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I expect that many of us, at various points of our lives, have felt that God has forsaken us.
My husband and I have increasingly felt that way as we observe a world which—in our opinion at least—continues to sink into a swamp of moral perversity, materialism, corruption, and violence. As a Christian, my husband points to stories in the Bible where God intervened in the world to “correct course,” so to speak, and wonders why that no longer seems to happen. As a Baha’i, I believe that man’s free will has a lot to do with the deep holes that we have dug for ourselves. I would be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that I also sometimes feel forsaken by God.
This questioning impelled me to do some research on the concept of feeling forsaken. Dictionary definitions of this word include: to leave forever, to give up completely, to be abandoned, to be deserted, and to renounce or turn away from entirely.
Numerous passages in the Baha’i writings call for humanity to forsake the material things of this world, but, on a more human level, there are also many passages that address how the central figures of the Baha’i Faith themselves battled feeling forsaken and alone. That comforts me in an odd sort of way, when I learn that these holy souls felt these emotions, too.
Abdul-Baha shares some heartfelt passages in this vein:
Lord! My cup of woe runneth over, and from all sides blows are fiercely raging upon me. The darts of affliction have compassed me round and the arrows of distress have rained upon me. Thus tribulation overwhelmed me… while I stood alone and forsaken in the midst of my woes. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 23.
Before his passing, he added:
I have forsaken the world and its people, am heartbroken because of the unfaithful, and am weary. In the cage of this world I flutter like a frightened bird and long for the flight to Thy Kingdom.
In a moving, poetic and mystical work called the Fire Tablet, Baha’u’llah recounts the calamities in the world and, in a call and response format, asks where the balm for this suffering will come from:
Those who are near unto Thee have been abandoned in the darkness of desolation: Where is the shining of the morn of Thy reunion, O Desire of the worlds? … Anguish hath befallen all the peoples of the earth: Where are the ensigns of Thy gladness, O joy of the worlds? – Baha’i Prayers, pp. 211-214.
Baha’u’llah’s Fire Tablet reminds me, in some ways, of the Book of Job in the Old Testament, which I like to read when I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself! More seriously though, I think it’s only half of the picture to focus on God forsaking humanity. In fairness, humanity consistently has forsaken God and the teachings He repeatedly sends to help us live fuller lives. This common theme runs throughout the Baha’i writings, and through many other religious texts. One of the most poignant passages in that regard comes from The Hidden Words, where, in series of moving vignettes about the relationship between God and man, Baha’u’llah wrote:
I have breathed within thee a breath of My own Spirit, that thou mayest be My lover. Why hast thou forsaken Me and sought a beloved other than Me? – p. 8.
The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the general theme of humanity turning away from divine guidance, too:
And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt shew this people all these words, and they shall say unto thee, “wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? Or what is our iniquity? Or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?” Then shalt thou say unto them, “Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law.” – Jeremiah, 16:10.
In another passage along these same lines, Baha’u’llah adds:
Have ye forgotten My exhortations, which My Pen hath revealed and My tongue hath uttered? Have ye bartered away My certitude in exchange for your idle fancies and My Way for your selfish desires? Have ye cast away the precepts of God and His remembrance and have ye forsaken His laws and ordinances? Fear ye God and abandon vain imaginings to the begetters thereof and leave superstitions to the devisers thereof and misgivings to the breeders thereof. Advance ye then with radiant faces and stainless hearts towards the horizon above which the Day-Star of certitude shineth resplendent at the bidding of God, the Lord of Revelations. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 104-105.
Admittedly, I sometimes find it quite difficult to “advance with a radiant face” in a time when much of humanity seems to be turning toward the dregs and ignoring its divine birthright—but we are asked to detach from these conditions somewhat. And, at the end of the day, experiencing the dark and the dross may be the only way to value the light. As the Fire Tablet concludes:
Were it not for the cold, how would the heat of Thy words prevail, O Expounder of the worlds? Were it not for calamity, how would the sun of Thy patience shine, O Light of the Worlds? – Baha’i Prayers, p. 218.
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