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O Son of Man! For everything there is a sign. The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under My trials.
In this occasional series of essays about Baha’u’llah’s mystical volume The Hidden Words, we’ve explored the mysteries of the book’s lofty language, the spiritual insights of its soulful advice and the meanings of its metaphors and allusions.
We’ve learned that every passage in this beautiful poetic book has multiple meanings. We’ve seen how the most literal readings of The Hidden Words can’t begin to do justice to the soaring wordscape of the book’s many symbolic layers of implication and intent. We’ve tried to discover a few of those layers of meaning, and understand at least some of what the prophetic voice of Baha’u’llah gave us.
“The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under My trails;” and “the true lover yearneth for tribulation,” both link love to hardship, tests and forbearance.
In the material world, we don’t often think of love this way. Many people have a romantic view of love as an untroubled, placid sea of emotional stability. But in truth, love can bring turmoil, trouble and tears. True love for another usually means the lover would sacrifice anything—peace, prosperity, life—for the beloved:
One of the requisites of true love is willingness to bear every suffering and tribulation that hath occurred in the past or may occur in the future. Hence a passionate lover is always stained with blood, and he that yearneth to meet the Beloved a constant wanderer. – Baha’u’llah, Fire and Light, p. 25.
Love brings with it more than just a little inconvenience, Baha’u’llah tells us. Instead, it produces trials and tribulations, suffering and pain and emotional upheaval.
Buddha teaches that to exist is to suffer. In many ways, modern existence has seemingly mitigated much of life’s physical suffering—with our electronics, our transportation, the way we get our food, the miracles of modern medicine, the relative ease of our daily lives.
But each of us, no matter who we are or how we live, suffers inside. No life proceeds without pain. Spiritually, that pain makes us yearn for a deep and profound connection beyond this physical plane. It spurs us on in our search for meaning, and makes us desire a lasting understanding of our own souls.
So does our suffering have meaning?
The Baha’i teachings say it does—that sorrow and suffering find their meaning in the power to transform the individual soul from a material being to a spiritual being. Our suffering, if we look at it in the light of an educative process, has the potential to remake us.
The great Sufi poets, Hafez and Rumi, constantly reminded us of this powerful metaphorical truth. “Love comes with a knife, not some shy question,” Rumi said, “Love is a madman, working his wild schemes.”
Baha’u’llah uses an even more startling concept when he says “The true lover yearneth for tribulation.”
The Baha’i teachings view tests and suffering as a gift for the human spirit:
To the loyal soul, a test is but God’s grace and favour; for the valiant doth joyously press forward to furious battle on the field of anguish, when the coward, whimpering with fright, will tremble and shake. So too, the proficient student, who hath with great competence mastered his subjects and committed them to memory, will happily exhibit his skills before his examiners on the day of his tests. So too will solid gold wondrously gleam and shine out in the assayer’s fire.
It is clear, then, that tests and trials are, for sanctified souls, but God’s bounty and grace… – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 181-182.
Our attraction and love for the divine, for the spiritual and the transcendent and the God-like, will inevitably test us, these Hidden Words seem to say. If we truly love the spiritual reality of life, we will want to prove it. So the fire of those trials will reveal, just as gold does when the fire heats it, the true nature and purity of our love.