Beliefs

Suffering and the Problem of Evil

According to Baha'i scripture, there are many aspects to the question of suffering and evil. Baha'is believe that God created the universe and since God is the source of all good, there cannot be any evil force in it, such as Satan or the Devil or evil spirits.

From the Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah

O SON OF MAN!

Upon the tree of effulgent glory I have hung for thee the choicest fruits, wherefore hast thou turned away and contented thyself with that which is less good? Return then unto that which is better for thee in the realm on high.

O SON OF SPIRIT!

Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself.  Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.

O SON OF THE SUPREME!

To the eternal I call thee, yet thou dost seek that which perisheth. What hath made thee turn away from Our desire and seek thine own?

The human being has a physical and a spiritual aspect . If the spiritual side of a human being is underdeveloped, then it cannot control the physical side. Thus for example, while food is a necessity, if the spiritual side is underdeveloped and fails to control the animal aspect of the human being, the result is gluttony; if the impulse for sex is not controlled, the result is lust and promiscuity; if the natural desire to acquire sufficient wealth to provide for oneself and one's family is not controlled, the result is greed and avarice. Any human in whom the lower nature is not balanced and controlled by the spiritual nature becomes the embodiment of evil. It is this, Baha'is believe, that the scriptures of other religions have referred to as the Devil or Satan. 

The problem of suffering is more complex and has several aspects. If humans allow their physical nature to dominate their spiritual nature, while the short-term result may seem pleasurable, the ultimate consequence is suffering. Physical pleasures never give lasting satisfaction and the effect fades so that each time a greater stimulus is required just to get the same level of pleasure. Thus these desires are insatiable. Ultimately this leads to such a distortion of human nature that mental and physical suffering are inevitable.

ALAS! ALAS! O LOVERS OF WORLDLY DESIRE!

Even as the swiftness of lightning ye have passed by the Beloved One, and have set your hearts on satanic fancies. Ye bow the knee before your vain imagining, and call it truth. Ye turn your eyes towards the thorn, and name it a flower. Not a pure breath have ye breathed, nor hath the breeze of detachment been wafted from the meadows of your hearts. Ye have cast to the winds the loving counsels of the Beloved and have effaced them utterly from the tablet of your hearts, and even as the beasts of the field, ye move and have your being within the pastures of desire and passion. (From the Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah)

Excesses of gluttony, lust, and greed often lead to antisocial or criminal activities, the consequences of which add to the unhappiness and suffering caused by the inability to satiate these desires. Individuals in this state cause great suffering, both to themselves and to those around them. Sometimes suffering is the result of unwise human actions. If one does not live one's life with due regard for the physical laws, one is likely to be hurt (if one jumps out of a second-story window, for example). Similarly, if human beings go against the spiritual laws that God has given, then they are likely to suffer because these spiritual laws are in accordance with the reality of things and so following them protects one from suffering.

Baha'is also believe that it is through suffering that human beings are encouraged to perfect themselves and to travel along the spiritual path. If human beings did not experience suffering, they could not fully develop virtues such as patience and fortitude. If human beings did not witness suffering in the world, then they could not manifest the virtues of kindness and compassion. Tests and tribulations test the qualities that human beings are acquiring. It is easy to be loving and beneficent toward people who are pleasant. These virtues are only truly put to the test when confronted by unpleasant people who make one suffer. Thus, overcoming or transcending tests, difficulties, and suffering are ways of both progressing spiritually and measures of how much spiritual progress has been made. The Baha'i scriptures see the world as a giant classroom in which everything is laid out to help human beings to grow and develop spiritually.

Tests and Difficulties:
From the Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah

O SON OF MAN! For everything there is a sign. The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under My trials.

O SON OF MAN!

If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in the ways of them that are content with My pleasure? If trials afflict thee not in thy longing to meet Me, how wilt thou attain the light in thy love for My beauty?

O SON OF MAN!

My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it.

O SON OF BOUNTY!

Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things . . . (From the Arabic Hidden Words 48, 50, 51; Persian Hidden Words, 29)

One area that is frequently debated when the problem of suffering arises is the question of why, if God is a loving God, He allows large-scale suffering such as the Holocaust to occur. There are several possible answers to this question. Since Baha'i theology maintains that God has created human beings in order to be known and since it is necessary for human beings to have the divine attributes (potentially at least) in order to know them, then clearly, human beings must be given the attribute of free will. Otherwise they could not know the free will that God has. God cannot give human beings free will and then prevent them from exercising it every time they choose badly. God did not create the Holocaust; human beings created the Holocaust by exercising their free will and going against the teachings of God. Human beings cannot call on God to prevent such episodes unless they call on Him to remove human free will -- and if He did this, they would not be humans any more. According to the Baha'i view of history, episodes such as the Holocaust are the direct result of human perversity, which is largely the outcome of humanity's rejection of God's message for each era.


Study Questions:
     1.     What do Baha’is believe is the explanation for the concept of the Devil or Satan?
     2.     What do Baha’is believe happens if human beings abandon spiritual laws and chase after physical pleasure?
     3.     In what way, according to the Baha'i teachings, do tests and suffering help human beings advance spiritually?
     4.     How do Baha’is account for the fact that God does not prevent major catastrophes and large-scale human suffering such as the Holocaust?

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