Saturday, January 2, 2010

Heaven and Hell

I was in a Ruhi Book 4 study group the other day, and we got to that quote from the Bab, in which He says, "(B)y Paradise is meant recognition of and submission unto Him Whom God shall make manifest, and by the fire the company of such souls as would fail to submit unto Him or to be resigned to His good-pleasure."

As we were talking about it, it was pointed that these two states are not necessarily seperate.  In fact, quite often they seem to be simultaneous.

Paradise, according to the above quote, is about our own actions and what we do.  Or do not do, in some cases.  In fact, it seems to be another way of phrasing the first paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas:
The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation... It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station... to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other.

Recognition and obedience: paradise.  Seems pretty straightforward.  Simple, but not easy.

Oh, in case you don't know, simple means not complex, or it takes just a few steps.  Easy means it doesn't require a lot of energy to do.  So, recognition and obedience.  Two simple steps, but as anyone who has tried knows, not easy.  Definitely not easy.

But that second part from the quote by the Bab intrigued us.  He describes "the fire" as "the company of such souls as would fail to submit unto Him or to be resigned to His good-pleasure".  That seems to have little to do with us, at least in so far as we can't always choose who we hang out with.  But really, it tells us about those around us, not ourselves.

So why would this be described as "the fire"?

Well, I think it's a reality.

First, though, let me just say that I don't think he's referring to that fire which is nice and warm and cozy on a cold night, where you roast marshmallows and sing songs with an out of tune guitar.  I may be wrong, but I think that's a safe bet.  Oh wait, sorry.  We're Baha'i.  No gambling.  OK, sorry.  I meant to write, "I think that's a safe assumption".  Arrggh.  Abbott and Costello (You know what happens when you assume...).  PRESUMPTION.  I really meant to write, "I think that's a safe presumption"!

Where was I?

Oh yes, thanks.

Why would He describe "the fire" in this way?  Well, imagine what it is like to be around those who are like this.  They are breaking the Laws of God, either by doing drugs, or sleeping around, or backbiting all the time.  Or maybe they just don't say their prayers and are generally grumpy.  Whatever. The question is "How do they react when things are a bit tough?"  Answer: grumpily.  And by being generally grumpy, they impose their mood upon those around them, bringing down the whole area.

Haven't you ever noticed how one person in a bad mood can bring down the mood of an entire room?

This seems like a fairly good definition of "the fire" to me.

But does that mean that we should avoid those in a bad mood?  No, of course not.  By being aware of it, though, we can be ready for what comes.

Now, looking at that quote again, the implication of Heaven and Hell is quite apparent.  So doesn't that begin to give us a slightly different view of those two concepts?  I know it did for me.  But you, dear Reader, are probably way ahead of me here.  It's ok.  Let me catch up, if you don't mind.

Whenever I'm asked a question about heaven or hell, I always have to begin my answer by talking about the new definitions.

Milton, in Paradise Lost, said, "The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven."  Well I think we have a similar view.  Heaven is not a reward for some good behaviour.  It's a recognition of perspective.  And hell is not some form of punishment for wrong-doing.  It is its own punishment of perspective.  It's like the child whose hand gets burned for touching the hot stove.  They are not punished for touching the stove, because the burn is its own punishment.  I've spoken of this before and won't go into it again here.

Many people look to heaven with hope, or are good only for the sake of some reward, either here or later.  Many are also afraid of hell, and avoid doing bad things for fear of it.   But, if we truly wish to worship God, then the Bab tells us "to worship Him for His sake, without fear of fire, or hope of paradise."

And then there are those who are high on themselves because they think they have some fast track to heaven.  In fact, an old roommate of mine told me of a song he used to sing in church, which is one of the reasons he became Baha'i.  The lyrics went like this: Oh the angels they all sing-a-ling-a-ling for me but not for you, and the bells in hell go ring-a-ling-a-ling for you but not for me.  Seriously.  That's what they sang.

Just in case I ever get like that, just remind me of the quote from Baha'u'llah:
How often hath a sinner attained, at the hour of death, to the essence of faith, and, quaffing the immortal draught, hath taken his flight unto the Concourse on high! And how often hath a devout believer, at the hour of his soul's ascension, been so changed as to fall into the nethermost fire!

Or in the words of 'Abdu'l-Baha:Thinking about heaven and hell, once again: isn't it just our own perspective, our own stance?  To me, it is like being in outer space.  If you face the sun, everything is bright and warm.  But if your back is to the sun, everything is cold and dark.  It's sort of like that other quote from Baha'u'llah:
They say: 'Where is Paradise, and where is Hell?' Say: 'The one is reunion with Me; the other thine own self...'
Going back to that original quote, though, you can be in heaven, while those around you are in hell.  Or vice versa.

Like walking outside on a cold winter's day: hell for me, but heaven for my son.

Let us therefore be humble, without prejudices, preferring others' good to our own! Let us never say, 'I am a believer but he is an infidel', 'I am near to God, whilst he is an outcast'. We can never know what will be the final judgment! Therefore let us help all who are in need of any kind of assistance.


  1. Your elucidation of "the fire" seems frivolous. I can't imagine that the fire which is so much feared by Muslims and Christians - 2.5 billion people - is simply being with a group of grumpy and God-rebelling lot.

    1. That's fair. But, let me ask you, what is effect upon your soul when you surround yourself with this sort of energy? Truly, that is something I would fear: the effect on my soul of that. Juts a thought.