on earth. Then all peoples will recognize the truth of Bahá’u’lláh’s words:

The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 336)

When we have gone through this process and learn to obey out of love for Baha’u’llah, it will be because our whole lives have been transformed and reoriented towards God:

In this way they will obey them not through fear of punishment but out of love for Baha’u’llah and because their whole lives have been transformed and re-oriented in the Way of God.  (Universal House of Justice: Lights of Guidance, p. 342)

How has this helped you better understand obedience?  Post your comments below!

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