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Not until man is tried doth the pure gold distinctly separate from the dross. Torment is the fire of test wherein the pure gold shineth resplendently and the impurity is burned and blackened. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 121.
These words from Abdu’l-Baha testify to the importance of tests in our lives.
Tests beset us as individuals, as families, as nations and on a worldwide basis, too. Individuals suffer financial losses, illnesses, injuries, injustices, emotional upheavals and many other afflictions. Families suffer as a result of the tests visited upon individual members, and as a consequence of the larger community situation. We all know how families can falter—they can become dysfunctional and divided. Most of us know this firsthand, from personal experience.
Nations, too, are tested. Economies rise and fall. Wars occur. Natural disasters, diseases and social upheavals ravage large areas.
In fact, the entire planet—and by extension, humanity itself—now faces serious tests.
Listening to news reports these days is a test in itself. All over the world, people suffer greatly. Natural disasters are only one kind of torment. The real horror is what humans are doing to each other. Human atrocities range from physical and bloody violence to outright neglect, with every imaginable range of abuse between the two poles. If we would stop visiting these horrendous acts upon each other and would unite to mitigate the effects of natural and man-made disasters, we could quickly have a loving and trusting world community.
But it seems that we require much pushing to motivate us to make changes in our behavior. Change is difficult. It requires that we have a high standard we all strive to attain. Religion has been the source of the high standard in the past. The Baha’i teachings say that religion is updated roughly every 1000 years, to raise our standard of behavior as humanity matures. But the push to elevate humanity can sometimes be calamitous:
Nothing hath ever happened nor will happen without a cause or effect. Reflect a while and consider how vast the number of the people that have perished, how numerous the cities and towns that have been reduced to dust and now appear as a level plain. Such is their plight now and only God knoweth the future and that which will come to pass. – Baha’u’llah, Fire and Light, p. 10.
History repeats itself. Evidence shows the rise and fall of many civilizations. Each time we think we have found the beginning of something, new information shows us that there was a previous something. It seems such a waste, unless we realize that each rise and fall leaves behind gems of acquired knowledge for the next wave of people to discover and to add to the collective consciousness.
That’s how humanity carries forward an ever-advancing civilization. Every step along the way involves tests, both to the society at large and certainly to the individuals within that society—but those tests ultimately give us the power to move forward and progress.
We are at a point now of global testing. The horrifying news that assails us every day feels overwhelming. The wars and rumors of wars, climate change, natural disasters, refugees under extreme duress, drug addiction, nasty political rhetoric, meteorites hurtling toward us, fears of genetic modifications and many other such disturbing bits of information can make us numb or cynical about our significance. Cynicism can be an excuse to do nothing. But we must do something.
Once our collective ideas reach a critical mass, they can tip the balance toward a new way of thinking. That tipping point seems close. Each day, more people question our current values and search for ways toward a better society. The writings of the Baha’i Faith reveal a sound path toward a united humanity and an understanding of how to establish justice for all. Those principles, espoused by Baha’u’llah, are now seeping into the world’s social fabric. Each community will apply these new ideas in culturally appropriate ways, and the time will come when humanity will develop a universal vision, while maintaining the diversity essential to flexibility in a rapidly changing world.
It’s time for us to embrace these tests with confidence, if we want to become pure gold and free ourselves of dross and impurity. Abdu’l-Baha said:
I earnestly exhort you: let not your hearts be fettered by the material things of this world; I charge you not to lie contentedly on the beds of negligence, prisoners of matter, but to arise and free yourselves from its chains! – Paris Talks, p. 37.
If a person wishes to become free of those chains, there are many ways to get started. Any passage from the Baha’i writings can serve as an opening to a new way of being, like this one from Abdu’l-Baha:
Other attributes of perfection are to fear God, to love God by loving His servants, to exercise mildness and forbearance and calm, to be sincere, amenable, clement and compassionate; to have courage, trustworthiness and energy, to strive and struggle, to be generous, loyal, without malice, to have zeal and a sense of honour, to be high-minded and magnanimous, and to have regard for the rights of others… – The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 40.
This undertaking involves a lifetime of effort, but the Baha’i teachings assure us that with prayer and faith we can achieve much. We have the capacity. That doesn’t make it easy. When we make an effort to change, tests inevitably follow. So begin the tests, and so begins the purification.