Like all animals, we are naturally pleasure-seeking creatures. The desire for pleasure drives, and has driven, many of our endeavours. And we might even say that in the technological age we live in, it drives us even more. But what if we realised that our task in life is not to pursue our own pleasure, but instead to pursue God’s? Baha’u’llah counsels us:
O SON OF MAN! If thou lovest Me, turn away from thyself; and if thou seekest My pleasure, regard not thine own; that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee.1
O SON OF HIM THAT STOOD BY HIS OWN ENTITY IN THE KINGDOM OF HIS SELF! Know thou, that I have wafted unto thee all the fragrances of holiness, have fully revealed to thee My word, have perfected through thee My bounty and have desired for thee that which I have desired for My Self. Be then content with My pleasure and thankful unto Me.2
These are beautiful words. But they can be hard to follow. In today’s world, for many people, desires can be quickly met. We want a coffee; we buy one on the go. We want to be entertained; we find something interesting to watch on YouTube. I think that we have become accustomed to having our desires instantly satiated, so the notion of pleasing God, instead of ourselves, can be a completely foreign concept.
I’ve been reflecting on this lately and one personal experience seems to illustrate the issue. I’m a vegan, that is, I don’t eat any animal products: no milk, cheese, eggs… But my son is not. Although I don’t eat cheese, I take great pleasure in making him grilled cheese sandwiches. And even though I hate the smell of cooking eggs, I even gain pleasure from cooking these for him too — except for the time I reheated a boiled egg in the microwave and it exploded in his face!
This seemingly mundane task of feeding my son really helps me understand what it means to please God. I have no desire, myself, to eat cheese or eggs. I prepare these things only for my son. I don’t get to taste them, and I don’t even like to smell them. But when I see how much he enjoys eating them, I am completely satisfied. My pleasure, although it is not what I am aiming at, comes from pleasing him.
This shows the irony in the situation: that when we please God, we actually attain our highest pleasure. However, in order to attain this pleasure, it cannot be our aim. Our intention must be pure: to please God. The pleasure we receive is incidental.
In the case of my son, part of the pleasure I receive comes from the reaction I can see. I can see that he is happy, which makes me happy. If I mess up his food, he won’t like it as much, and I won’t be filled with joy. But God is the unknowable Essence, so we cannot perceive His reaction to our actions. How then do we know what will please Him?
O SON OF BEING! Walk in My statutes for love of Me and deny thyself that which thou desirest if thou seekest My pleasure.3
Here we can gather that the “statutes” of God are the laws and lessons that the Manifestations of God reveal to humanity throughout time: loving one another as ourselves, not stealing or lying… These are the means by which we can walk the path of God’s pleasure. These are the things that God wants us to do; hence, they are the things that bring pleasure to God.
But even when we know what God wants us to do, it can be hard to find the way how to. Because we can become entrapped in the mesh of our own desires, it can be hard to relinquish them, especially when they bring us instant, albeit, fleeting pleasure. This entails the need for sacrifice. If we want what is higher, we need to sacrifice the lower counterpart. If we want to be generous, we have to learn to relinquish our attachment to wealth. We also have to be careful that sacrifice doesn’t lead to bitterness. It must be done with love. We sacrifice our own desires for God’s desires because we love Him.
This does not mean that we should live like self-denying ascetics. In fact, Baha’u’llah counsels us that we can enjoy the things of the world. We just can’t let these things stand between us and God. If we heed His counsels, we are more cognizant of these potential barriers. For these statutes, laws, lessons are not a list of arbitrary things that we must do. They are pieces of guidance from our loving Creator who cares for our wellbeing:
O SON OF MAN! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.4
I think it’s important to note that not pleasing God, according to my understanding of the Baha’i teachings, does not mean that He stops loving us. God’s love is unconditional, which means He loves us regardless of what we do or don’t do. When we fail to walk according to His pleasure, we cut ourselves off from His love and get caught in the world of our lower natures, or our egos. Not pleasing God deprives us of spiritual growth.
Because God loves us, He wants the best for us. So, whatever is beneficial for us, is pleasing to Him. This is just the same as the way a parent relates to a child. Because a parent loves their child, they want what is best for them. Although the child would love to eat chocolate and candy all day, this would not bring pleasure to the parent’s heart because they know that these foods are detrimental to the child’s health. Of course, giving the child the occasional treat is fine. (I have a weakness for letting my son try the treats I had as a child.)
One of the things that I believe is most essential to our spiritual wellbeing is to treat each other with dignity and respect.
O MY FRIENDS! Walk ye in the ways of the good pleasure of the Friend, and know that His pleasure is in the pleasure of His creatures. That is: no man should enter the house of his friend save at his friend’s pleasure, nor lay hands upon his treasures nor prefer his own will to his friend’s, and in no wise seek an advantage over him. Ponder this, ye that have insight!5
This means that God does not want us to use or abuse each other. Rather, we need to live in harmony. When we do this, God is pleased, and in turn, we receive His blessings. In fact, this is God’s masterplan for the whole world: that we live in complete unity. Just imagine what bounties we will receive collectively if, sorry, when, we do this!