Afterlife and Salvation
Written by: Moojan Momen
(From a talk given by 'Abdu'l-Baha in New York in July 1912 and published in 'Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 225-6.)
According to the Baha'i scriptures, human beings have neither the vocabulary to discuss nor the conceptual ability to understand the spiritual world that permeates this reality and to which humans go after death. It is therefore only possible to speak of it in terms of metaphors and analogies such as the one above. In general, however, these scriptures portray a picture of gradual spiritual progress after death attaining, eventually, the presence of God. Part of the reason that the nature of the afterlife is hidden from humans may be because, as Baha'u'llah states, if humans were to understand its nature, they could not bear to remain in this world. It is for this reason that Baha'u'llah writes that He has made death a "messenger of joy" and that human beings should not fear death. Suicide, however, is prohibited in the Baha'i Faith.
The souls of those who have died can have a positive influence on this physical world, encouraging the progress and advancement of the people of this world. According to the Baha'i teachings, however, there is no evil influence from the souls of those who have died; because of their spiritual disabilities, evil souls have no ability to influence this world. Baha'is are also discouraged from trying to contact the dead (for example, through mediums). This is an obstacle to the spiritual development of both those who are alive and those who are dead.
There is no concept of a state of salvation in the Baha'i teachings; rather salvation is a process. The process of acquiring spiritual virtues makes us more and more fit to enter the next world. The main aim of life should be to perfect these spiritual attributes; the more these are perfected, the closer humans become to God. And it is this closeness to God that is the heaven or paradise referred to in the scriptures of all religions. Failing to develop these virtues means humans separating themselves from God, and that is hell. Thus heaven and hell are not distinct places; they are spiritual conditions both in this world and in the after-life. Human progress along this path occurs partly as the result of the individual's own efforts and partly due to the grace of God during this life. After death, progress is mostly from the grace of God, but human beings can assist this progress by praying for those who have died.
A consequence of holding to this view of salvation as a process is that human beings are in no position to judge each other. A person may appear to be very far advanced on the spiritual road, but may be traveling very slowly or have stopped, and is thus blameworthy in the sight of God. Another person may not appear to be very advanced but may be making rapid progress. Furthermore, Baha'u'llah warns that it is even possible at the hour of death for someone to gain faith and attain a high spiritual station and conversely for another to lose faith and fall from a high spiritual station to a low one.