Some Reflections on Obedience
Obedience is a word with whose meaning Bahá'í's, particularly, are familiar. It is both implied and specified in the Writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and `Abdu'l-Bahá. Bahá'í Guardians also have reiterated the importance of understanding it — less a word — more as a state of being.
Defined, obedience means the act of carrying out the orders of; being guided by; or willing to be guided by. The definitions imply the existence of a higher authority. Although one may not always understand its true nature and purpose, no one escapes the operation of obedience or disobedience — the resulting effects. It is a matter of cause and effect.
A child who fails to heed its mother's order not to touch a hot iron seldom needs a second reminder. Or, an automobile driver who crashes into another vehicle because he failed to stop for a traffic light will, normally, be more mindful of traffic safety in the future. When direct consequences follow an act of disobedience, the experience is usually memorable enough to increase the desire to obey.
Unfortunately, disobedience to less obtrusive laws does not always bring immediate consequence, thereby causing a delayed learning response. Such has been the case with divinely revealed religions through the ages. People have neglected to understand that Divine Laws are not a set of arbitrary rules imposed to curtail "free will". Rather, the Laws offered are to protect the people from their ignorance — an ignorance that only the Divine Educators dispel through Their Teachings and the responding obedience to Them.
Obedience is not a popular concept in today's society because of its misapplication. Some persons see it as a means to exercise unlimited power. The demand for obedience can be seen as a weapon to restrict thought and behavior by governments, religious institutions, and in the home and educational institutions. No one would deny the possibilities attributed to the misuse of obedience.
There are at least two extreme reactions to this misuse. One is acted out by the persons who defy anyone to tell them what they can do or think. The other reaction occurs when obedience demands the upholding of a false interpretation of truth..e.g., as one who accepts blindly only those Teachings of the Bahá'í Faith that he or she is told to accept, thereby mutilating the important Bahá'í principle of Independent Investigation of Truth. Both extreme reactions distort the reality of Obedience as put forth in the Bahá'í Teachings.
How, then, does one strike the balance when he seeks to understand what Obedience means to the Bahá'í? Obedience is inspired by the spirit of Faith. `Abdu'l-Bahá, in one definition of Faith, wrote that: "By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds." - BWF, pg 383
By fulfilling the first requisite — conscious knowledge — the desire is born from within to integrate oneself within this Divine Order revealed by Bahá'u'lláh. It is an Order that Bahá'í have learned to feel, understand, and know as the only means for attaining true freedom for themselves. The Covenant, established by the Manifestation, delineates boundaries for the sole purpose of protecting and progressing the soul who willingly accepts to obey Its Laws. The result is a believer who is fortified to teach with love and in unity about the Vehicle revealed to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.
Bahá'u'lláh wrote: ". . .That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker. Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness." — BWF pg. 137
"True liberty consisteth in man's submission unto My Commandments, little as ye know it. Were men to observe that which We have sent down unto them from the Heaven of Revelation, they would, of a certainty, attain unto perfect liberty. Happy is the man that apprehended the Purpose of God in whatever He hath revealed from the Heaven of His Will that pervadeth all created things," — BWF pg. 137
Bahá'í understand that Bahá'u'lláh has ensured the protection of His Covenant and His followers by His appointment of `Abdu'l-Bahá as Center of this Covenant. `Abdu'l-Bahá fortified this protection and guidance through his own Will and Testament which established the Institution of Guardianship. Within this Institution protection and guidance are clearly and explicitly provided. He describes the manner in which future Guardians of the Faith (after the first Guardian) are to be appointed; he clearly magnifies the role of the Guardian himself, and he portrays explicitly the character of the Bahá'í who willingly accepts to obey.
One valid way to evaluate one's own spiritual stance towards the mission of Bahá'u'lláh is to become aware of the quality of one's response to guidance that issues from the Guardian. Born from faith in the promised protection that results from an assured obedient action to the Guardian's direction, unity among the Bahá'ís is maintained and the whole body of believers experience the power of the Covenant. Of this power, Bahá'u'lláh wrote: "The power of the Covenant is as the heat of the sun which quickeneth and promoteth the development of all created things on earth. The light of the Covenant, in like manner, is the educator of the minds, the spirits, the hearts and souls of men." — God Passes By, Pg. 239
We orthodox Bahá'ís are viewed by many people as a mere handful. Can we attain a spiritual state on this earth that will assure enduring Unity? Of course we can! Through faith and willing obedience to the Bahá'í spiritual laws and to the one who has been appointed, according to the provisions of the Covenant, Guardian and Interpreter of the Bahá'í Writings, we can demonstrate the effect of the Power of the Covenant. It will become apparent that this Covenant is "as the Cord stretched betwixt the earth and the Abhá Kingdom". Through such a demonstration of Unity among us, others will assuredly become attracted.
By Madeline Byers
O our God! We beg of Thee, by the King of Names and maker of Heaven and Earth; by the rustling of the leaves of the Tree of Life and by Thine utterances through which the reality of Things are drawn unto us, to grant that Unity in the love of God may be speedily established throughout the world, that Thou will guide us always and unmistakably to whatsoever Thou wouldst have us do, and that we may ever be strong and fully prepared to render instant, exact and complete obedience.
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Created by K.J. Herman, 10/20/1998