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Spirituality

Does Suffering Have a Purpose?

David Langness | Mar 30, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Mar 30, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

This is the rainy season. If the rain does not pour down, if the wind does not blow, if the storm and tempest do not rage, the soul-refreshing springtime will not appear. If the clouds do not weep the meadows will not laugh. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 239.

Here in California, the rains have finally come. After a long, multi-year drought, the ocean condition that meteorologists call El Nino has pushed a continuing river of moisture into the mountains where I live. The clouds have opened up and the rain has descended from the heavens. High in the Sierra Nevadas, the snowpack—our spring and summer meltwater reservoir—now stands at 130% of normal, with twenty feet of snow on some peaks. Their icy white spires pierce the sky.

california

Yesterday the weather broke, the clouds scudded away, and the sun came out. I hiked to a nearby meadow just to see it. Last year that same meadow looked poverty-stricken—brown, parched and lifeless. Now it bursts with rich new growth, filled with green plants and flourishing fauna. The Earth, wet from life-giving rain, feels spongy and alive underfoot. Birds sing. Insects chirp. Grass sprouts. The soul-refreshing springtime, soon to arrive, whispers its enormous promise once again.

“If the clouds do not weep,” Abdu’l-Baha said, “the meadows will not laugh.”

We all weep when we go through pain and privation in this life. Every one of us has tests and trials. No one avoids struggle and suffering, no matter how privileged or fortunate.

So here’s the question: does our suffering have a purpose? The Baha’i teachings say the answer is yes:

Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit. The labourer cuts up the earth with his plough, and from that earth comes the rich and plentiful harvest. The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 50.

We suffer, the Baha’i teachings tell us, so we can learn to detach ourselves from this physical world and let our spirits soar toward the world that bestows only happiness:

Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness. But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings.

There is no human being untouched by these two influences; but all the sorrow and the grief that exist come from the world of matter — the spiritual world bestows only the joy!

If we suffer it is the outcome of material things, and all the trials and troubles come from this world of illusion.

For instance, a merchant may lose his trade and depression ensues. A workman is dismissed and starvation stares him in the face. A farmer has a bad harvest, anxiety fills his mind. A man builds a house which is burnt to the ground and he is straightway homeless, ruined, and in despair.

All these examples are to show you that the trials which beset our every step, all our sorrow, pain, shame and grief, are born in the world of matter; whereas the spiritual Kingdom never causes sadness. A man living with his thoughts in this Kingdom knows perpetual joy. The ills all flesh is heir to do not pass him by, but they only touch the surface of his life, the depths are calm and serene.

Today, humanity is bowed down with trouble, sorrow and grief, no one escapes; the world is wet with tears; but, thank God, the remedy is at our doors. Let us turn our hearts away from the world of matter and live in the spiritual world! It alone can give us freedom! If we are hemmed in by difficulties we have only to call upon God, and by His great Mercy we shall be helped.

If sorrow and adversity visit us, let us turn our faces to the Kingdom and heavenly consolation will be outpoured.

If we are sick and in distress let us implore God’s healing, and He will answer our prayer.

When our thoughts are filled with the bitterness of this world, let us turn our eyes to the sweetness of God’s compassion and He will send us heavenly calm! If we are imprisoned in the material world, our spirit can soar into the Heavens and we shall be free indeed! When our days are drawing to a close let us think of the eternal worlds, and we shall be full of joy!

You see all round you proofs of the inadequacy of material things — how joy, comfort, peace and consolation are not to be found in the transitory things of the world. Is it not then foolishness to refuse to seek these treasures where they may be found? – Ibid., pp. 109-111.

So when the clouds of life rain on you, when your suffering seems pointless and without purpose, think of the laughing meadow that awaits us all.

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