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Does the Creator actually help people in peril? When we’re in deep trouble, most of us plead for God’s help—but does it actually happen?
Baha’is believe that God truly is the “help in peril”—and they reaffirm that belief every day.
That phrase, the “Help in Peril,” a term for an attribute or “name” of God, appears frequently in Baha’i prayers. At the end of a prayer appealing for unity, God is called Helper. Another common Baha'i prayer identifies God as the Help in Peril. Other prayers ask for help from God in many different ways:
O Lord, help me to be meek and lowly, and strengthen me in severing myself from all things and in holding to the hem of the garment of Thy glory, so that my heart may be filled with Thy love and leave no space for love of the world and attachment to its qualities.
O God! Sanctify me from all else save Thee, purge me from the dross of sins and transgressions, and cause me to possess a spiritual heart and conscience.
But the meaning may not always be obvious. You could ask: What help, for which peril? After all, God doesn’t normally contravene the laws of nature. If you’re about to fall off a cliff, gravity will definitely take over. Perhaps, though, the help God gives comes to us in a broader, more inclusive, and more preventive way—keeping us from getting too close to the cliff’s edge in the first place.
This ancient name of God—the helper—appears multiple times in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew word “ezer” means “helper,” or “one who helps.” In Exodus 18:4 we read:
The name of [Moses’] second son was Eliezer, for Moses had said at his birth, “The God of my fathers was my helper; he delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
In Psalm 33:20 we read: “Our soul waiteth for the Lord: he is our help and our shield.” The sense from these readings is that, through help and divine assistance in the form of grace, God mitigates an imminent and constant danger from some kind of peril. This sense reverberated into the future; coins minted in Elizabethan England carried the Latin phrase: POSVI DEVM ADIVTOREM MEVM: I have made God my helper.
The stories of Lazarus in the New Testament expand on this theme in parables, and assist us in understanding the nature of the help and the peril. In fact, the name Lazarus literally means “God is my Help.”
The first parable relates a story of an unnamed rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Put simply, the parable is about acceptance or rejection of the new prophet of God (Luke 16: 19-31). In the story, powerful ecclesiastics challenge Jesus’ authority and his new teachings. The rich man exemplifies these worldly and self-righteous individuals, whose attachments to their power, social stature, wealth, traditions and laws of the old order impede their ability to grasp the significance of the returned messenger of God in their midst, Jesus Christ. Lazarus, who in contrast to the rich man is given a name in the original parable story, exemplifies those people thirsting for righteousness, and who being “poor” lack attachment to riches and can respond to Christ’s new teachings.
At the time, Jesus’ revitalizing teachings on love, compassion, and forgiveness brought exactly the help needed to breathe new life into a society imperiled by fractiousness, cruelty, indifference, disdain, and callousness. Indeed, the arrival of a messenger of God in any age signals a time of renewal and rejuvenation for humanity; to reject it imperils growth, healing and progress for individuals and society.
The Baha'i teachings say the same thing—that if we purify our hearts and detach ourselves from material attachments and outworn dogmas, we will be receptive to the messenger of God for our age. The help Baha’u’llah brings in this time of spiritual peril—a message of unity and justice—provide the principles that will heal humanity and give us real hope for the future:
Baha'u'llah … has diagnosed human conditions and indicated the necessary treatment. The essential principles of His healing remedies are the knowledge and love of God, severance from all else save God, turning our faces in sincerity toward the Kingdom of God, implicit faith, firmness and fidelity, loving-kindness toward all creatures and the acquisition of the divine virtues indicated for the human world. These are the fundamental principles of progress, civilization, international peace and the unity of mankind. These are the essentials of Baha'u'llah's teachings, the secret of everlasting health, the remedy and healing for man. - Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 205.
At the conclusion of the parable of Lazarus, the rich man dies and finds himself in hell, while Lazarus enters paradise symbolized by the Hebrew metaphor, the bosom of Abraham. This parable has many inner meanings—but the parable applies to any era when a messenger of God appears, because he brings help when he comes. Those who recognize their need for divine help accept it, while others—the comfortably self-righteous—cannot see the true help in peril.