If God exists, I reasoned as a boy, then there must be justice.
Later in my life, while working on my PhD, I realized that the ancient Roman philosopher and poet Boethius had said precisely the same thing in his Consolation of Philosophy, which he wrote in 524 CE while awaiting his own execution for something he didn’t do—a great motivator for trying to figure out how there can be divine justice in a physical world ostensibly run by heartless idiots:
If God is, whence come evil things? If He is not, whence come good? – Boethius
Later on, about a decade later, I would begin the journey of writing a series of books explicating how the Baha’i teachings advance these concepts even more explicitly.
In the previous essay in this series, we read the letter Abdu’l-Baha penned to two bereaved parents. In it, he gave them no palliative, no “sorry-for-your-loss” hallmark card sort of consolation. Instead, he gave them a very plausible explanation for what had happened, and he then exhorted them to attempt to “attain utmost patience, composure and resignation” until such time as they are apprised of the love and logic and justice underlying this seeming injustice.
Abdu’l-Baha was not callous. He certainly didn’t tell the grieving parents who lost their son to be elated, nor did he chide them for grieving. But his assurance that they will in time understand the meaning of this act, even if not in this lifetime, at least assuaged any temptation they might have to ponder how a loving God could allow such an event to occur. This realization, if the parents can fully grasp it, helps them to appreciate that they really grieve for themselves, for their separation from the child, however temporary and temporal that separation might be.
But Abdu’l-Baha also gave them a specific exercise to practice, so that their sole recourse is not simply to wait for time to assuage their pain. He told them that they could assist their son by praying for his spiritual progress.
This is a particularly powerful exercise, inasmuch as it accomplishes two tasks at once. First, it points the parents in the direction of the most important conclusion they can reach—that their son is still alive, still growing and progressing, even though they are temporarily prevented from communicating directly with him or sharing the joy of observing his progress firsthand. Second, it enables the parents to continue the work they had begun by way of assisting in the child’s development. They can still have a direct influence on his continued development, maturation and ascent as a human soul.
In another, similar letter to a grieving mother, Abdu’l-Baha expressed understanding about the incredible weight of grief, but he also assured her that her son “hath not been lost but, rather, hath stepped from this world into another” and that she “will find him in the divine realm. That reunion shall be for eternity, while in this world separation is inevitable and bringeth with it a burning grief.” – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 200.
Even more interesting in the advice Abdu’l-Baha gives in this same letter is the following exhortation:
Therefore be thou not disconsolate, do not languish, do not sigh, neither wail nor weep; for agitation and mourning deeply affect his soul in the divine realm. – Ibid.
This statement actually presents us with another Baha’i axiom about such unfortunate deaths and our part as parents in grieving—that the soul of the child is aware of the parents’ sorrow, and that their excess of grief will actually impede the felicity of the soul and its ability to make progress in its new environment, because the child will feel the weight of the parents’ pain and lamentation.
Finally, Abdu’l-Baha offers what are probably the most profound statements regarding this most egregious of griefs—the lamentation for a child or for someone who, through no fault of their own, suffers from emotional, physical, or mental handicaps. These consolations are stated in the forms of axiomatic verities regarding such conditions and, like the previously mentioned statement of Baha’u’llah regarding the fact that no physical or mental condition can impair the soul itself, are articulated succinctly and with a tone of authority and certitude.
Asked “What happens to children who die before reaching the age of maturity or before the appointed time of birth,” Abdu’l-Baha explained that “these children abide under the shadow of the Divine Providence” and that, inasmuch as they:
… are unsullied by the defilements of the world of nature, they will become the manifestations of divine bounty, and the glances of the eye of divine mercy will be directed towards them. – Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 277-278.