Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Paragraph 84

Likewise, He saith: “On the day when the heaven shall give out a palpable smoke, which shall enshroud mankind: this will be an afflictive torment.” The All-Glorious hath decreed these very things, that are contrary to the desires of wicked men, to be the touchstone and standard whereby He proveth His servants, that the just may be known from the wicked, and the faithful distinguished from the infidel. The symbolic term “smoke” denotes grave dissensions, the abrogation and demolition of recognized standards, and the utter destruction of their narrow-minded exponents. What smoke more dense and overpowering than the one which hath now enshrouded all the peoples of the world, which hath become a torment unto them, and from which they hopelessly fail to deliver themselves, however much they strive? So fierce is this fire of self burning within them, that at every moment they seem to be afflicted with fresh torments. The more they are told that this wondrous Cause of God, this Revelation from the Most High, hath been made manifest to all mankind, and is waxing greater and stronger every day, the fiercer groweth the blaze of the fire in their hearts. The more they observe the indomitable strength, the sublime renunciation, the unwavering constancy of God’s holy companions, who, by the aid of God, are growing nobler and more glorious every day, the deeper the dismay which ravageth their souls. In these days, praise be to God, the power of His Word hath obtained such ascendancy over men, that they dare breathe no word. Were they to encounter one of the companions of God who, if he could, would, freely and joyously, offer up ten thousand lives as a sacrifice for his Beloved, so great would be their fear, that they forthwith would profess their faith in Him, whilst privily they would vilify and execrate His name! Even as He hath revealed: “And when they meet you, they say, ‘We believe’; but when they are apart, they bite their fingers’ ends at you, out of wrath. Say: ‘Die in your wrath!’ God truly knoweth the very recesses of your breasts.”

This is the eleventh of those twelve paragraphs that look at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." We keep mentioning this because we want to make sure that we keep track of where we are in the book, and as you know, this quote from Jesus is the main part of Part 1. It sort of forms the outline.

Previously we saw the gentle clouds that block the sun, and then the dark and stormy clouds. Now Baha'u'llah is describing for us those clouds of black smoke, the ones that can actually choke us and kill us.

It is worth remembering that most people who die in a fire actually die from the smoke inhalation, and not the fire itself. And this smoke gets into everything. When you have a fire in your home, the smoke damage is immense. Everything needs to be replaced.

It is also worth remembering the old adage, "Where there is smoke, there is fire." Here, Baha'u'llah tells us that this smoke, which is so destructive and deadly, comes from the fire of self. Fire, in the Baha'i writings, has two very different connotations. In one sense, it is the fire that we use for light, warmth, and as a tool. In the other sense, it is that fire which burns, causing incredible pain and destruction. Back in paragraph 19, He spoke of "the fire of the love of Jesus (that) consumed the veils". Here He is talking about that fire of self that burns in our heart. In both cases, the greater the power of the Faith, the more that fire grows. In one way, it is like He says in the Hidden Words, "My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy." To some, it makes their anger burn fiercer, to others it makes their faith firmer.

In terms of the bad fire, He says that it will give off a "palpable smoke". This is a smoke that we not only can see, but can actually touch, too. He says this will be an "afflictive torment". While we often use the word "torment" to mean pain, it more traditionally was used to refer to a great commotion. Here there is no doubt, it is a very painful commotion. When the fire of self burns high, it truly throws our life into what can only be called a painful commotion.

No matter how we read this, it's not a good thing.

If we are subject to our ego, then the fire that will burn in the heart will be a bad thing, leading to great pain and death in our life.

Baha'u'llah also, as usual, gives us a bit of a path to follow here. He says that the more these people are told about the Faith, the fiercer this fire will grow. The more they see of it, the more they will become disheartened, and this will ravage their soul. And if they were to meet a Baha'i, they would publicly agree with them, all the while cursing them in private.

This is in direct contrast to that sincere seeker who will initially hear about the Faith and feel the fire of love. Then they will see it and become awe-stricken. Finally they will meet the friends and become a confirmed believer.

It is just like way back in paragraph 6, where He says, "Should you acquaint yourself with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God, and apprehend the true causes of the objections voiced by their oppressors, you will surely appreciate the significance of their position. Moreover, the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be you faith in the Cause of God." You hear, you see, you act.

In both cases, we have a fire in our heart. As long as we don't just sit idle and let life pass us by, there will be a fire in our heart. The only question is, which fire will we nurture?

That was the question facing the uncle of the Bab, and by extension each one of us.

The other question, of course, is how does this apply to our life? In the example Baha'u'llah has given, we see someone who is proud and believes they are right. As they are shown to be mistaken, they have a choice. They can either change their mind, or, as we often see, they become defensive and get angrier. The more they are shown that they are wrong, the angrier they become. It is as one author said: "It is easier to forgive someone for being wrong than it is for being right."

For us, in our daily life, we can watch for this reaction in ourselves. If we see ourselves becoming defensive and angry, then it likely means that we are probably on this path of the ego.

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