Does Anything Trump God's Justice?

The establishment of justice is one of the most important Baha'i teachings. Justice in this life and on this Earth is critically important. It is the antidote to bigotry and hatred, disunity and discord.
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For a time, my grandfather, Jack Dew, directed the choir for the renowned Christian evangelist Billy Sunday. In the 1920s and 1930s Billy Sunday was a traveling preacher who visited places throughout the United States. My mother, who is now 88 years old, was born in a tiny town in Oklahoma because that was where Billy Sunday was preaching that night. My grandfather ran down the aisle of the church with an armful of roses shouting, "Praise Jesus! We have a new baby girl."

Jack Dew was a charismatic, handsome man. I adored him. His hair was pure white from the day he almost died of influenza in World War I. He had a ruddy and florid complexion and the darkest brown eyes that seemed to see right into your soul. My grandfather became quite the Southern Baptist preacher himself. His voice would rise and soar and sometimes thunder. How he loved to preach about hellfire and damnation.

I was a young boy of about 8 when I attended a service at which my grandfather preached. He was trying to raise money to send missionaries to foreign countries to "save the heathen." He said millions of people were going to everlasting torment, to burn in the lake of fire through all eternity because they had not had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and be saved. No salvation meant they would burn in hell forever.

I was indignant and thought that God must be very mean to damn people for no fault of their own. It seemed terribly unfair to my 8-year-old mind. My grandfather told me it was God's judgment and His justice.

My religious life took a different path from its Christian roots, and 40 years ago, at the age of 20, I become a Baha'i. I carried a lot of fundamentalist baggage with me. I still wondered what happened to those "heathens," the followers of other religions or those who followed no religion. I wondered about judgment and justice.

I was to learn about the importance of justice in the Baha'i revelation. God, speaking through Baha'u'llah, our Prophet-Founder, said, "The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice." Baha'u'llah admonished the rulers of the Earth, "Be vigilant, that ye may not do injustice to anyone, be it to the extent of a grain of mustard seed. Tread ye the path of justice, for this, verily, is the straight path."

Justice in this life and on this Earth is critically important. Justice in the family, justice in the neighborhood, justice within the nation and justice between countries bring peace and tranquility. The establishment of justice is one of the most important Baha'i teachings. Justice is the antidote to bigotry and hatred, and to disunity and discord.

For there to be justice, there must be a distinction between good and evil, between ethical behavior and unethical behavior. Evil is a very real and a very powerful force in the world. One need only look at war, materialism, poverty, environmental degradation, bigotry and hatred of every kind to see the face of evil. But evil does not have a positive, independent existence. Neither Satan nor original sin exist in Baha'i theology. Evil and sin are darkness. Evil and sin are the absence of light. Evil and sin are the absence of heavenly qualities and spiritual development. "The reality underlying this question is that the evil spirit, Satan or whatever is interpreted as evil, refers to the lower nature in man."

"As long as man is a captive of habit, pursuing the dictates of self and desire, he is vanquished and defeated. This passionate personal ego takes the reins from his hands, crowds out the qualities of the divine ego and changes him into an animal, a creature unable to judge good from evil, or to distinguish light from darkness. He becomes blind to divine attributes, for this acquired individuality, the result of an evil routine of thought becomes the dominant note of his life."

In Baha'i theology, people make a choice between good and evil. The decision is in our hands. "Some things are subject to the free will of man, such as justice, equity, tyranny and injustice, in other words, good and evil actions; it is evident and clear that these actions are, for the most part, left to the will of man."

The dynamic of good and evil and the operation of God's justice function not just on this earthly plane. We are judged by that justice after death, "Ye will most certainly be called upon to answer for His trust on the day when the Balance of Justice shall be set, the day when unto every one shall be rendered his due, when the doings of all men, be they rich or poor, shall be weighed." As a new Baha'i, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. What happens after death? Was there a heaven and a hell? Were non-believers still condemned to eternal suffering?

"According to Baha'u'llah the soul retains its individuality and consciousness after death, and is able to commune with other souls." Our existence continues after death. There is life after death. I was to learn that heaven is nearness to God and hell is remoteness from Him. Heaven is the condition of the soul that developed spiritual attributes in this life. Hell is the outer darkness, the suffering of separation from God of the person that has not progressed beyond his lower nature and has committed evil in his lifetime. "Heaven and hell are conditions within our own beings."

The delight of that heaven is indescribable and the suffering of that hell is unimaginable. "The rewards of the other world are peace, the spiritual graces, the various spiritual gifts in the Kingdom of God, the gaining of the desires of the heart and the soul and the meeting of God in the world of eternity. In the same way the punishments of the other world, that is to say, the torments of the other world, consist in being deprived of the special divine blessings and the absolute bounties, and falling into the lowest degrees of existence. He who is deprived of these divine favors, although he continues after death, is considered as dead by the people of truth."

I had learned that a person is judged after death and that heaven and hell are very real, but are states of being. My only remaining questions were whether the conditions of heaven and hell lasted through all eternity. Did the good experience everlasting joy and did the evil experience everlasting torment? And what of non-believers who had never known faith in this life? Were they condemned like my grandfather had told me so many years ago?

Imagine my joy when I learned that God's mercy trumps His justice. Our souls progress forever toward the Presence of God. Some start in the light and others begin in darkness. "But we must always remember that our existence and everything we have or ever will have is dependent upon the Mercy of God and His Bounty, and therefore He can accept into His heaven, which is really nearness to Him, even the lowliest if He pleases. We always have the hope of receiving His Mercy if we reach out for it."

What glorious news! "God's mercy exceeds His justice, and that soul can progress in the world beyond; the unillumined soul can become brilliant." You and I and everyone, even those "heathens," can reach heaven.

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