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We are forever. As spiritual, non-material beings we continue to exist for eternity. It’s a concept that’s hard to get your head around. Everything we know on this earth has both a beginning and an ending—and yet we are forever. Let’s look at the prospect of eternal life.
The So-Called Fires of Hell
When I was a child our minister warned us about doing evil. Evil acts, or even evil thoughts could result in a trip to hell. We might literally wind up in a pit of fire… forever. It scared me, but not enough to keep me totally out mischief.
The Baha’i teachings explain that no one burns in hell forever—or even for a moment. There is no physical suffering in a spiritual world, because there is no life of the flesh in the next world. The Bible declares that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Baha’i scripture explains that heaven is nearness to God, while hell is distance from Him. There is no devil or Satan. So what does the term “devil” really mean? It is, the Baha’i teachings say, the “insistent self.” Our lower nature, our animal side keeps us—in this life—in a constant metaphysical tug of war between our true nature and our animal nature. We can no longer put off our bad choices on a non-existent being by saying, “the devil made me do it.” So what, then, is God?
How We Experience God
The Baha’i writings say that “God is an unknowable Essence.” This is another way of saying, “No one will ever meet or comprehend God.” After all, the three qualities of God most agreed upon are: He is all-Knowing, all-Powerful and omnipresent—simultaneously everywhere and nowhere. You can’t meet Him if He’s not to be found anywhere! Or, as Christ put it: “No man hath seen God at any time”. –John 4:12. How then do we get close enough to meet Him?
Baha’is believe that the presence of God’s messenger is the closest we can get to the presence of God. That messenger—a prophet and the founder of a true Faith—acts as the mediator between God and His creation. As Christ said, “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” – John 14:9. Or, “I and my Father are one.” – John 10:30.
The Baha’i teachings say:
…in the kingdoms of earth and heaven there must needs be manifested a Being, an Essence Who shall act as a Manifestation and Vehicle for the transmission of the grace of the Divinity Itself, the Sovereign Lord of all. Through the Teachings of this Day Star of Truth every man will advance and develop until he attaineth the station at which he can manifest all the potential forces with which his inmost true self hath been endowed. It is for this very purpose that in every age and dispensation the Prophets of God and His chosen Ones have appeared amongst men, and have evinced such power as is born of God and such might as only the Eternal can reveal. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 67-68.
Baha’is believe that God’s messenger in this day is Baha’u’llah.
The Rewards of Heaven
The Baha’i teachings say:
…the followers of the one true God shall, the moment they depart out of this life, experience such joy and gladness as would be impossible to describe… – Ibid., p. 171.
Feelings of ecstasy, peace, joy and love are constant companions of the heavenly realm. There will never be a negative experience, and only positive qualities survive. This explains why evil has no positive existence—it can only describe what is not. Weakness is the absence of strength. Ignorance is the absence of knowledge. Poverty is the absence of wealth. Darkness is the absence of light. For example, no one can say, “I’m coming over to your house and I’ll bring all my poverty with me.”
So meeting “God” in the next world and being close to Him is heaven, while distance from Him is hell:
All Will Meet God… Eventually
The Baha’i teachings reassure everyone that we all will progress toward God in the next life:
Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 155-156.
What Will We Do In Heaven?
We will all have useful service to perform in the next existence:
Those who have passed on through death, have a sphere of their own. It is not removed from ours; their work… is ours; but it is sanctified from what we call “time and place.” – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 96.
What About Meeting Those We Knew?
The Baha’i teachings say we will “find all the friends of God, both those of the former and recent times, present in the heavenly assemblage.” In the near-death experience we find many accounts of those who pass over, meeting relatives and other loved ones on the other side. Abdu’l-Baha assures us that we can welcome death:
At first it is very difficult to welcome death, but after attaining its new condition the soul is grateful, for it has been released from the bondage of the limited to enjoy the liberties of the unlimited. It has been freed from a world of sorrow, grief and trials to live in a world of unending bliss and joy. The phenomenal and physical have been abandoned in order that it may attain the opportunities of the ideal and spiritual. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 48.
What about Reincarnation?
No, we won’t return to another womb or another earthly existence. We won’t ever again have a physical life. Reincarnation is a popular idea in many religions, but the Baha’i writings explain that qualities and attributes return, but not the same soul in another body.
Can We Influence the Progress of the Dead?
Absolutely—the Baha’i teachings support the idea of intercession. We can pray on behalf of someone and perform acts of charity in their name—and if the prayers and acts are accepted by God, that soul will progress in the next world.
Next: Fate, Free-Will and Predestination