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It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God, the True One. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah Revealed After the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 27.
This injunction inspires individuals to see the noble purpose and greater societal benefits of their efforts to earn a living. I find it hard to imagine a more wonderful token of God’s mercy than transforming the yeoman’s task of making money into the pursuit of God’s good pleasure.
Many people affected by the recent financial crisis would agree that a collection of individuals each pursuing their own interests does not result in universal prosperity. The history of the rational pursuit of individual gain has resulted in disparities of wealth; social injustice and violent conflict. The desire for gain intrinsic to our nature needs moderation.
The oneness of the human race — the ultimate goal and animating principle of Baha’u’llah’s revelation – tempers and informs the animal spirits. This ideal of unity in diversity asks us to approach economic questions in a completely new way. Baha’is believe that the realization of the oneness of the human race will overcome the actual causes and pernicious consequences of the social and economic insecurity prevailing in the world. Consider the passage below from the Baha’i International Community’s statement on prosperity:
The bedrock of a strategy that can engage the world’s population in assuming responsibility for its collective destiny must be the consciousness of the oneness of humankind.
Deference to the requirements of the whole reflected in the ideal of the oneness of humanity usefully counterbalances the selfish competition most closely associated with the worst actors in the recent economic crisis. This ideal challenges prevailing immature modes of human organization, and asks us to solve our economic problems with spiritual solutions.
Baha’is are not ascetics. For Baha’is, wealth is a good thing – provided everyone has an opportunity to prosper by fulfilling their potential in service to humanity:
Wealth is praiseworthy in the highest degree, if it is acquired by an individual’s own efforts and the grace of God, in commerce, agriculture, art and industry, and if it be expended for philanthropic purposes. Above all, if a judicious and resourceful individual should initiate measures which would universally enrich the masses of the people, there could be no undertaking greater than this, and it would rank in the sight of God as the supreme achievement, for such a benefactor would supply the needs and insure the comfort and well-being of a great multitude. Wealth is most commendable, provided the entire population is wealthy. If, however, a few have inordinate riches while the rest are impoverished, and no fruit or benefit accrues from that wealth, then it is only a liability to its possessor. If, on the other hand, it is expended for the promotion of knowledge, the founding of elementary and other schools, the encouragement of art and industry, the training of orphans and the poor — in brief, if it is dedicated to the welfare of society — its possessor will stand out before God and man as the most excellent of all who live on earth and will be accounted as one of the people of paradise. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 24-25.
Humankind is rapidly evolving in its understanding and capacity to fulfill its extraordinary destiny. Baha’u’llah has come at the time when humanity stands on the precipice of its collective maturation. His teachings represent the cutting edge of human development – consistent with our collective evolution and the extraordinary heights implied by the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth. Baha’u’llah’s Revelation precipitates an entirely new way of being consistent with our collective coming of age:
This is the Day in which God’s most excellent favors have been poured out upon men, the Day in which His most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care and loving-kindness…. Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth, and is the Knower of things unseen. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 6-7.
Read the previous article in the True Wealth series: Turn Your Sight Inward