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This is often a question I hear, particularly with overtones of “why me”? or “poor me!”.

Wanting to provide a definitive answer, I did what I do whenever I’m puzzled by something – I took the question to the Bahá’í Writings. There were so many answers to this question that I’ve grouped them under the following broad categories for ease of understanding:

  • Belief in God and His Manifestations
  • Education
  • Nearness to God
  • Next World
  • Obedience
  • Punishment
  • Spiritual Growth
  • Strength
  • Teaching
  • Virtues

Let’s look at each one separately.

Belief in God and His Manifestations

We’re tested so that we will recognise Bahá’u’lláh:

We have decreed that every long life shall in truth suffer decline and that every hardship shall be followed by ease, that perchance men may recognise the Gate of God as He Who is the eternal Truth, and verily God shall stand as witness unto those that have believed. (The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 47-48)

We’re tested to prove our belief:

Even as He hath revealed: ‘Do men think when they say “We believe” they shall be let alone and not be put to proof?’ (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp. 8-9)

Education

We’re tested for educational purposes:

That [ordeals, adversities and tribulations] . . . which is for punishment of deeds is severe retribution. The father and the teacher sometimes show tenderness towards the children and at other times deal harshly with them. Such severity is for educational purposes; it is true tenderness and absolute bounty and grace Although in appearance it is wrath, in reality it is kindness. Although outwardly it is an ordeal, inwardly it is a cooling draught. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Divine Art of Living, p. 85)

We’re tested so we can demonstrate competence in the mastery of our subjects and happily exhibit our skills before our examiners:

So too, the proficient student, who hath with great competence mastered his subjects and committed them to memory, will happily exhibit his skills before his examiners on the day of his tests. So too will solid gold wondrously gleam and shine out in the assayer’s fire. It is clear, then, that tests and trials are, for sanctified souls, but God’s bounty and grace, while to the weak, they are a calamity, unexpected and sudden. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 181)

Nearness to God

We’re tested so we can become more spiritual and draw nearer to God:

The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls, so it is to this we must look to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296)

We’re tested so we can develop our feeling of trust in God:

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)

Next World

We’re tested to attain everlasting felicity and for our weakness to be followed by supreme strength:

I know that thou art in difficulty, but this difficulty is conducive to the everlasting felicity and this weakness is followed by the supreme strength. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 264-265)

We’re tested so we can have imperishable and deathless glory and rest:

Consider thou how the faithful women in the time of Christ, and after the departure of His Highness, underwent hardships! What difficulties did they not bear; and what calamities did they not endure! But adversity and trial, misfortune and derision, became the cause of imperishable and deathless glory and rest. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 264-265)

We’re tested so we can ascend to the highest degree of love and solidity; and be the cause of progress:

The souls who bear the tests of God become the manifestations of great bounties; for the divine trials cause some souls to become entirely lifeless, while they cause the holy souls to ascend to the highest degree of love and solidity. They cause progress and they also cause retrogression. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 324)

Obedience

We’re tested so that we fix our gaze on the Supreme Horizon, and cling to that which has been revealed in the Tablets:

If, however, for a few days, in compliance with God’s all-encompassing wisdom, outward affairs should run their course contrary to one’s cherished desire, this is of no consequence and should not matter. Our intent is that all the friends should fix their gaze on the Supreme Horizon, and cling to that which hath been revealed in the Tablets. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 10)

We’re tested so we learn to do the Bahá’í thing:

Generally speaking nine-tenths of the friends’ troubles are because they don’t do the Bahá’í thing, in relation to each other, to the administrative bodies or in their personal lives. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

Punishment

We’re tested as a consequence of our own deeds:

The trials of man are of two kinds. (a) The consequences of his own actions. If a man eats too much, he ruins his digestion; if he takes poison he becomes ill or dies. If a person gambles he will lose his money; if he drinks too much he will lose his equilibrium. All these sufferings are caused by the man himself, it is quite clear therefore that certain sorrows are the result of our own deeds. (b) Other sufferings there are, which come upon the Faithful of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 49-50)

We’re tested so we can be punished for our misdeeds:

Thou hast asked about ordeals, adversities and tribulations, whether they are of God or the result of man’s evil deeds. Know that there ordeals are of two kinds: One is for tests, and the other for punishment of misdeeds. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Divine Art of Living, p. 85)

Spiritual Growth

We’re tested so we can grow spiritually:

Life in this world is a succes¬sion of tests and achievements, of falling short and of making new spiritual advances. Sometimes the course may seem very hard, but one can witness, again and again, that the soul who steadfastly obeys the Law of Bahá’u’lláh, however hard it may seem, grows spiritually (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, pp. 359-360).

We’re tested in order to cleanse the spotting of self from the mirror of our hearts:

These tests, even as thou didst write, do but cleanse the spotting of self from off the mirror of the heart, till the Sun of Truth can cast its rays thereon; for there is no veil more obstructive than the self, and however tenuous that veil may be, at the last it will completely shut a person out, and deprive him of his portion of eternal grace. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 181)

We’re tested so that we can refine our endeavours and purify our motivations:

The trials encountered by the Bahá’í community in the decades since 1963 are those necessary ones that refine endeavour and purify motivation so as to render those who would take part worthy of so great a trust. (Commissioned by The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p. 110-111)

We’re tested so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error and happiness from misery:

The Almighty hath tried, and will continue to try, his ser¬vants, so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns. (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, pp. 8-9)

We’re tested so that we can be purified through fire and sifted through the sieve in order to separate the wheat from the tares:

There are before you so many temptations, trials, afflictions, calamities and difficulties because you have to be purified through fire and sifted through the sieve in order to separate the wheat from the tares. Verily, I say unto you: none will be saved but the believers, and from the believers only the sincere, and even those are in great danger, especially in such a time. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 443)

We’re tested so pure gold can be separated from the dross; so pure gold shines resplendently and all impurities are burned and blackened:

Not until man is tried doth the pure gold distinctly separate from the dross. Torment is the fire of test wherein the pure gold shineth resplendently and the impurity is burned and blackened. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 120)

Strength

We’re tested so we can draw spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause:

Many of those who drift away from the Cause do so for the reason that they had ceased to go on developing. They became complacent, or indifferent, and consequently ceased to draw the spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause which they should have. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

We’re tested so we grow stronger; acquire perfection and become purified:

You are encouraged to continue to keep in mind the spiritual dimension of your struggles. We are assured by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the following words: “The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one be¬comes. That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribula¬tions and difficulties to withstand. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. XIV, No. 2, p. 41)

Teaching

We’re tested so we can melt the hearts of non-Baha’is, who will be affected by the manner in which we meet our ordeals:

If something of this nature comes upon them, it is for some reason, which may have to do with the spiritual development of the one affected, or the spiritual development and welfare of the loved ones; or even for the melting of the hearts of non-Baha’is, who will be affected by the Divine Spirit, through the manner in which the Baha’i meets such an ordeal. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 280)

We’re tested so we can achieve the conquest and regeneration of human hearts:

The words he wrote to one of the American Assemblies in December 1923 sound almost like a soliloquy: “The inscrutable wisdom of God has so decreed that we, who are the chosen bearers of the world’s greatest Message to suffering humanity, should toil and promote our work under the most trying conditions of life, amidst unhelpful surroundings, and in the face of unprecedented trials, and without means, influence or support, achieve, steadily and surely, the conquest and regeneration of human hearts.” (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 74-75)

We’re tested so that God’s Cause might live, His Order might redeem a shattered world and its glory might suffuse the entire planet:

No matter how long the period that separates them from ultimate victory; however arduous the task; however formidable the exertions demanded of them; however dark the days which mankind, perplexed and sorely-tried, must, in its hour of travail, traverse; however severe the tests with which they who are to redeem its fortunes will be confronted; however afflictive the darts which their present enemies, as well as those whom Providence, will, through His mysterious dispensations raise up from within or from without, may rain upon them, however grievous the ordeal of temporary separation from the heart and nerve-center of their Faith which future unforeseeable disturbances may impose upon them, I adjure them, by the precious blood that flowed in such great profusion, by the lives of the unnumbered saints and heroes who were immolated, by the supreme, the glorious sacrifice of the Prophet-Herald of our Faith, by the tribulations which its Founder, Himself, willingly underwent, so that His Cause might live, His Order might redeem a shattered world and its glory might suffuse the entire planet. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 145-146)

We’re tested because the future of the Cause rests upon tested friends:

There is always an important difference between friends and tested friends. No matter how precious the first type may be, the future of the Cause rests upon the latter. (Shoghi Effendi, The Light of Divine Guidance, vol. 1, p. 34-35)

Virtues

We’re tested so we can demonstrate our truthfulness and honesty in times of temptation:

In order to appreciate this statement let us remember that many people whoso believe in God may be truthful and honest in a normal situation. But the real criterion of a man’s truthfulness and honesty is his attitude at the time of temptation. When severe tests and trials descend upon man, the only thing which keeps him truthful is his faith in God. If he does not believe in God, there is no motivation within him to resist temptation. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 314)

We’re tested to gain steadfastness:

It is easy to approach the Kingdom of Heaven, but hard to stand firm and staunch within it, for the tests are rigorous, and heavy to bear. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 274)

We’re tested to acquire greater knowledge and capacity:

The more often the captain of a ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing the greater his knowledge be¬comes. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. XIV, No. 2, p. 41)

We’re tested so we can increase our firmness and manifest more zeal and courage:

Consider thou the lives of the former sanctified souls; what tests have they not withstood and what persecutions have they not beheld; while they were surrounded with calamities they increased their firmness and while they were overwhelmed with tests they manifested more zeal and courage. Be thou also like unto them. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 302)

Finally!

We’re tested to attain strength; thrive; be strengthened; beautified and our fruits increased:

O maid-servant of God! The circumstances will be severe for every thankful servant (i. e., believer in the Teachings) in those boundaries and countries. The people shall arise against you with the most bitter hatred, opposition and envy. Swords of persecution and curses shall be thrown at you by all the nations. The wind of tests and trials shall fiercely blow and thereby the weak trees, which are not firmly rooted in this wonderful vineyard, shall be uprooted. But the trees which are strong, thriving and green will be strengthened, their branches extended, their leaves opened, their appearance beautified and their blossoms and fruits increased. I ask God to make thee one of those firmly rooted trees and an extended branch in this most great vineyard, and to make thy heart like unto a cup overflowing with His love in every assemblage. Verily He is the Powerful, the Generous! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 268-269)

This reminds me of my favorite story about why we’re tested! It always brings tears to my eyes, no matter how many times I read it!

Just Clay

Author Unknown

A couple vacationing in Europe went strolling down a little street and saw a quaint little gift shop with a beautiful teacup in the window. The lady collected teacups and she wanted this one for her collection, so she went inside to pick up the teacup and as the story goes, the teacup spoke to her and said:

“I want you to know that I have not always looked like this. It took the process of pain to bring me to this point. You see, there was a time when I was just clay and the master came and he pounded me and he squeezed me and he kneaded me and I screamed: “STOP THAT”. But he just smiled and he said, “Not yet”.

Then he took me and put me on the wheel and I went round and round and round and round . . . and while I was spinning and getting dizzier and dizzier I screamed again and I said, “Please get me off this thing . . . please get me off!!!” And the master was looking at me and he was smiling, as he said, “Not yet.”

Then he opened the door and I was fresh and free and he took me out of the oven and he put me on the table and then he got some paint and a paintbrush. And he started dabbing me and making swirls all over me and I started to gag and I said: “Master, stop it. .. stop it .. . stop it please. You’re making me gag” and he just smiled as he said “Not yet”.

Then very gently he picked me up again and he started walking toward the oven and I said, “Master, NO! Not again, pleeeeeease”. He opened the oven door and he slopped me inside and he shut the door and this time he turned the heat up twice as hot as before and I though, “He’s going to kill me”, and I looked through the window of the oven and I started to pound saying, “Master . . . Master, please let me out . . . please let me out . . let me out . . . let me out”. And I could see that he was smiling, but I also noticed a tear trickle down his cheek as I watched him mouth the words “Not yet!”

Just as I thought I was about to die, the door opened and he reached in ever so gently and took me out, fresh and free and he went and placed me on a high shelf and he said: “There, I have created what I intended. Would you like to see yourself?”

I said “Yes”, so he handed me a mirror and I looked and I looked again and I said, “That’s not me. I’m just a lump of clay” And he said: “Yes, that IS you, but it took the process of pain to bring you to this place. “You see, had I not worked you when you were clay, then you would have dried up. If I had not subjected you to the stress of the wheel, you would have crumbled. If I had not put you into the heat of the oven you would have cracked. If I had not painted you, there would be no colour in your life. But, it was the second oven that gave you the strength to endure. And now you are everything that I intend you to be – from the beginning.”

And I, the teacup, heard myself saying something I never thought I would hear myself saying: “Master, forgive me. I did not trust you. I thought you were going to harm me, I did not know you had a glorious future and a hope for me. I was too shortsighted, but I want to thank you. I want to thank you for suffering. I want to thank you for the process of pain. Here I am! I give you myself – fill me, pour from me, use me as you see fit. I really want to be a vessel that brings you glory within my life”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá (our Master!) is saying these prayers for us as we go through our tests. We could say them for ourselves too:
I ask God to grant thee by His favor and grace that which is thy utmost desire; that the closed doors become opened, the uneven roads become even, thy face shine by the love of God, thy sight become brighter by witnessing the signs of God; that thou mayest attain spiritual joy, eternal happiness and heavenly life. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 129-130)
Verily I ask God to protect thee from the waves of tests and storms of trial until thou becomest firm in the Cause of thy Lord — a firmness whereby thou be enabled to withstand all nations and peoples. When thou art thus confirmed by God, with firmness and solidity in His Covenant among the people, thou wilt see the hosts of the Kingdom shelter thee from all sides with banners whereunto all heads bow. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 267)

How has this helped increase your understanding of why we are tested? Post your comments below!