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July 10, 2011

Question: What is Hell?

The Bahá’í sacred writings teach that heaven and hell are conditions of the soul or spirit. Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, and the authorized interpreter of its teachings, answered a question on this matter: “Heaven and hell are conditions within our own beings” (letter to an individual, November 14, 1947).

While the Bahá’í writings maintain belief in an all-powerful God who rewards and punishes, the emphasis has shifted to a state of hell (or heaven) that exists within our own beings, as well as the next world. Bahá’ís are exhorted to behave in such a manner so as to create “heaven on earth” and to avoid those behaviours that will result in hell-like psycho-spiritual conditions.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son of the Prophet-Founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), wrote: “There is no fiercer hell, no more fiery abyss, than to possess a character that is evil and unsound; no more darksome pit nor loathsome torment than to show forth qualities which deserve to be condemned” (Selections, p. 136). On the other hand he says: “Think ye of love and good fellowship as the delights of heaven, think ye of hostility and hatred as the torments of hell” (Selections, p. 244). Hell, then, may be viewed as severe deprivation and regret over a marked absence of positive spiritual virtues that largely determine our happiness.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that for those souls who are conscious of God and who strive to live a spiritual life “...there is no greater torture than being veiled from God, and no more severe punishment than sensual vices, dark qualities, lowness of nature, engrossment in carnal desires. When they are delivered through the light of faith from the darkness of these vices, and become illuminated with the radiance of the Sun of Reality, and ennobled with all the virtues, they esteem this the greatest reward, and they know it to be the true paradise” (Bahá’í World Faith, p. 324).

Dr. J. E. Esslemont, a respected Bahá’í scholar, wrote: “Hell is simply deprivation of that knowledge of God with consequent failure to attain divine perfection, and loss of the Eternal Favor” (Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 21). - Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen July 10, 2011
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