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In the Baha’i teachings, Baha’u’llah redefined the nature of evil, explaining that it is not a force in its own right. Evil is the absence of good in the same sense that darkness is the absence of light.
Baha’is believe that there are no such things as evil spirits or other sinister supernatural entities. Baha’u’llah taught that the name “Satan” is simply a symbol that refers to the lower instincts of human nature. It is this lower, or material, self against which we must struggle.
In many sacred scriptures the “evil” aspect of human nature is often symbolically personified. This is true in the Bible, and it is also true in the writings of Baha’u’llah, who often referred to “Satan” and “the Evil One.” Abdu’l-Baha explained:
… the evil spirit, Satan or whatever is interpreted as evil, refers to the lower nature in man. This baser nature is symbolized in various ways. In man there are two expressions: One is the expression of nature; the other, the expression of the spiritual realm. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 294-295.
Evil Deeds and Divine Forgiveness
As the passage above implies, our growth depends upon moving towards the spiritual realm—a journey that takes a lifetime and even beyond.
Just as a soul can progress in this life, the same is true in the life to come. After death, the Baha’i teachings unequivocally tell us, the human soul continues to advance, forever acquiring knowledge and perfections. “The wealth of the next world,” Abdu’l-Baha said, “consists in nearness to God.” – Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 266.
So in the Baha’i teachings heaven and hell symbolize relative nearness to, or remoteness from, God.
This is not to say that there is no such thing as reward and punishment in the next life. These are realities that no wise person will ignore. Baha’u’llah wrote:
It is clear and evident that all men shall, after their physical death, estimate the worth of their deeds, and realize all that their hands have wrought. I swear by the Day Star that shineth above the horizon of Divine power! They that are 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, while they that live in error shall be seized with such fear and trembling, and shall be filled with such consternation, as nothing can exceed. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 171.
The Baha’i writings also state that divine forgiveness and mercy are possible in the life to come, especially when other people intercede and pray on one’s behalf. Thus, although the deeds of this life profoundly influence an individual’s progress in the next world, one is not necessarily consigned to eternal damnation for his or her sins:
It is even possible for those who have died in sin and unbelief to be transformed, that is, to become the object of divine forgiveness. This is through the grace of God and not through His justice, for grace is to bestow without desert, and justice is to give that which is deserved. As we have the power to pray for those souls here, so too will we have the same power in the next world, the world of the Kingdom. Are not the creatures in that world the creation of God? They must therefore be able to progress in that world as well. And just as they can seek illumination here through supplication, so too can they plead there for forgiveness and seek illumination through prayer and supplication. Thus, as souls can progress in this world through their entreaties and supplications, or through the prayers of holy souls, so too after death can they progress through their own prayers and supplications … – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 267-268.
Another essential principle is that the Baha’i Faith does not automatically condemn “nonbelievers.” The purpose of religion is to foster love of God, love for others, search for truth, and good works. Naturally there are many people of all religions who live up to this standard. Baha’u’llah frequently praised the actions of outstanding individuals of other faiths. For example, in one of his writings he recounted the lives of several early Greek philosophers, praising them for their sincere desire to discover the truth and for their fearless defense of high principles. Among those He mentions are Empedocles, Socrates, Hippocrates, Plato, and Aristotle. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 145-147.)
An incident in Baha’u’llah’s life sheds even more light on the subject. During his days in Baghdad he was the victim of many plots designed to end in his ruin or death. In one particular episode one of the religious leaders succeeded in convening a concourse of divines who had agreed to declare holy war against Baha’u’llah and the Babis:
To their amazement and disappointment, however, they found that the leading mujtahid [religious doctor] amongst them, the celebrated Shaykh Murtaday-i-Ansari, a man renowned for his tolerance, his wisdom, his undeviating justice, his piety and nobility of character, refused, when apprized of their designs, to pronounce the necessary sentence against the Babis … Pleading insufficient knowledge of the tenets of this community, and claiming to have witnessed no act on the part of its members at variance with the Qur’an, he, disregarding the remonstrances of his colleagues, abruptly left the gathering, and returned to Najaf, after having expressed, through a messenger, his regret to Baha’u’llah for what had happened, and his devout wish for His protection. – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 143.
Baha’u’llah later extolled this person as among “Those doctors who have indeed drunk of the cup of renunciation” and “never interfered with [Him.]” Abdu’l-Baha referred to him as “‘the illustrious and erudite doctor, the noble and celebrated scholar, the seal of seekers after truth.’” – Ibid.
Many other examples that contrast starkly with the attitude of intolerance displayed by so many adherents of religion can be found in the Baha’i teachings. In just one example, Abdu’l-Baha publicly praised the Red Cross volunteers who saved so many lives during World War I:
Those souls who during the war have served the poor and have been in the Red Cross Mission work, their services are accepted at the Kingdom of God and are the cause of their everlasting life. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 116.
Baha’u’llah wrote that:
Every soul that walketh humbly with its God, in this Day, and cleaveth unto Him, shall find itself invested with the honor and glory of all goodly names and stations. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 159.