Before a child is born, it spends nine months dedicating all of its energies toward developing capacities and powers that will have their true expression and purpose in this world.
The child develops eyes when there is nothing to see except perhaps vague shades of light and dark. She is then born into a world of colors and shapes, of beautiful paintings and landscapes and stars.
The child develops ears when all that can be heard are indistinct murmurings and a comforting but unrecognized beating heart. She is then born into a world of music and poetry and inspiring speech, of melodious bird calls and surging ocean waves and gentle breezes.
The child develops lungs when there is no need to breathe. When she is born those lungs give her the freedom to move independently over the earth, to inhale the cool night air, to blow glass into amazing shapes, to sing from the depths of her soul.
The child develops a nose and a tongue when there is nothing to smell or taste. She is born into a world of roses and pine trees and perfume, of raspberries and chocolate and pistachios. With that same tongue she can speak words of comfort, cry out in the name of justice, share the history of her family and her nation, offer a prayer to her Creator.
All of these and other capacities are developed before the child’s birth, but their true purpose and expression are only made manifest in this world. How could you describe everything in this world to her before she was born?
She would have no context, no way to understand. What are taste and sight and smell without experiencing them?
God has created for us a physical world of analogies and symbols that we may come to understand, to the best of our ability, our true reality and purpose.
The reality of a human being is the soul. We are spiritual beings having a brief and temporary physical experience. We have been placed in this physical world that we may develop spiritual capacities and inner powers that will find their fullest expression in the world to come. The relationship of our life in this earthly world to our life after death is, in this way, much like the relationship of the child’s life before birth to her life in this world.
On this theme, the Baha’i teachings say:
The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 157.
Therefore in this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix [the womb] by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so likewise the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 63.
If given the choice, the child would not want to leave the comfort and warmth of her life in the womb. But she is forced out, dying to a world that she cannot know is constrained and limited, born into a world she does not yet understand is where she was always meant to go, unaware of the powers and capacities within her that are waiting to be released and expressed.
In the same way, what we call “death” in this physical world is, in fact, a birth into a world infinitely more spacious, more beautiful, more glorious. The warm feelings of love we might experience in our heart, in this world, will acquire, in the next world, shapes and forms and powers that we cannot understand or comprehend in this physical world, as love unfailingly reveals the mysteries of the universe. Steadfast faith in that world is a powerful magnet, a jewel-encrusted treasure trove of independence and freedom. Trustworthiness cries out upon a pillar of light. Forgiveness is an ocean. Courage is a mountain of power.
When someone dies to this physical world, those of us who are still here experience sadness at our
temporary separation from our loved one. But we are comforted as we think of the joys of the next world. We rejoice that she has moved to her next, her truer home, on her soul’s eternal journey to draw nearer to her Creator.
As we remember our departed loved ones, we can also think of these reassuring words:
To hold that the spirit is annihilated upon the death of the body is to imagine that a bird imprisoned in a cage would perish if the cage were to be broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the breaking of the cage. This body is even as the cage and the spirit is like the bird: We observe that this bird, unencumbered by its cage, soars freely in the world of sleep. Therefore, should the cage be broken, the bird would not only continue to exist but its senses would be heightened, its perception would be expanded, and its joy would grow more intense. In reality, it would be leaving a place of torment for a delightsome paradise; for there is no greater paradise for the grateful birds than to be freed from their cage. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 262.
This article was adapted, with permission, from remarks recently shared by the author, who was asked to offer a Baha’i perspective on life after death, at the memorial service for his late, beloved grandmother, Amineh Farahnak.