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Let’s take time for more affection—that is, a time for more reflection on affection as a godly perfection and goodly virtue, expressed not only in feeling, but in action, the ultimate expression of any emotion.
The previous article in this series associated the divine attribute of affection with the noble human virtue of compassion. In the following passage, Baha’u’llah connects the four spiritual virtues of “love, affection, compassion and harmony:”
Under all conditions, whether in adversity or at ease, whether honoured or afflicted, this Wronged One hath directed all men to show forth love, affection, compassion and harmony. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 72–73.
The word for affection occurs more often in the Baha’i writings in Persian, rather than in Arabic. Abdu’l-Baha’s statement regarding President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Principles” is a good example of the ethic of “affection” for all people, not only for those who are near and dear:
As to President Wilson, the fourteen principles which he hath enunciated are mostly found in the teachings of Baha’u’llah and I therefore hope that he will be confirmed and assisted. Now is the dawn of universal peace; my hope is that its morn will fully break, converting the gloom of war, of strife and of wrangling among men into the light of union, of harmony and of affection. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 311–312.
In the Baha'i writings affection is not only associated with compassion; it is sometimes translated as compassion. This loving attribute of God also occurs as a “Name of God,” especially in its Arabic form, al-Wadud, which means “The Loving,” “The Affectionate” or “The Compassionate.”
This “Name of God” harks back to the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam: “And He is the Forgiving, the Affectionate.” - Qur’an 85:14. Here are three examples in the Baha’i writings:
Thus was it irrevocably decreed in the court of the presence of thy Lord, the All-Glorious, the Loving. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 131.
He it is Who hath caused the Rock to shout, and the Burning Bush to lift up its voice, upon the Mount rising above the Holy Land, and proclaim: “The Kingdom is God’s, the sovereign Lord of all, the All-Powerful, the Loving!” – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 57.
Be ye as firmly settled as the immovable mountain in the Cause of your Lord, the Mighty, the Loving. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 86.
In each case here, Baha’u’llah refers to God as “the Loving.” So how does this “Name of God” translate into a human virtue? How is this godly attribute expressed in goodly actions? Abdu’l-Baha offers this clear explanation:
For this reason must all human beings powerfully sustain one another and seek for everlasting life; and for this reason must the lovers of God in this contingent world become the mercies and the blessings sent forth by that clement King of the seen and unseen realms. Let them purify their sight and behold all humankind as leaves and blossoms and fruits of the tree of being. Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help. Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends; regarding the alien as an intimate, the stranger as a companion, staying free of prejudice, drawing no lines.
In this day, the one favoured at the Threshold of the Lord is he who handeth round the cup of faithfulness; who bestoweth, even upon his enemies, the jewel of bounty, and lendeth, even to his fallen oppressor, a helping hand; it is he who will, even to the fiercest of his foes, be a loving friend. These are the Teachings of the Blessed Beauty [Baha’u’llah], these the counsels of the Most Great Name. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 1–2.
You can readily see, just from this example alone, how highly love and compassion, affection and empathy for others is held in the Baha’i “hierarchy of values.”
Passions are human. Compassion is godly. Both involve affection. But the nature and quality of this affection depends upon the motive and purpose—that is, on one’s intention. Passions are often selfish. Compassion is always unselfish. Therefore the nature and quality, the nobility and worthiness of affection are bound up with purity of heart and integrity of character.
Compassion can spring from passion, such that affection, expressed in its primal form as a desire or fondness for another, can evolve into something that transcends self and gratification. Love trains us from our infancy:
O Son of Bounty! Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things. Thus, ere thou didst issue from thy mother’s womb, I destined for thee two founts of gleaming milk, eyes to watch over thee, and hearts to love thee. Out of My loving-kindness, ’neath the shade of My mercy I nurtured thee, and guarded thee by the essence of My grace and favor. And My purpose in all this was that thou mightest attain My everlasting dominion and become worthy of My invisible bestowals. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 32.
Ideally, over time, affection and love for family should evolve into compassion, empathy and love for others, as part of the human family.