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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Reward and Punishment

Posted by Sen on December 5, 2008

scalesBaha’u’llah writes:

Schools must first train the children in the principles of religion, so that the Promise and the Threat recorded in the Books of God may prevent them from the things forbidden and adorn them with the mantle of the commandments; but this in such a measure that it may not injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 68)

Promise and Threat, or reward and punishment, is one of those basic dynamics that acts out at several levels. The first is the level of society: where reward and punishment is the pillar of social order:

The Great Being saith: The structure of world stability and order hath been reared upon, and will continue to be sustained by, the twin pillars of reward and punishment….
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 218)

It is incumbent upon everyone to observe God’s holy commandments, inasmuch as they are the wellspring of life unto the world. The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion and the canopy of world order is upraised upon the two pillars of reward and punishment.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 126)

Reward and punishment of this type is in the hands of “the governors of human society.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 206)

angelReward and punishment also plays out in spiritual progress of the soul: in Islam and Christianity this is referred to as heaven and hell. It is the belief that what we do has consequences, and it is a core teaching of the world’s ethical religions. In the Bahai teachings this does not happen only at some future judgement: spiritual reward and punishment play out in this life and the next. Abdu’l-Baha said:

… the paradise and hell of existence are found in all the worlds of God, whether in this world or in the spiritual heavenly worlds. Gaining these rewards is the gaining of eternal life. That is why Christ said, “Act in such a way that you may find eternal life, and that you may be born of water and the spirit, so that you may enter into the Kingdom.” [Cf. John 3:5.]
The rewards of this life are the virtues and perfections which adorn the reality of man. For example, he was dark and becomes luminous; he was ignorant and becomes wise; he was neglectful and becomes vigilant; … Through these rewards he gains spiritual birth and becomes a new creature. … For such people there is no greater torture than being veiled from God, and no more severe punishment than sensual vices, dark qualities, lowness of nature, engrossment in carnal desires. When they are delivered through the light of faith from the darkness of these vices, and become illuminated with the radiance of the sun of reality, and ennobled with all the virtues, they esteem this the greatest reward, and they know it to be the true paradise. …

Likewise, the rewards of the other world are the eternal life which is clearly mentioned in all the Holy Books, the divine perfections, the eternal bounties and everlasting felicity. The rewards of the other world are the perfections and the peace obtained in the spiritual worlds after leaving this world, while the rewards of this life are the real luminous perfections which are realized in this world, and which are the cause of eternal life, for they are the very progress of existence.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 223)

The reward and punishment of society, which is in the hands of governments, has a relationship to the people’s awareness of spiritual reward and punishment. Social order can only function if most of the people, most of the time, obey the laws and, more than that, treat one another decently. Government coercion is there as a threat, but it can only be actually applied to exceptions, or the police and prison system will be overwhelmed. And people’s awareness of spiritual reward and punishment is taught: at least for most people, it does not happen spontaneously. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

There are some who imagine that an innate sense of human dignity will prevent man from committing evil actions and ensure his spiritual and material perfection. That is, that an individual who is characterized with natural intelligence, high resolve, and a driving zeal, will, without any consideration for the severe punishments consequent on evil acts, or for the great rewards of righteousness, instinctively refrain from inflicting harm on his fellow men and will hunger and thirst to do good. And yet, if we ponder the lessons of history it will become evident that this very sense of honor and dignity is itself one of the bounties deriving from the instructions of the Prophets of God. We also observe in infants the signs of aggression and lawlessness, and that if a child is deprived of a teacher’s instructions his undesirable qualities increase from one moment to the next. It is therefore clear that the emergence of this natural sense of human dignity and honor is the result of education. Secondly, even if we grant for the sake of the argument that instinctive intelligence and an innate moral quality would prevent wrongdoing, it is obvious that individuals so characterized are as rare as the philosopher’s stone. … Aside from this, if that rare individual who does exemplify such a faculty should also become an embodiment of the fear of God, it is certain that his strivings toward righteousness would be strongly reinforced.

Universal benefits derive from the grace of the Divine religions, for they lead their true followers to sincerity of intent, to high purpose, to purity and spotless honor, to surpassing kindness and compassion, … It is religion, to sum up, which produces all human virtues, and it is these virtues which are the bright candles of civilization. … The purpose of these statements is to make it abundantly clear that the Divine religions, the holy precepts, the heavenly teachings, are the unassailable basis of human happiness, and that the peoples of the world can hope for no real relief or deliverance without this one great remedy. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 97)

~~ Sen McGlinn ~~
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