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As we learned in the previous blog posting, the Bahá’í Writings tell us the poor are “very dear to God”; “the mercies and bounties of God are with them”; they are “never forgotten” and they are “nearer the threshold of God”.

The mercies and bounties of God are with them. The rich are mostly negligent, inattentive, steeped in worldliness, depending upon their means, whereas the poor are dependent upon God, and their reliance is upon Him, not upon themselves. Therefore, the poor are nearer the threshold of God and His throne.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

This is particularly appealing to someone like me, who doesn’t feel loved by any of the significant people in her life (parents, siblings, spouses or children).  I want to know that someone I can trust loves me!  If that keeps me poor, then so be it!

I can see where people might be confused on this issue.  On the one hand, we read quotes such as these, which suggest that we need wealth, acquired through crafts or professions:

Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 437)

And that if you want wealth, the secret is to engage in crafts and professions:

Thus it is incumbent on every one to engage in crafts and professions, for therein lies the secret of wealth, O men of  understanding! For results depend upon means, and the grace of God shall be all-sufficient unto you.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 281)

And that we have an obligation to expend our wealth on ourselves and our families (in that order):

The best of men are they that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God, the Lord of all worlds. (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian 82)

On the other hand, you don’t want to have too much wealth, because the rich are described in negative terms:

The rich are mostly negligent, inattentive, steeped in worldliness, depending upon their means . . . (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

Wealth is described as a “mighty barrier” between us and God:

Know ye in truth that wealth is a mighty barrier between the seeker and his desire, the lover and his beloved.   (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 53)

Very few rich people attain the court of God’s presence, or are content and resigned:

The rich, but for a few, shall in no wise attain the court of His presence nor enter the city of content and resignation.   (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 53)

God hasn’t promised mansions to those who associate with the rich:

God has not said that there are mansions prepared for us if we pass our time associating with the rich, but He has said there are many mansions prepared for the servants of the poor, for the poor are very dear to God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

As long as there are poor people, those with colossal wealth should not exist:

A financier with colossal wealth should not exist whilst near him is a poor man in dire necessity.

Excessive of wealth is associated with tyranny:

A financier with colossal wealth should not exist whilst near him is a poor man in dire necessity. When we see poverty allowed to reach a condition of starvation it is a sure sign that somewhere we shall find tyranny. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 153)

According to the Writings, their wealth has been found by “idle fancy” and they don’t know how to be self-sacrificing:

In idle fancy they have found the door that leadeth unto earthly riches, whereas in the manifestation of the Revealer of knowledge they find naught but the call to self-sacrifice. They therefore naturally hold fast unto the former, and flee from the latter.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Ian, p. 28)

Having wealth can prevent you from entering the Kingdom of Heaven:

. . . riches do prevent the rich from entering the Kingdom; and again, He saith, ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.’ If, however, the wealth of this world, and worldly glory and repute, do not block his entry therein, that rich man will be favoured at the Holy Threshold and accepted by the Lord of the Kingdom.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 195)

If the wealthy are able to use their wealth in service to God, it is highly meritorious.  I’m not sure how many of us are able to attain this level of generosity, self-sacrifice and detachment, as we’ve seen in previous quotes, so it’s better for us to avoid it:

If wealth and prosperity become the means of service at God’s Threshold, it is highly meritorious; otherwise it would be better to avoid them.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 437)

When you’re poor, you need to rely on God to supply your needs and be patient.  There’s a lot more obligation and responsibility on those who are wealthy:

Fear the sighs of the poor and of the upright in heart who, at every break of day, bewail their plight, and be unto them a benevolent sovereign. They, verily, are thy treasures on earth. It behoveth thee, therefore, to safeguard thy treasures from the assaults of them who wish to rob thee. Inquire into their affairs, and ascertain, every year, nay every month, their condition, and be not of them that are careless of their duty.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 236)

Men must bestir themselves in this matter, and no longer delay in altering conditions which bring the misery of grinding poverty to a very large number of the people. The rich must give of their abundance, they must soften their hearts and cultivate a compassionate intelligence, taking thought for those sad ones who are suffering from lack of the very necessities of life. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 153)

He should be . . . bestowing a portion upon the destitute, and not refusing benevolence and favor to the unfortunate. (Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 50)

He admonished all that we must be the servants of the poor, helpers of the poor, remember the sorrows of the poor, associate with them; for thereby we may inherit the Kingdom of heaven. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 33)

Good God! is it possible that, seeing one of his fellow-creatures starving, destitute of everything, a man can rest and live comfortably in his luxurious mansion? He who meets another in the greatest misery, can he enjoy his fortune? That is why, in the religion of God, it is prescribed and established that wealthy men each year give over a certain part of their fortune for the maintenance of the poor and unfortunate. That is the foundation of the religion of God, and the most essential of the commandments.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 283-284)

Those who are wealthy should use their wealth as a means to draw close to God, instead of being so attached to their wealth that they forget God and His commandments:

If they are wealthy, they should make these bestowals a means of drawing nigh unto God’s Threshold, rather than being so attached to them that they forget the admonitions of the Pen of the Most High.   (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 437)

If they don’t, wealth will lead to destruction:

Turn to the Book of the Covenant, the Hidden Words, and other Tablets, lest the cord of your salvation become a rope of woe which will lead to your own destruction.   (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 437-438)

Once men acquire wealth, it’s easy to become so bewitched by their newly amassed wealth and status that they forget the true meaning of their lives; and they forget God.  Look what happens as a result:

How numerous are those negligent souls, particularly from among your own compatriots, who have been deprived of the blessings of faith and true understanding. Witness how, no sooner had they attained their newly amassed wealth and status, than they became so bewitched by them as to forget the virtues and true perfections of man’s station. They clung to their empty and fruitless lifestyle. They had naught else but their homes, their commercial success, and their ornamental trappings of which to be proud. Behold their ultimate fate. Many a triumphal arch was reduced to a ruin, many an imperial palace was converted into a barn. Many a day of deceit turned into a night of despair. Vast treasures changed hands and, at the end of their lives, they were left only with tears of loss and regret. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 438)

The wealthy have to protect their treasures and worry about someone stealing them:

Others ere long will lay hands on what ye possess, and enter into your habitations. Incline your ears to My words, and be not numbered among the foolish.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 260)

Would that the inhabitants of the world who have amassed riches for themselves and have strayed far from the True One might know who will eventually lay hand on their treasures; but, by the life of Bahá, no one knoweth this save God, exalted be His glory.  (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 171)

I knew someone who didn’t have a lot, but he was still afraid of losing it.  He wanted to have a home alarm system installed on his house, even though he lived in a tiny village where everyone knew each other and the crime rate was almost zero.  I couldn’t imagine living with this level of fear, suspicion and mistrust.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells a similar story:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá told a story about a Persian believer’s journeys and how he could not sleep at night while in the wilderness for fear of someone stealing his new shirt, a new gift from a prominent person. After several sleepless nights he decided to get rid of the shirt so he could relax.  (Rafati, Vahid, Sources of Persian Poetry in the Bahá’í Writings, Vol. lll, p. 80)

Wealth is fleeting and has no lasting effect:

How many kings have flourished in luxury and in a brief moment all has disappeared! Their glory and their honor are forgotten. Where are all these sovereigns now?  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 137)

They attained to wealth, to the comforts of life, to fame. And what was the final outcome? Utter evanescence and oblivion. Reflect upon this. Look upon it with the eye of admonition. No trace of them remains, no fruit, no result, no benefit; they have gone utterly — complete effacement.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)

Look what happens to someone who wrote to Baha’u’llah begging for wealth and prosperity:

Haji Muhammad-Baqir was a well-known merchant, foremost among the believers in faith, certitude and enthusiasm, and was serving the Cause with devotion and self-sacrifice.  This man attained the presence of Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdad. There He wrote a letter to Him and begged for wealth and prosperity. In answer, this exalted and wonderful Tablet was revealed for him. In it Bahá’u’lláh stated that his request would be granted and that the doors of prosperity and wealth would be opened for him from every direction. He warned him, however, to be on his guard and not to allow riches to become a barrier and make him heedless.  Now you are here to attain the presence of Bahá’u’lláh and in the future you will witness that this man will be overtaken with fear to such an extent that he will renounce God and His Cause. Not long after, he will make substantial losses, following which he will write a letter to Bahá’u’lláh and repent. God will then turn his losses into profit and he will become again highly successful in his business and will emerge as the foremost merchant in Constantinople and Tabriz. However, this time he will wax prouder than before, more heedless and deprived… This time he will lose all his possessions, will be unable to continue trading and will become helpless in arranging his affairs. It is then that he will repent and return, and will be content to live as a poor man. He will spend the days of his life in the service of the Cause of God. His end will be blessed and he will receive great confirmations from God.’ He then said to me: ‘Remember all these things, for they will come to pass, and you shall witness them.’  (Adib Taherzadeh, Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, v2, p. 277-278)

Knowing this in advance, do you think you’d change your mind?  I know I would!

This doesn’t mean I’m always able to be grateful for my poverty, or that I am always free from anxiety about how my bills are going to be paid, so I find this quote reassuring:

The lives of the Founders of our Faith clearly show that to be fundamentally assured does not mean that we live without anxieties.  (Shoghi Effendi, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 117)

Fortunately there’s another way of thinking about wealth.  In this dispensation it is described by the excellence of his conduct, in love of God and in detachment from luxuries.

Man’s distinction lieth in the excellence of his conduct and in the pursuit of that which beseemeth his station, not in childish play and pastimes. Know that thy true adornment consisteth in the love of God and in thy detachment from all save Him, and not in the luxuries thou dost possess. (Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 62)

Now that’s a kind of wealth I can be comfortable with!


For more on this theme:

Does God want us to be Wealthy

When is Enough, Enough