Trusting in God is important and potentially challenging for Baha’is. We might think this is particularly true because, every now and then, we face tests and difficulties and life gets rough.
But this raises a question: what does it mean to trust in God? To trust in someone, as I understand it, is to expect some action or inaction from them. When I trust that Jeff will tell me if a particular piece of clothing makes me look fat, I expect something from him – in this case, an honest opinion.
But what should we expect God to do when we trust in Him?
Some might think this question sounds odd. We’re not God, so how blasphemous is it to then think that we can expect God to do things as if we know what God would will?
Yet this latter question may also seem odd. God tells us what He’s going to do in His revelation, such as sending prophets. Not only that, but God seems to tell us what He is going to do through our experience of reality. Experience tells me that the sun will probably rise tomorrow, but this will happen only if God wills it (I mean, what is the sun doing rising by itself if God doesn’t will it to rise?). So, if I can expect the sun to rise tomorrow, then I can expect God to do something or will something in particular. So we can expect God to do some things.
If we think as such, then what can we trust that God will do, especially when life is difficult? In Ayat-i-Bayanat, Baha’u’llah offers an answer to a Baha’i who is upset with some things in his life:
Let nothing grieve thee. Place thy trust in God. He is with thee at all times… Trust in Him and commit thine affairs to the hand of omnipotence. Verily, His vision transcendeth thine and He desires for thee that which the mind hath not conceived. This is that which profiteth thee. Verily, thy Lord is the All-Possessing, the Exalted.1
Baha’u’llah says a number of beautiful things here and in the rest of this tablet, but the main message I take away from this segment is this: sometimes we face tests, but we can trust that God ultimately desires some good which benefits us and which He sees while we may not. That, then, is what I take trust in God to mean (albeit with a qualification that I will add later).
So we’ve looked at the theory of trusting in God, but what about the practice? After all, trusting in God is easier said than done.
What, then, can help one to trust in God? Well, Baha’is have access to the usual tools – prayer, study of the writings and meditation.
There are also other tools which the individual may benefit from. There are stories of Baha’u’llah that I love in this respect (even though they are not infallible representations of Baha’u’llah’s guidance); one of my favourites is found in Adib Taherzadeh’s book The Revelation of Baha’u’llah. It recounts how Abdu’r-Rahman Pasha, the governor, received orders from the Ottoman Empire condemning the Baha’i exiles in Akka to imprisonment. The governor hoped to enlist the help of the Mufti (a legal expert) but the Mufti was an admirer of Abdu’l-Baha and he warned Abdu’l-Baha of the governor’s plans to imprison the believers the following morning. The governor intended to do this as the Baha’is opened their shops. Abdu’l-Baha brought the matter to Baha’u’llah, despite it being late in the evening. Baha’u’llah advised the believers to refrain from going to work the next day, telling them to leave their affairs in the hands of God. The governor was surprised to find the Baha’i businesses closed in the morning. While he waited for the Baha’is to appear, a telegraph arrived discharging him from his post. The Mufti was astonished because the Baha’is had only been warned about the governor’s plans late in the night and by morning, the governor had been dismissed.2
One may also have stories in one’s own life that provide solace. Do you ever remember worrying about how challenging life was or was possibly going to be, only to learn in hindsight that things somehow worked out for the good and you should have trusted that things would work out? Baha’is who have had those experiences have sometimes found it useful to remember them in tough times.
For some, however, their difficulty with trusting in God may stem from a lack of belief that there really exists a God who is to be trusted anyway. Such a person might benefit from reflecting on what is arguably evidence for God’s existence. These may include the things which people occasionally appeal to – religious history, the fine-tuning of the laws of the universe or near-death experiences, to take a few examples. But they might also appeal to studies of so-called posttraumatic growth. These suggest that suffering is often connected to some good, something one might expect given the existence of a benevolent God. As psychologist Martin Seligman explains in his book Flourish, he and his colleagues surveyed 1,700 people and found that trauma or suffering was associated with greater character strengths and well-being:
To our surprise, individuals who’d experienced one awful event had more intense strengths (and therefore higher well-being) than individuals who had none. Individuals who’d been through two awful events were stronger than individuals who had one, and individuals who had three—raped, tortured, and held captive for example—were stronger than those who had two.34
So those are some thoughts on how one can trust in God.
But now I want to add a qualification to these thoughts: sometimes we can only trust in God once we’ve taken action. After all, as an Arabian proverb goes, “Trust in God, but tie your camel.” We might think, then, that an important facet of trusting in God is this: if we reasonably try to do what we think is best given our circumstances, then we should trust that God will make it so what happens will be for a good reason.
- Baha’u’llah, Ayat-i-Bayanat, pg. 36, provisional translation of the author [↩]
- Adib Taherzadeh. The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, vol. I [↩]
- Martin Seligman, Flourish, p.159-160 [↩]
- As a side note, growth does not occur magically after the trauma. Rather, studies have shown that growth is associated with cognitive processing of the trauma whereby one seeks to understand and deal with the emotions that the trauma engenders. On the other hand, lack of growth and posttraumatic stress symptoms are associated with avoidance of the trauma whereby one seeks to avoid reminders of it and block the trauma and the negative emotions out from their mental life. For individuals struggling to understand and cope with trauma (or indeed any negative emotion such as fear, anxiety and sadness), I recommend the books of two clinical psychologists: Stephen Joseph’s What Doesn’t Kill Us provides an introduction to the field of posttraumatic growth and how to grow following trauma; additionally, in my opinion, a must-have for anyone is Darlene Mininni’s book The Emotional Toolkit: Seven Power-Skills to Nail Your Bad Feelings. I think the latter is an excellent guide to the essential ability to understand, grow from and alleviate negative emotions in any context. [↩]