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Recently someone wrote to say:

Let me play Devil’s advocate:

If a child gets cancer, he/she suffers. This may not be a consequence of his/her actions. It may just be some genetic problem. Would you consider such suffering as a spiritual test? If yes, was it ordained by God?

You wrote: “We need to accept that suffering is a part of life.” This is a very generic statement.  Should we accept things like the Holocaust, the genocides in Cambodia or Rwanda as part of life? Was the suffering of those who die there a spiritual test? If yes, what was the benefit?

I replied:

First of all:  If a child gets cancer, it definitely could be some genetic problem.  The Bahá’í Writings tell us:

There is no authority for the statement which is alleged to have been said by “‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the effect that cancer is a spiritual disease. The saying to quite unauthoritative, and should not be circulated.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 289)

Yes, it’s certainly a test, both for the child, as well as for his family and his friends.  Everyone around him would be affected, and thereby tested!  Here are the spiritual principles required to pass this test:

Cancer is such a terrible scourge in the world today! But when the believers are called upon to go through such bitter ordeals they have the Faith to sustain them, the love of their Bahá’í friends to comfort them, and the glorious words of Bahá’u’lláh regarding immortality to give them confidence and courage. Blessed are we, indeed, even in the midst of our greatest trials.  (Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 39)

It is with profoundest sorrow that the Guardian has learned from your letter … that your mother is suffering from an acute case of cancer, and he wishes me to hasten to assure you of his brotherly sympathy in this truly grievous situation with which you are faced. He feels that although the physicians have found the disease too advanced, and pronounced her condition as hopeless, you should still endeavour, by means of sustained and concentrated prayer, to bring about her cure. Now that no material efforts can be of any effectiveness you still have one more way open before you, namely that of prayer, and you should therefore continue to supplicate from all your heart that, if it be God’s Will, your mother may be restored to full health, and regain all her forces.

Bahá’u’lláh has revealed special prayers for both spiritual and material healing, and it is therefore your bounden duty to use such prayers on behalf of your mother, and thus put all your trust in the all-sustaining and all-healing power of God.  It matters not whether you are endowed with high spirituality or not.  The essential thing is that you pray with sincerity and will full purity of heart, and with the one desire of knowing and accepting His Will.  The Guardian too will pray for your mother at the Holy Shrines, that she may be given strength, patience and faith to meet her destiny with absolute courage and complete fortitude.  May the Almighty Giver bestow upon you and your dear mother His richest blessings, sustain you in your activities and cares, strengthen your determination, and fulfil your highest hopes in the service of His Faith.  (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 276)

Was the cancer ordained by God?  Most definitely!

Whatever God hath willed hath been, and that which He hath not willed shall not be.  (Báb, Baha’i Prayers, p. 131)

Why would a loving God do something like that?  See the article and comments above!

Secondly you ask about the Holocaust and the genocides in Cambodia or Rwanda.

Yes, I would have to say they were all part of God’s plan, moving us towards the Lesser Peace.

I read recently that recent studies tell us that despite these atrocities, our world is becoming less violent.  In fact, statistics show that violence is in a steady decline!  I was shocked when I first read that, but you can read about it yourself at sites such as:

World Becoming Less Violent: Despite Global Conflict, Statistics Show Violence In Steady Decline

Human Security Reports

International Human Development Indicators

Steven Pinker on the Myth of Violence

Peace and Conflict A large drop in violent conflicts around 1992:

Easy link to above graphs: large drop in violent conflicts around 1992:

Easy link to above graphs: large drop in violent conflicts around 1992:

Easy link to above graphs:

The Center for Systemic Peace

You wondered:  “Was the suffering of those who die there a spiritual test?”

I can tell it’s a spiritual test for you, because you care enough about the pain and the supposedly needless suffering it inflicted on so many of us!  The benefit, of course, is that enough people abhor these calamities, so it’s led to an overall reduction in violence and will ultimately bring about the world peace which Baha’u’llah has promised and which we all long for!

It’s important to remember that after every crisis, comes a victory.

Many will be the setbacks, the shocks and the disturbances, which the commotions of a convulsive age must produce; yet no force, however violent and world-wide in its range and catastrophic in its immediate consequences, can either halt these processes or deflect their appointed course. How great, then, the privilege, and how staggering the responsibility, of those who are destined to guard over them and to bring them eventually to full fruition. Nothing short of utter, of continuous consecration to His Will and Purpose can enable them to fulfil their high destiny.  (Shoghi Effendi, Chronology of Major Letters of the Guardian)

It’s our privilege and responsibility to participate in this process!  I hope this brings you some comfort!


I heard this quote sung on Radio Nur this morning, and it made me sit up and take notice – because, like you, I have a lot of pain at not having the things that other people have (job, family):

“Whoso ariseth to teach Our Cause must needs detach himself from all earthly things, and regard, at all times, the triumph of Our Faith as his supreme objective.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 334)

You and I have chosen to dedicate our lives to peace – you through your book and me through my compilation on abuse and my life coaching practice. We’ve also chosen to be Baha’i. So we have therefore, also chosen to “arise to teach His cause”.

By not letting us have the families, spouses, careers and ordinary things taken for granted by the rest of the Western world, He has detached us from all earthly things, so that He can use us to accomplish “His supreme objective”.

So if it’s our choice, what right do we have to complain when He’s giving us what we need to accomplish our higher aims?

How has this helped your understanding?  Post your comments here: