We are all affected by the suffering of people everywhere—so how can we keep hope alive?
Suffering transcends every boundary: we see it in Syria and other war torn areas; among the numerous refugees who are displaced from their homelands because of war, persecution, environmental degradation, and poverty; in the almost one billion people who go hungry every day; with the exploited factory and farm workers in many places of the world; for the poor children who don’t have adequate food, health care, and education; between the many people who suffer from gun violence and an unjust criminal and prison system; for the indigenous people who struggle for cultural survival and for the protection of their water and land; with the many people whose minds are oppressed by misleading information and manipulation, among all the people who are discriminated against because of their race, religion, or political views; in the many people who suffer from persecution because of religious fanaticism such as the Baha’is in Iran; and among the many women who are still greatly oppressed in many parts of the world.
We are also acutely aware of the ongoing and worsening extinction of plant and animal species because of habitat destruction, exploitation, pollution, and climate change. We worry for future generations because of slow and delayed action to keep global warming within certain limits. Preserving a livable planet for future generations seems to become an increasingly elusive goal.
However, we should not lose hope.
Baha’is believe that God has sent us a new revelation, in the person of Baha’u’llah, that addresses these current problems—and that all can be effectively addressed by implementing the Baha’i teachings individually and collectively. But Baha’u’llah warned us that humankind will go through a period of serious suffering before it will be ready to listen to God’s new message. The Baha’i writings explain:
God’s purpose is none other than to usher in, in ways He alone can bring about, and the full significance of which He alone can fathom, the Great, the Golden Age of a long-divided, a long-afflicted humanity. Its present state, indeed even its immediate future, is dark, distressingly dark. Its distant future, however, is radiant, gloriously radiant—so radiant that no eye can visualize it.
“The winds of despair,” writes Baha’u’llah, as He surveys the immediate destinies of mankind, “are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divides and afflicts the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appears to be lamentably defective.” – Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 116.
Baha’u’llah also warned us about exaggerating material civilization and overstepping our limits:
Whoso cleaveth to justice, can, under no circumstances, transgress the limits of moderation. … The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men. …If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 342-343.
While we see humanity’s problems growing to maddening proportions, we can also see the spirit of the new Baha’i revelation beginning to blossom, which has begun to infuse the thoughts and feelings of humankind.
Slavery was abolished in the United States the year Baha’u’llah proclaimed his mission. The world has made consistent progress in racial and gender equality. The originally revolutionary teaching of Baha’u’llah that “the Earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens” has permeated the souls of many people all around the globe. International collaboration has progressed and reached a significant stage with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals address all these problems, and seem to be infused with the spirit Baha’u’llah brought to the world.
So we can expect that humankind’s maturity and unification will be preceded by great turmoil. However, God promised us through all religions that there will be a time when people will live in peace, when “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares.” The Baha’i writings explain this beautifully:
The world is, in truth, moving on towards its destiny. The interdependence of the peoples and nations of the earth, whatever the leaders of the divisive forces of the world may say or do, is already an accomplished fact. Its unity in the economic sphere is now understood and recognized. The welfare of the part means the welfare of the whole, and the distress of the part brings distress to the whole. The Revelation of Baha’u’llah has, in His own words, “lent a fresh impulse and set a new direction” to this vast process now operating in the world. The fires lit by this great ordeal are the consequences of men’s failure to recognize it. They are, moreover, hastening its consummation. Adversity, prolonged, worldwide, afflictive, allied to chaos and universal destruction, must needs convulse the nations, stir the conscience of the world, disillusion the masses, precipitate a radical change in the very conception of society, and coalesce ultimately the disjointed, the bleeding limbs of mankind into one body, single, organically united, and indivisible. – Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, pp. 122-123.
So what can we all do? Baha’is work in two areas to bring about world unity. First of all, they take part in a world-wide community based on the spiritual principles and social teachings of Baha’u’llah—with the goal of building a spiritual, just, and environmentally sustainable global society, where each human being is respected and cared for and where each individual strives to serve the common good. Second, wherever Baha’is can, we collaborate with people of other faiths and no faith to alleviate human suffering and to find solutions to social problems. Everyone is welcome to join these efforts.