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You’ve heard it often – “We’re all human, we make mistakes.” But surprisingly enough, Baha’is believe, some humans don’t make mistakes. Billions of people agree.
Personages like the holy messengers and prophets, whom Baha’is call manifestations of God, lived perfect lives.
The dictionary describes perfect as “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be,” or “free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible.” Most people of faith believe in a perfect Creator, even though we may not understand why certain things happen and others don’t.
The Baha’i teachings reflect on the perfection of the Creator, and challenge each human being to try to work toward their own soul’s perfection. Quoting Christ, Abdu’l-Baha, in a talk he gave in the United States in 1912, asked us all to “become recipients of all the perfections of God:”
So Christ said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” meaning that perfection is the requirement of Christianity. Be the image and likeness of God. This is not easy. It necessitates the focalization of all heavenly virtues. It requires that we become recipients of all the perfections of God. Then we become His image and likeness.
The Manifestations of God mirrored his perfections perfectly: Through the Love of God, Christ was sent into the world with His inspiring example of a perfect life of self-sacrifice and devotion, bringing to men the message of Eternal Life. It was the Love of God that gave Muhammad power to bring the Arabs from a state of animal degradation to a loftier state of existence. God’s Love it was that sustained the Bab and brought Him to His supreme sacrifice, and made His bosom the willing target for a thousand bullets.
Finally, it was the Love of God that gave to the East Baha’u’llah, and is now sending the light of His teaching far into the West, and from Pole to Pole.
Throughout human history, the manifestations have brought their messages, teachings, and living examples to the body of humankind, imperfect though we be. Their goal: to move us closer to God.
As long as we live in physical bodies with physical needs, the path to spirituality will offer us multiple choices. We’re faced with decisions, decisions, decisions, every moment of our waking hours, with sometimes even our dreams influenced by what’s past or what’s coming. But when we try to live a good, honest life, sometimes we make a wrong decision or a decision we later regret.
I know that’s the case in my life, both in small, almost inconsequential errors, to errors of judgment. One professional mistake I still regret is signing a contract to spend $25 million per year on natural gas supply when prices were high. In hindsight, we could have saved money by turning down that fixed price three-year contract and letting market forces bring the price down sooner. Isn’t hindsight a great teacher?
But we have no crystal balls, so we cannot foretell what will happen tomorrow, let alone next year. We try to make the best decisions we can based on the facts and circumstances on hand. Fortunately, if honest and with the right intentions, any harm caused by a mistake is usually not catastrophic, or can be remedied. We did wind up renegotiating that contract for a $4 million savings.
That’s why guilt over our mistakes will destroy our sense of worth if we let it. Some guilt is good — healthy even — but guilt by itself doesn’t ease the issue. The opposite is true — it usually causes stress and worry. However, to recognize an error, especially if we hurt others, and to apologize to them, is part of the human condition. To ask forgiveness for our misplaced words or inappropriate actions, or even inaction, is noble. Without remorse, if we’ve caused pain or suffering, or didn’t feel shame over our wrongful action, civilization would crumble. The social contract between people would be utterly missing. Trust would be shattered.
Guilt, remorse, and shame should cause us to examine our actions and reflect. They can act as motivators to improve our character, knowledge, and honor by addressing their source. When we pay attention to those feelings, we’ll understand ourselves better. For example, when visiting my son’s family in Manhattan I know street or subway beggars will appear at many turns. Prepared, I give coins or a bill and wish them well, not second-guessing what the money may be used for. Mendicancy is forbidden in the Baha’i Faith, but even Abdu’l-Baha traveled to the Bowery and handed out coins to the homeless when he was in New York City in 1912.
As human beings, the Baha’i teachings say, our purpose is twofold: to know and to love God and to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. As we go about our chosen activities, we will make mistakes – but fear of making a mistake should not cause apathy or inaction when circumstances demand our best efforts.