Clearly, the world has no shortage of suffering in it. We see children too often abused and neglected. We see accidents take our loved ones from us. We see diseases strike without warning or mercy. We live in a world where every single life is touched by some tragedy or loss. No one escapes. The rich, the poor, the smart, the mentally challenged; all will feel some pain in life. Why? What is the point? How could a loving God allow children to suffer? How could a generous Creator take our loved ones from us? How could a merciful Lord watch and do nothing, as terrible crimes are committed against the weak and innocent. It is understandable then, that many people see this suffering and wonder how there could be a God to allow it.
First of all, Baha’is believe that this life is only a temporary reality. Baha’is believe that death is the great leveler, and that all men face Divine Justice. As the Baha’i Holy Writings state, “To dust shall ye return, even as your fathers of old did return.” (GWB, p. 125). And as Baha’u’llah wrote, “O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you.” (GWB, p. 328). So if we live a life here that seems torturous, that is full of poverty, oppression, or disease—we know that our eternal condition in the next world will either offer us reward (or punishment). As Baha’u’llah wrote of God, “He, verily, shall increase the reward of them that endure with patience.” (GWB p. 129). Baha’is believe in a God who is loving and just. Baha’is believe in a God that will reward those who endure with patience and who show compassion. And God will (punish) those who hurt and abuse others. As Baha’u’llah wrote, “Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness.” (HW).
As terrible as the suffering is in this world, Baha’is ultimately believe that suffering is the price the world must pay to fulfill a greater purpose: that of mankind’s exercise of free will. We have free will because God wants to be chosen, found, discovered, and appreciated. In fact, Baha’u’llah states that everything God has ever created was for this very purpose, “… He (GOD)… chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him — a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation.” (GWBp. 65). God wants to be discovered by humanity. He wants to be loved and worshiped. Baha’u’llah wrote of God that, “He chose to hide His own Self behind a thousand veils, lest profane and mortal eyes discover His glory.” (GWB, p. 74). In order to find God, mankind must choose to turn away from the material world and self, and instead turn to develop heavenly qualities that will please our Lord. Humanity must therefore be able to choose virtues such as nobility, kindness, and forgiveness. In order to make these choices, the world must allow life with an absence of such virtue. In such an absence of virtue—suffering often exists. This virtue is one way how Baha’is find, love, and worship their God. Baha’u’llah wrote, “O Son of Spirit! There is no peace for thee save by renouncing thyself and turning unto Me; for it behooveth thee to glory in My name, not in thine own; to put thy trust in Me and not in thyself, since I desire to be loved alone and above all that is.” (HW). Choosing God, means to choose to live a life that would please Him. Without darkness, you cannot know the light.
Baha’is also recognize that not all suffering is a bad thing. While Baha’is would agree that warfare, starvation, and disease should be eradicated from the human experience; they also realize that humanity grows through trials and tribulations. Some people might think that those who live a life of poverty and pain have lived a wasted life and have not fulfilled their purpose. But for Baha’is, the purpose of life is not to live without difficulty. It is not to have a little house in the suburbs with a white-picket-fence. It is not to live out our days in perfect peace and total economic security with no worries or anxieties. For a Baha’i, the purpose of life is to develop spiritual qualities, and thus grow in their love and understanding of God. Baha’is believe we often develop such qualities through difficult life situations. When we face oppression and injustice, will we show forgiveness and understanding? When we face a string of bad luck, will we show patience and resignation? When we are tempted to envy someone who seems more blessed than us, will we wish him or her well? When we face a loss of someone dear to us, will we show thankfulness for the time we did have together? As is written in the Baha’i Writings, “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-Baha, SWA, p. 182). And in another place it is written, “O thou servant of God! Do not grieve at the afflictions and calamities that have befallen thee. All calamities and afflictions have been created for man so that he may spurn this mortal world — a world to which he is much attached. When he experienceth severe trials and hardships, then his nature will recoil and he will desire the eternal realm — a realm which is sanctified from all afflictions and calamities.” (Abdu’l-Baha, SWA, p. 239)
Baha’is believe that this lifetime is merely a blip in our existence. While we may feel that our life of 75+ years on this earth is a long and full life, in respect to eternity there is no any difference between a life of 15 years and a life of 100 years. The question that does matter is, ‘what did you do with the time you were given?’ A Baha’i would know that every moment of our existence in this world–or in the life hereafter—is a gift from God. Who are we to say that someone who meets an untimely end (by our standards), or faces a terrible crime, cannot overcome that suffering and develop some spiritual quality in the process? Who are we to say their life was not complete? The reality is that we cannot judge the worth of any life. Only God can do that. Each person who lives in this world has a chance to develop spiritual sight and hearing. And as Abdu’l-Bahá wrote, “…this inner sight, hearing, life and healing are eternal, they are of importance. What, comparatively, is the importance, the value and the worth of this animal life with its powers? In a few days it will cease like fleeting thoughts.” (SAQ p.102).
Finally, it is important to point out that much of our suffering is the result of mankind’s refusal to follow the laws of God. Baha’is believe that most of the social problems of the world exist because mankind chooses not to follow the teachings of religions. Religions preach peace, love, unity, charity, and compassion. As Abdu’l-Baha said, “All religions teach that we must do good, that we must be generous, sincere, truthful, law-abiding, and faithful; all this is reasonable, and logically the only way in which humanity can progress.” (PT, p. 141). Humanity has the free will to choose to follow the teachings of the world’s religions and thus prosper; or to disobey them, and thus suffer.