Bahá'í Epistolary

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Divine Retribution against Jews: Beyond Anti-semitism

The following message addresses a very difficult subject. The notion of divine retribution, the avenging God. Even more troubling, it arose in response to a thread expressing perplexity before the clear association made in the Bahá'í Writings between the Jewish rejection of Christ, and the subsequent destruction of the Temple, and the massacre and forced dispersal of the Jews. I myself am Jewish on my mother's side. My grandma (even the Mexican postman knew her as "granma") left Brooklyn for Mexico in the romantic 1940's, to marry my grandfather (a permanent but definitely less than romantic tie). Her parents, grandparents, aunts, and assorted extras, left Brestlitovsk, on the edge of Belarus, for New York City in the early 1920's. Anyway, this is a meandering way of saying that the awareness runs in the family of how this association between the Jewish rejection of Jesus, and the calamities the Jews underwent at the hand of the Romans, was made into one of the intellectual pillars of a brutal and enduring antisemitism and reppression for centuries to come. To find the association categorically asserted in the Writings, and used as a parallel to and illustration of what the destiny would be of Bahá'u'lláh's detractors, can be, and in this case was to many of the discussants, spiritually taxing.

Here is the quote in question:

"Compare the evidences of Divine visitation which befell the persecutors of Jesus Christ with these historic retributions which, in the latter part of the first century of the Bahá'í Era, have hurled to dust the chief adversary of the religion of Bahá'u'lláh. Had not the Roman Emperor, in the second half of the first century of the Christian Era, after a distressful siege of Jerusalem, laid waste the Holy City, destroyed the Temple, desecrated and robbed the Holy of Holies of its treasures, and transported them to Rome, reared a pagan colony on the mount of Zion, massacred the Jews, and exiled and dispersed the survivors?
Compare, moreover, these words which the persecuted Christ, as witnessed by the Gospel, addressed to Jerusalem, with Bahá'u'lláh's apostrophe to Constantinople, revealed while He lay in His far-off Prison, and recorded in His Most Holy Book: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the Prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings!" And again, as He wept over the city: "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 176)

Against the backdrop of antisemitism, any effort to address this dilemma runs, like the discussion on homosexuality, into an explosive mix of accumulated grief and grievance, that threatens to derail, before even starting upon it, any attempt at dialogue. The following is a frail bridge to a possible context within which the very concept of divine retribution, itself perplexing to modern ideas of a loving God, can be understood not as whim, vindictiveness, or disproportion, but simpy as evolutionary process, as the effects of a vacuum of urgent and vital insights that elude us when we fail to recognise and, going farther, seek to suppress, the very tendencies that push toward our emancipation from whatever past enablers, now turned obstructions, of our adaptive processes of growth and maturation.

* * * * *
Dear all,

Trembling, again, at the magnitude of a difficult subject, I still attempt to offer, lovingly, some half-baked thoughts on the issue of divine retribution. I am far from any books so these unfinished thoughts will also be but vaguely supported, and when scripturally supported, it will be from memory. I pray, however, that through His bounty, the Giver of gifts may "endow my utterance with inspiration from the traces of Thy supreme Pen, that it may attract the reality of all things", as the dear Hand of the Cause Dorothy Baker used so frequently to pray in the words of 'Abdu'l- Baha.

The beloved Guardian refers to World War Two as both an act of divine retribution and a healing influence, and refers in similar terms to the afflictions of our age stating that they are designed ultimately to weld, in the fires of suffering and experience, the conflicting
peoples of the world into a united world.

The Manifestation of God, the Sun of Truth, the Educator of all beings, is said to appear in the world to renew its spiritual and social life, to adapt the eternal principles to the exigencies of the
age. He is said to embody the perfections of the age, and to appear in the winter of civilization, when the existing guidance is no longer sufficient to ensure prosperity. In His divine Law - which to God's lovers is wine of love - are contained the seeds of a new civilization, and His pure breath, as the Most Great Branch explained with such evident eloquence in Some Answered Question, educates humanity in the physical, human and divine levels. The Cause
which the Prophet brings, in the midst of patent stagnation, thus acquires the character of an Ark, designed to take us from an old and dying world unto a new heaven and new earth, and to offer shelter from a flood of impending afflictions which, beginning as a mild rain of obfuscations and confusions soon becomes a torrent of tribulation as the old order begins to totter.

In this light, at the time of the appearance of Jesus, the "signs of impending afflictions and chaos" could then "be discerned," inasmuch as "the prevailing order" appeared to be "lamentably deffective". Jesus' teachings, like those of Moses before Him, constituted a "most
great", a "new World Order". Those who, rising high above the world of names, felt the heat of the sinaitic fire from His beautiful face, took to building that new order, and were equiped with the vision necessary to respond to the present. They were able to broaden and expand their sympathies to include previously irreconciliable groups and nations, and were endowed with a new vitality . Those who rejected the guidance of that Essence of meekness, on the other hand,
found themselves powerless to adapt, to evolve, to face the tests that were so soon to come: powerless, indeed, to stay the same.

Principles which formerly were essential, became accidental, laws which formerly were enforced with utmost vigour became forgotten, and though the spiritual light of Moses shone still with undiminished splendour in the pages of the Holy Bible, His social teachings increasingly eroded, with none to turn to for authoritative guidance to adapt to very different times. Whereas the Jews became marginalised, the Christians, from being a most insignificant Judaic sect, gradually became mainstream. This, not because the Christians were morally superior, but because their vision was more suited to the times.

In other words, the Prophet reflects the maturity of His age, and His teachings liberate humanity from certain values and practices when these values and practices cease to promote the unity and welfare of the human race. Thus the Sign of God, that precious pearl, in The
Promised Day is Come, attributes to the rejection of the kings the calamities with which not only they, but subsequent generations were afflicted. If the kings and queen(s), the Pope, the political and spiritual rulers had obeyed Baha'u'llah - established collective security, reduced taxation, developed democratic processes, held fast to consultation, and generally strove to apply the exhortations of Baha'u'llah regarding peace and servitude to God - there is no doubt
that we would not have suffered two world wars and a myriad more calamities. Those same kings would today be glorified and we would be thankful for all the good they had achieved.
More likely than not, monarchy would not have become a fleeting memory and empty title.

Similarily the same inspired pen ascribes the end of the Quajar dynasty to their oppression and rejection of that celestial Youth. By the same token, 'Abdu'l-Baha states that if the rulers
of Persia had accepted the Blessed Beauty, Iran would have found itself exalted and privileged; and had it paid heed to Baha'u'llah's counsels and refrained from persecution, Baha'u'llah would soon have gained ascendancy over Europe where freedom of thought would have
ensured that His teachings spread and took root in the hearts.

When we reject a Manifestation, we reject at least some of the insights He brings into the world. It is precisely these insights that the merciful Lord reveals in each age to ensure the advancement of humanity. Today, those who cling to conflict, to fanaticism,
unbelief, oppression, sectarianism, unfettered nationalism, etc. in whatever form and under whatever garb, cannot in the long run prosper and develop, for these things are contrary to the stage in which we find ourselves. On the other hand, to the degree to which we truly
follow the guidance which a Bountiful Bestower has graciously proferred unto us, to the degree to which we cling to consultation, the equality of men and women, to the extent to which we see with our own eyes, work towards the establishment of a just and united world along the guidelines we have been given, to that degree we will ensure that we evolve in this new paradigm, this new era, this new Day. I believe that as time goes by the Baha'i Faith will become more mainstream, and the world more sympathetic, and similarily positions that are contrary to it will loose hold. This of course, is a statement of faith. This sort of belief, moreover, does not imply exclusivity. "Unto you be your religion, unto me be my religion". It is not about labels but about growth and truth and present times and change. I see life moving in the direction of Baha'u'llah's vision.

But that is only my belief and I have nothing to prove it except the warmth and light and the thousand voices that seem to cry it out to me. And God knows best. If, as it happens, something else takes place, and life is not as I've conceived it, I will be equally happy, for it is not personal opinions that matter, but rather reality and truth. Allah'u'alam.

" Peace is not only possible but inevitable, it is the next stage
in humanity's evolution. Whether it is to be attained now, by an act
of consultative will on the part of all humanity, or is to be reached
only after unimaginable horrors precipitated by humanity's stubborn
clinging to old patterns of behaviour, is the choice of all on
earth." (Paraphrase of the opening paragraph of the Promise of World

"... unimaginable horrors precipitated by... stubborn clinging to old patterns of behaviour..." Such is divine retribution. It is inherent in the process of evolution itself, and its ultimate fruit is not destruction but growth - liberation. So not just Jews and Muslims, but everyone of us, in our daily lives, faces this challenge. We either choose to fulfill our purpose and grow, or we are led to by necessity. Whilst some may speed to the valley of true knowledge in a single breath, I dare say most are carried in the first place by the redoubtable steed of pain.

"Perish the lover which distinguisheth between the pleasant and the poisonous in the path of his beloved!"

I pray that I may not have thrown too many crimson herrings, and look forward to seeing these unfinished thoughts, which are "as words that are written on water", shake off the dross and wing their flight, that they may catch a scent from the qamis of the long-lost Joseph.

"In thy soul of love build thou a fire,
and burn away all thoughts and words entire."

Astounded at your patience :-),


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this insightful post on a very challenging subject. It is perhaps useful to understand the broader theological perspective offered by the Bahá’í teachings regarding the spiritual and material consequences that rejection of God’s designated Teachers and Messengers entails. “The Prophets of God, those Pearls of the ocean of Divine Unity and the Repositories of Divine Revelation, have ever been the object of men's repudiation and denial,” Bahá’u’lláh states. Such repudiation, Bahá’u’lláh clearly indicates, has occurred throughout religious history: “Behold how the people, as a result of the verdict pronounced by the divines of His age, have cast Abraham, the Friend of God, into fire; how Moses, He Who held converse with the Almighty, was denounced as liar and slanderer. Reflect how Jesus, the Spirit of God, was, notwithstanding His extreme meekness and perfect tender-heartedness, treated by His enemies…Ponder that which befell Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets, may the life of all else be a sacrifice unto Him.” The inevitable outcome of this rejection of God’s guidance and light was immersion in spiritual darkness—a suffering designed to reawaken those who had been the recipient of a merciful Divine judgement to the path of love and realization of their true purpose: “Abandon that which ye possess, and seize that which God, Who layeth low the necks of men, hath brought. Know ye of a certainty that if ye turn not back from that which ye have committed, chastisement will overtake you on every side, and ye shall behold things more grievous than that which ye beheld aforetime." But as Shoghi Effendi explains: “God…does not only punish the wrongdoings of His children. He chastises because He is just, and He chastens because He loves. Having chastened them, He cannot, in His great mercy, leave them to their fate. Indeed, by the very act of chastening them He prepares them for the mission for which He has created them. "My calamity is My providence," He, by the mouth of Bahá'u'lláh, has assured them, "outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy."

This perspective, then, provides a fuller context in which to understand the unique station and destiny of the Jewish people as the chosen people. ‘Abdu’l-Baha simultaneously speaks of the greatness of the Jews, of their past and future potential, and the spiritual causes of their “ignominy” and suffering: “From this review of the history of the Jewish people we learn that the foundation of the religion of God laid by Moses was the cause of their eternal honor and national prestige, the animating impulse of their advancement and racial supremacy and the source of that excellence which will always command the respect and reverence of those who understand their peculiar destiny and outcome. The dogmas and blind imitations which gradually obscured the reality of the religion of God proved to be Israel's destructive influences, causing the expulsion of these chosen people from the Holy Land of their Covenant and promise.

What, then, is the mission of the divine Prophets? Their mission is the education and advancement of the world of humanity. They are the real Teachers and Educators, the universal Instructors of mankind. If we wish to discover whether any one of these great Souls or Messengers was in reality a Prophet of God, we must investigate the facts surrounding His life and history, and the first point of our investigation will be the education He bestowed upon mankind. If He has been an Educator, if He has really trained a nation or people, causing it to rise from the lowest depths of ignorance to the highest station of knowledge, then we are sure that He was a Prophet. This is a plain and clear method of procedure, proof that is irrefutable. We do not need to seek after other proofs. We do not need to mention miracles, saying that out of rock water gushed forth, for such miracles and statements may be denied and refused by those who hear them. The deeds of Moses are conclusive evidences of His Prophethood. If a man be fair, unbiased and willing to investigate reality, he will undoubtedly testify to the fact that Moses was, verily, a man of God and a great Personage.” (Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 363)

And further, that the Jewish people, have now entered a dramatic new phase in their history: “Moreover, materially as well (as spiritually), the Israelites will gather in the Holy Land. This is irrefutable prophecy, for the ignominy which Israel has suffered for will-nigh twenty-five hundred years will now be changed into eternal glory, and in the eyes of all, the Jewish people will become glorified to such an extent as to draw the jealousy of its enemies and the envy of its friends.” (Lights of Guidance, p. 499)