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How Can Suffering and a Compassionate God Co-exist?

Sally Walker | Jun 4, 2014

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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Sally Walker | Jun 4, 2014

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

Impoverished childBaha’u’llah said over one hundred forty years ago that, “The world is in travail and its agitation waxeth day by day”.

This misery and suffering has, indeed, increased daily. Now it appears to be on an exponential path of destruction, of both the planet and its peoples. The devastation of the environment and the moral decay of humankind appears wherever we look: deforestation and pollution change our very climate and our living conditions on earth; internet pornography, the third largest industry in the world, affects not only our spiritual condition, but acts as a precursor to further breakdown of the human family, a bedrock of human civilization; the widening gap between rich and poor reveals itself in the inordinate pursuit of material pleasures by the rich, while at the same time millions of people suffer and die due to lack of life’s basic requirements; and wars and terrorism threaten every person on the planet.

Some would ask why God would allow humanity to suffer in this way.

The Baha’i teachings explain:

If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 342.

Although this makes it clear that humanity bears the responsibility for its plight, why doesn’t God help us? If we look to Baha’u’llah for the answer he says:

Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction…. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 13.

Does this mean that God will intervene and save humanity from our self-inflicted hardships? Will He stop the suffering and deliver us from own demise? Or does mankind already have what is needed to save civilization and the planet?

The Baha’i teachings say that mankind’s ills are spiritual in nature and that Baha’u’llah has already prescribed a remedy—world unity.

Shoghi Effendi

Shoghi Effendi

The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, explains that, “The universal crisis affecting mankind is, therefore, essentially spiritual in its causes.” Implicit in this analysis is the idea that man has free will, and only through man’s choices will the sufferings of the world improve. We can either continue our hostilities, pitting nations, races and peoples against each other, or we can seek unity with each other. These choices can lead to the transformation of humankind and the elimination of its suffering.

Baha’is believe that humanity already has the solutions for the world’s suffering in the guidance of Baha’u’llah. Collectively, we all have the responsibility and, at the same time, the free will to follow this guidance.

Shoghi Effendi defines what that guidance means:

Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life. – The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 202.

Baha’u’llah brought specific guidance and teachings about the equality of men and women, universal education, spiritual solutions to economic and environmental problems, the need for a universal language and a universal tribunal to settle international disputes. Other important teachings involve the elimination of all forms of prejudice (religious, racial, and gender), the independent investigation of truth, and the agreement of science and religion.

These progressive teachings provide us with the information and the inspiration we need to eliminate our own suffering.

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