Were we to travel to the Arctic wastes without proper clothing, we might admit intellectually that the absence of heat was causing us to freeze to death.

But the effect of being remote from the direct rays of the sun produces the subjective experience of an active force, the force of ice and snow and bone-chilling wind. Clearly we would find it unsatisfying and ludicrous to announce to our companions as we freeze to death, “Say, fellows, this absence of energy from the sun’s rays is certainly causing my feet to become black from frostbite!”

So how can an essentially nonexistent force destroy our very lives? If evil, as the Baha’i teachings clearly say, has no positive existence, then how can we view it?

… in existence and creation there is no evil at all, but … when man’s innate qualities are used in an unlawful way, they become blameworthy. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 249.

Therefore we need words and metaphors, powerful and vivid images to portray the operation of these laws in our lives.

Thus we might say that Hitler and the destruction he wrought resulted from his rampant violation and rejection of the laws of God, obedience to which is the source of all positive forces—and yet we desperately need to adequately recognize the wretched and heartrending results that this active rejection of moral truth caused.

These effects have the appearance and feel of a negative energy, as if they were emanating from some evil source. Consequently, we resort to inventive metaphorical expressions to describe this appearance in history of such an obvious source of iniquity, injustice, and human suffering. Of course, history also teaches us that these immoral responses to the source of energy, these sorts of blatant injustice, are all ultimately doomed to failure, but we still need to describe and understand these events and the ravages they have wrought.

The prophets of the past, wishing to convey spiritual states of being, have thus resorted to metaphors for evil, not because they wished to portray a distorted image of reality, but because such devices were the best means by which humankind could at the time understand these abstract concepts of cause and effect and appreciate the peril resulting from ignoring or actively rejecting moral law.

The prophets thus frequently describe pride in terms of an iniquitous tempter, a Satan. Likewise, they portray spiritual existence in the afterlife where one is freed from the injustice of tyranny or physical ills in terms of an idyllic pastoral abode, a paradise or heaven. Similarly, spiritual degeneration and the resulting effects on a soul once it has come to realize how it has willfully perverted its opportunities to develop are portrayed in vivid sensual terms, a place of physical torment, a hell:

Even the materialists have testified in their writings to the wisdom of these divinely-appointed Messengers, and have regarded the references made by the Prophets to Paradise, to hell fire, to future reward and punishment, to have been actuated by a desire to educate and uplift the souls of men. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 158.

In one sense, then, evil is the result of man’s willful acts; Baha’u’llah writes, “were men to abide by and observe the divine teachings, every trace of evil would be banished from the face of the earth.”Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 176.

But obviously, not all the negative events we term “evil” can be defined as the logical, direct consequences of our turning away from goodness. How do we account for the suffering of the innocent in disasters, or for the spiritual and physical tests that befall us all, which seem to have no relationship to anything we have done? While not “evil” according to our precise definition, these events are still negative, unfortunate, unjust, or at least unmerited.

So what do the Baha’i teachings have to say about those kinds of occurrences?

Abdu’l-Baha, who sailed to North America at about the same time as the Titanic disaster occurred, said that such disasters can reveal several layers of deeper wisdom:

Within the last few days a terrible event has happened in the world, an event saddening to every heart and grieving every spirit. I refer to the Titanic disaster, in which many of our fellow human beings were drowned, a number of beautiful souls passed beyond this earthly life. Although such an event is indeed regrettable, we must realize that everything which happens is due to some wisdom and that nothing happens without a reason. Therein is a mystery; but whatever the reason and mystery, it was a very sad occurrence, one which brought tears to many eyes and distress to many souls. I was greatly affected by this disaster. Some of those who were lost voyaged on the Cedric [the ship Abdu’l-Baha crossed the Atlantic on] with us as far as Naples and afterward sailed upon the other ship. When I think of them, I am very sad indeed. But when I consider this calamity in another aspect, I am consoled by the realization that the worlds of God are infinite; that though they were deprived of this existence, they have other opportunities in the life beyond, even as Christ has said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” They were called away from the temporary and transferred to the eternal; they abandoned this material existence and entered the portals of the spiritual world. Foregoing the pleasures and comforts of the earthly, they now partake of a joy and happiness far more abiding and real, for they have hastened to the Kingdom of God. The mercy of God is infinite, and it is our duty to remember these departed souls in our prayers and supplications that they may draw nearer and nearer to the Source itself. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 46-47.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

8 Comments

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  • Aubrey J. Bacon
    Apr 05, 2018
    Regarding the lost souls of the titanic and the point I made earlier on that.. Does it not make sense that reincarnation is the being's process? If we are, of necessity, here to gain experience, control and to conquer our attachment to the physical universe, how do aborted babies souls gain any experience in order to be ready to progress and detach from the physical universe and move on to higher levels of existence as a powerful spiritual being if it has not been tried and able to progress through such a state. I say that it cannot. In all ...logic, what is this fixation on the physical existence for, if it doesn't serve a purpose for anything? It is of such a need for us to learn something, to come here to progress, but we don't need it.
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    • John Hatcher
      Apr 05, 2018
      2. As the Bahá’í Writings repeatedly affirm, the progress of the soul (our essential reality) is not deterred by of mental or physical illness, nor early demise—we who have the opportunity to experience this life are obliged to use our time and talents for the spiritual progress of ourselves and others. Those who do not have such an opportunity will have that opportunity in the afterlife. In short, all will be made right.
      3. Discussions of “evil” often get lost in semantics. At the heart of this discourse is the fact that there is nothing “essentially” evil, no force or source of ...evil. But when people reject goodness, their actions have an effect. We need to describe these actions with powerful terms: “evil” “wicked” “base” or “perverse.”
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    • John Hatcher
      Apr 05, 2018
      I appreciate your frustration with what might seem contrary to our everyday experiences. Forthcoming articles will respond to many of your concerns. With 2 posts let me respond here briefly..
      1. Reincarnation might be valuable were justice and out ultimate development to take place in this world, but justice can only take place in a realm no longer subject to the “changes and chances” of physical reality. Were there not continuity of life in the realm of the spirit, this life would make absolutely no sense and justice could never be meted out to us individually because no two people ...have exactly the same experiences or the same opportunities to fulfill their potential (e.g., those who die in accidents, who are abused, etc.)
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  • Aubrey J. Bacon
    Apr 05, 2018
    I must say, every "point" made was inconclusive. How are these tangible evils non existent? The very point of the article? That's an awful lot of real, life altering phenomena of a lack of goodness, for not actually existing. For would the absence of destruction thus not leave good? "Oh hey bro your daughter got raped and murdered, see.." It's ok it doesn't exist." And how can the people dying on the Titanic be brushed away with oh that's great because now they get to progress in the spirit world? So then what's the importance of this physical life ...then? Lets just kill everybody, like the suicide cults and rejoice in their transcendance to the other world's.. Why not?
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    • Aubrey J. Bacon
      Apr 05, 2018
      I get that it has no positive existence. But define real, what is real? If you can experience it and it has virtually every influence over life as if it is "real", then what's the point in trying to affirm it doesn't exist, when the lack of light manifests the dark and all the effects that that brings.. It's part of life, made of the tangible, intangible, but still influencing every part of life. Thus real. Just like there are corrupt beings, fully intentioned to destroy you. You better believe it exists or it will devour you like the fluffy ...notion of it not "existing" and we can all just see no evil, hear no evil, smell no evil because, it doesn't exist..
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  • Joyous Messenger
    Apr 02, 2018
    Qur’án 67:3 “No defect canst thou see in the creation of the God of Mercy: Repeat the gaze: Seest thou a single flaw?”
  • Rosslyn and Steven Osborne
    Mar 24, 2018
    It is hard for many of us at times like described above find much consolation in loosing a family or friend in such tragic way, mostly due to the fact of not being able to say goodbye or I love you. It is only after a period of time when grieving and funerals have taken place that some of us can move on to comfort ourselves in knowing the promises of our Beloved. I find it sad that folk who do not have Faith in God floundering and wallowing in the depths of broken heartedness and anger. Yet, it is ...still not their time to listen or find comfort in learning. Thank you very much as I am enjoying this series very much.
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    • Andrew Scott
      Mar 24, 2018
      We can help them by engaging with them through our service in love and faith.