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If I wanted your help with a task and I needed to persuade you, it probably wouldn’t work well to tell you the task was going to be really, really hard.
It sounds better when you tell a potential helper that something will be easy—and it’s certainly easier to hear, especially if it’s something we both really want to accomplish. But the reality is that some things worth having are just plain difficult:
It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get. – Confucius
With that in mind, I feel it’s important for me to clearly state that the goals of the Baha’i Faith are really, really hard. Like this one:
The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Baha’u’llah, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 202.
This passage comes from an overview by Shoghi Effendi of the defining features of Baha’u’llah’s vision of a new world order. As Shoghi Effendi goes on to describe “the coming of age of the entire human race,” the scope and depth of the work required to get there becomes even more daunting.
But that’s okay, because this struggle intends to bring out the best in all of us. The sheer difficulty of it gives us an opportunity to draw closer to the Creator. In one place in the sacred Baha’i writings, Baha’u’llah wrote:
O Son of Man! If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in the ways of them that are content with My pleasure? If trials afflict thee not in thy longing to meet Me, how wilt thou attain the light in thy love for My beauty? – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 15.
A few years ago, while I served at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel, a friend of mine received a big surprise. He was asked to take a position on his home continent with a very exciting initiative assisting the development of community schools. It was a huge honor to receive such an offer. Nonetheless, he was very anxious about accepting it. He knew that it would test the limits of his mental, physical, and spiritual endurance. He would be doing something that had never been done before, assisting hundreds, even thousands of people to do things that had never been done before. It would vividly embody the vision of social and spiritual transformation outlined in the sacred writings of the Baha’i Faith. It definitely wasn’t for the faint of heart.
I really wanted him to accept the offer, but I found it difficult to find the right words. I couldn’t say that it would be fun or enjoyable, and I certainly couldn’t tell him it would be easy. So I told him entirely seriously and partly in jest, “It’s an opportunity to suffer for Baha’u’llah.” Those words made him very happy, since his heart is probably much purer than mine. I come from a very cynical culture. In his position, I doubt I would have received that challenging job offer as well. Not long after that conversation we went our separate ways, him to Africa, and me back home to North America. Six years later, I’m grateful to tell you that his service has brought happy results.
A world civilization, with humanity united and living in peace, prosperous both materially and spiritually—that’s quite a goal. But humanity is no stranger to lofty goals. After all, we can now say that a human being has set foot upon the moon—but that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when that sounded outlandish, insane, absolutely impossible. After that there came a moment when it first started to seem possible. Then, at some point, somebody actually decided to do it.
In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech about the possibilities for space exploration that were just coming into our grasp. His topic was technological, economic, and political—but I think it also yields spiritual insights of universal significance:
But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?…
We choose to go to the Moon! … We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win … – John F. Kennedy, Houston, Texas, September 12, 1962.
For Baha’is, fulfilling Baha’u’llah’s vision of world order is like going to the moon—seemingly impossible at this point, but certainly possible at some point.
If Baha’u’llah’s vision of world order was easy to do, then somebody would have done it already. If it wasn’t that hard then we could just hire some experts to set out the details of each and every step, or we could just vote for politicians that would legislate it into existence. But it isn’t that easy. Baha’u’llah calls on us to build the world anew, to unite humanity, to bring about a global peace, and to love the ones we previously hated.
Baha’u’llah has something to ask of us, for future generations of all humanity. It’s really, really hard. Is it something you’d like to do?