The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
My father, who was a Marine infantry officer in the brutal Pacific campaign during World War II, left me with one piece of indelible advice, expressed as a question: “Are you ready to meet your Maker?”
We’re all terminal, after all.
When I was growing up, he asked me that question on a fairly regular basis. I think he meant it to instill a pair of crucial lessons in me – the reality that this material world is fleeting and nothing in life is guaranteed; and the idea that a clear conscience and the self-respect it generates represent our greatest and most cherished possessions by far.
RELATED: What to Do When Death Approaches
The Baha’i writings, which I didn’t first encounter until I was 15 years old, testify to this truth. Abdu’l-Baha, in his book The Secret of Divine Civilization, wrote:
… man’s supreme honor and real happiness lie in self-respect, in high resolves and noble purposes, in integrity and moral quality, in immaculacy of mind. They have, rather, imagined that their greatness consists in the accumulation, by whatever means may offer, of worldly goods.
A man should pause and reflect and be just: his Lord, out of measureless grace, has made him a human being and honored him with the words: “Verily, We created man in the goodliest of forms” – and caused His mercy which rises out of the dawn of oneness to shine down upon him, until he became the wellspring of the words of God and the place where the mysteries of heaven alighted, and on the morning of creation he was covered with the rays of the qualities of perfection and the graces of holiness. How can he stain this immaculate garment with the filth of selfish desires, or exchange this everlasting honor for infamy?
Those who’ve been to war, or people who have suffered through terrible disasters, or anybody facing a life-threatening crisis, gets the valuable opportunity to confront this inevitable reality – “Are you ready to meet your Maker?” – a little sooner than most. Combat veterans and those with severely-compromised health understand this equation better than just about anyone else, because they so often encounter the very real prospect of their immediate demise.
Impending death, as many have pointed out, does tend to focus the mind.
In wartime, every waking moment – and many of the sleeping ones, too – bring death into a near-constant presence. That’s why, in my own experience, warriors contemplate the afterlife more than most. Perhaps that’s the origin of the old saying “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
When we’re living relatively peaceful lives, those of us who have the great privilege of existing in the midst of plenty in the modern world can seemingly afford to deny or delay any thoughts of impending death. We’re young, we’re healthy, we have enough to eat, we have many ways to divert and entertain ourselves, and our lives seem stable – so why should we worry? Death feels far away, a distant and inconceivable mirage. Our cultures prioritize youth, our lifespans continue to elongate thanks to advances in science and technology, and hey, sixty is the new forty, so why would we even contemplate such a remote and hard-to-imagine occurrence like the death of our physical body?
But one reality remains: none of us knows exactly when we will make that transcendent journey over the rainbow bridge. Few people have any idea when death will come – all we know for certain is that it eventually will come to everyone. So it’s best, as my father’s question implies, to get ready for that transition now. It’s wise to review your life on a regular basis and gradually refine your character in the process, becoming a better, more loving human.
That’s exactly what the Baha’i teachings suggest. Baha’u’llah, in his book The Hidden Words, wrote:
O son of being! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.
This deeply spiritual advice asks us to do two critically important things daily – first, recognize and accept the fact that this physical existence is temporary; and second, have faith that another life exists beyond this one, where we will “be called to give account” for the way we’ve conducted our lives. If we’ve consistently acted in ways that express the nobility of our souls in this existence, the Baha’i teachings say, we’ll enter the next life with radiance and joy.
RELATED: Death, Burial, and Human Nature
As I grew up, I compared this readiness for transcendence, this sense of looking forward to our next phase of existence, with that feeling you get after you’ve studied hard before a test. Do you remember that feeling? We’ve all had it – either you take a test with the confidence that you’ve read and studied and paid attention and know the material, eager to demonstrate your facility – or the thought of the upcoming test fills you with dread because you haven’t put in the work necessary to know and truly understand what you’ll be facing.
If we accept that we will inevitably pass into the next world; and engage in bringing ourselves to account each day, we’ll be ready for it when it comes.
In his writings, Baha’u’llah spoke extensively about these twin duties and what they mean:
Know ye that by “the world” is meant your unawareness of Him Who is your Maker, and your absorption in aught else but Him. The “life to come,” on the other hand, signifieth the things that give you a safe approach to God, the All-Glorious, the Incomparable. Whatsoever deterreth you, in this Day, from loving God is nothing but the world. Flee it, that ye may be numbered with the blest.
In this pursuit – the most spiritual of all pursuits – you might want to regularly ask yourself whether you’re ready to meet your Maker.