Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Could Marriage Save Your Soul: 2

Definition of Salvation:
    1. Preservation or deliverance from destruction, difficulty, or evil.
    2. A source, means, or cause of such preservation or deliverance.
  1. Deliverance from the power or penalty of sin; redemption.
    1. The agent or means that brings about such deliverance.
In a previous post I posed the question, "Could marriage save your soul?" One approach to this question is to consider what "salvation" means in Baha'i thought. Based on my exploration of Baha'i scripture there are at least two ways of understanding salvation. The first way is the one that is usually associated with this concept, a personal spiritual state of knowing (recognition) and loving (obedience) God. The opening paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, The Most Holy Book in Baha'i scripture captures the essence of the requirements of personal salvation:

"The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration." (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 19)

Abdu'l-Baha elaborates on the meaning of this verse from the Aqdas:

Question. -- It is said in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas "...whoso is deprived thereof, hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed." What is the meaning of this verse?

Answer. -- This blessed verse means that the foundation of success and salvation is the knowledge of God, and that the results of the knowledge of God are the good actions which are the fruits of faith.

If man has not this knowledge, he will be separated from God, and when this separation exists, good actions have not complete effect. This verse does not mean that the souls separated from God are equal, whether they perform good or bad actions. It signifies only that the foundation is to know God, and the good actions result from this knowledge. Nevertheless, it is certain that between the good, the sinners and the wicked who are veiled from God there is a difference. For the veiled one who has good principles and character deserves the pardon of God, while he who is a sinner, and has bad qualities and character, is deprived of the bounties and blessings of God. Herein lies the difference. Therefore, the blessed verse means that good actions alone, without the knowledge of God, cannot be the cause of eternal salvation, everlasting success, and prosperity, and entrance into the Kingdom of God. (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 238)

A second way that salvation is presented in Baha'i scripture could be referred to as "universal" or "social" salvation. Baha'u'llah states:

"O Thou Who art the Lord of Lords! I testify that Thou art the Lord of all creation, and the Educator of all beings, visible and invisible. I bear witness that Thy power hath encompassed the entire universe, and that the hosts of the earth can never dismay Thee, nor can the dominion of all peoples and nations deter Thee from executing Thy purpose. I confess that Thou hast no desire except the regeneration of the whole world, and the establishment of the unity of its peoples, and the salvation of all them that dwell therein."

And 'Abdu'l-Baha tells us that:

"If ye will follow earnestly the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, ye shall indeed become the light of the world, the soul for the body of the world, the comfort and help for humanity, and the source of salvation for the whole universe. Strive therefore, with heart and soul, to follow the precepts of the Blessed Perfection, and rest assured that if ye succeed in living the life he marks out for you, Eternal Life and everlasting joy in the Heavenly Kingdom will be yours, and celestial sustenance will be sent to strengthen you all your days." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 113)

Finally, Shoghi Effendi associates salvation with world unity:

"The flames which His Divine justice have kindled cleanse an unregenerate humanity, and fuse its discordant, its warring elements as no other agency can cleanse or fuse them. It is not only a retributory and destructive fire, but a disciplinary and creative process, whose aim is the salvation, through unification, of the entire planet." (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 116)

While marriage probably facilitates personal salvation, it is this universal or social salvation that I find more interesting to ponder. In the prayer I cited where Baha'u'llah refers to marriage as a "fortress for well-being and salvation", He prefaces that metaphor with this statement:

"And when He desired to manifest grace and beneficence to men, and to set the world in order..."

It is the potential for marriage to contribute to world order that I think is one way of understanding it as a means for attaining salvation. So perhaps my question, "Could marriage save your soul?", should be rephrased as "Could marriage save the world?" I think the answer is yes. The next question is "how". I'll address the how in my next post.

Readers weigh in, how do you think that marriage may contribute to social salvation?


  1. Truthfully, I just don't think there's any connection between marriage and salvation. Marriage is a social construct. Salvation is an internal job.


  2. thailandchani, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm not sure if I understand what you mean though. could you say more. how is marriage a "social construct" and salvation an "internal job"?

    what do other people think about this?

  3. Marriage is a social validation of relationship. It is a custom that is created by social systems and cultures. I don't consider being married to be any more enlightened or spiritual than being unmarried.

    If marriage is considered to be a spiritual precept (which I don't believe it is), where does that leave all the people who are single for one reason or another... or those who are not permitted to marry by their culture of origin or religion?

    In the end, it all comes down to a level of commitment people choose to make to one another, in any configuration.

    If it's based on love, it's good.

    As for salvation, I think we need to do a lot of internal work, to get past cultural brainwashing, to realize our own spiritual enlightenment. It comes from within us ~ not from without. That is unfortunately a walk no one else can take for us. They might be able to guide us ~ but they can't do it *for* us.

    I get concerned when cultural customs become a sliding scale of spirituality.


  4. Phil,

    I think you are making an excellent point. Of course marriage isn't an end all save all. As Ruhiyyih Rabanni says in her book, Prescription for Living, North Americans tend to expect too much from marriage. Of course she also expounds for great lengths the strengths and bounties of marriage.

    That said I know for myself, while I've never been married, times when I have been investigating marriage with one of my friends have been some of the best times of my life. I feel challenged, reinforced, and strongly reliant on the Will of God. I know marriage won't always be like that, but it makes me very eager to marry. Also, knowing that another person was so intimately invested in me, encouraged me to strive in all arenas of my life.

    I think that what may be worth looking at in relation to your idea, if you are sincere in investigating this relationship, are examples in which great Baha'i teachers have been reinforced by marriage. "How did their marriage reinforce their ability to spread the Cause?" Four historic examples that come to mind are: 'Abdu'l-Baha, Ruhiyyih Rabbani, Dr. Rahmat Muhajir, and Mr. Louis Gregory.

    Modern examples are also helpful. For example, my Auxiliary Board Member travels the state teaching and encouraging the friends to teach. His wife stays home, but he always talks about her everywhere he goes. It is very clear that his love for her reinforces him.

  5. Thailandchani, I see your point, and I'm not at all suggesting that marriage is the only path to salvation and am actually less focused on the personal salvation that I think you are referring to. I appreciate your raising these issues though because the last thing I want to do is suggest that people who are unmarried are less spiritual than people who are not. I'm just trying to meditate on what Baha'u'llah might be getting at. I could be totally wrong of course!

    Jalal, I agree that considering examples of souls we respect could offer insight into this question.

    Anyone else?

  6. Chris9:43 AM

    Hi Phillip,

    What a wonderful idea to encourage people to explore. I completely resonate with the idea of marriage contributing to both personal and social salvation. I can think of many, many ways marriage contributes to social salvation. I'll have to write in point form a few ideas and can expand if needed:
    1-Marriage is a form of unity much greater than we appreciate. It brings together not only two people, but all the history of peoples in the lineage of those two people. I am an American married to an Iranian, whom fell in love with in Israel. I remember once being asked to be a consultant to a film maker about three years ago and suggested she show a beautiful marriage between a black and a white person being traced back through their lineage to when one grandparent had been a freed slave and another a KKK member...but now washed away in the pure love between these two..perhaps hardly typical, but not impossible and symbolic on a powerful level. Look at Obama. He is a powerful living example of differing races and peoples because of the marriage of his parents. It has moved the whole world.

    Not every marriage contains these obvious extremes, but there is so much human history of conflict that could be traced at some point being reconciled in the union of probably every couple I think. It is not just symbolic, there is a spiritual force released in that light of unity envoloping the whole earth.
    2. Marriage to a person (for me) is an opportunity in this world to express our loyalty to God. Those who have been in marriages for a while (20 years now for me) will know that it takes great sacrifice and victory over the self to maintain that unity and loyalty. I don't have time to get the quotes, but Abdul'baha in a tablet talks about how victory in this age is not about conquering other countries, but about conquering our own hearts. When we achieve victory over self, God (Her/Himself) descends into the human heart which is the city of God. When this victory has occurred our mission is to then assist others to prepare their hearts for God's descent. Another way of saying salvation. Marriage enables this as an institution in a way that nearly no other earthly relationship can.
    3. Abdu'l-baha talks about 4 kinds of love. Love from human to human, human to God, God to human and God for Godself. I always thought humans were limited to participating in the first two for obvious reasons. But I have learned through profound experiences that marriage provides an opportunity to encounter both your own soul and another persons soul very intimately. The soul is an image of God. To see the Divine in our partner, that part of the soul "beyond egress or regress" and in ourselves means we (to a limited extent) can feel that Divine love for human and Divine love for Divine. This may sound like a form of personal salvation, but in achieving that level of love in a marriage we are enabled to see that aspect of every human being, even those we would never think we could like. That opens the door to universal, unconditional Divine love for every person, that ultimate compassion that Saints have accessed to change the social order in our history. In this day and age, marriage is a fortress that when focused on the love of God leads to that Saintliness.

    I could go on for pages with other exmaples but those are a good three to start the ball rolling maybe. N'est pas? love to all.


  7. i love this post! briefly, i agree wholeheartedly with your reflections. there is no doubt that through the process of obedience to the laws of God for this Day and striving to live the life in so many ways, we are directly contributing to the advancement of civilization and the spiritual transformation of humanity - at a social level it begins with marriage. it is the seed from which a family grows, children are raised, values are imparted, and unity is practiced. Chris' contribution eloquently describes the significance of what a true union does for the healing of past generations as well as lay the foundation for future generations to benefit therefrom.

    my husband and i have been married 14 years. we have 3 children (ages 4, 7, and 9). we are both Baha'i. they deeply know that there is no sense in having any concept of a girlfriend or boyfriend unless one is wholeheartedly preparing for marriage by investigating that soul's character. they are being taught to see the spiritual qualities in the opposite sex, as this is what truly attracts us to people as we see the image of God's perfections in them. it was so refreshing to read your first post about that subject! we see Baha'i families with youth who accept, even announce, that their son or daughter has a girlfriend or a boyfriend. this has been confusing for our children who know these youth are not ready for marriage! it goes against the entire standard of chastity and the sacredness of the institution and law of marriage. i appreciate you relaying that we must talk with our children about marriage and the beauty of the sex impulse in its proper expression. it would be incredibly powerful if the Baha'i community was distinguished without exception for this aspect of community and social life -- that people could look at us and know we are distinguished and outstanding in this way, far removed from the current standard of immorality surrounding us.

    peace, pamela

  8. Anonymous7:16 PM

    Love can definitely save someone's soul! Whether marriage saves someone's soul or not depends on a few things, I think, judging by these Baha'i quotations:

    "Love is, indeed, a most potent elixir that can transform vilest and meanest of people into heavenly souls. May your example serve to further confirm the truth of this beautiful teaching of our Faith."
    (From a letter written of behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, December 6, 1935)
    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 222)

    What a power is love! It is the most wonderful, the greatest of all living powers.
    Love gives life to the lifeless. Love lights a flame in the heart that is cold. Love brings hope to the hopeless and gladdens the hearts of the sorrowful.
    In the world of existence there is indeed no greater power than the power of love. When the heart of man is aglow with the flame of love, he is ready to sacrifice all -- even his life. In the Gospel it is said God is love.
    (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 179)

    92. O ye two believers in God! The Lord, peerless is He, hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other.
    If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of divine grace and favour in the Kingdom of heaven. But if they do other than this, they will live out their lives in great bitterness, longing at every moment for death, and will be shamefaced in the heavenly realm.
    Strive, then, to abide, heart and soul, with each other as two doves in the nest, for this is to be blessed in both worlds.
    (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 122)

    "When we realize that Bahá'u'lláh says adultery retards the progress of the soul in the after life -- so grievous is it -- and that drinking destroys the mind, and not to so much as approach it, we see how clear are our teachings on these subjects."
    (From letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, September 30, 1949: Living the Life, pp. 15-16)
    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 345)

    "The institution of marriage, as established by Bahá'u'lláh, while giving due importance to the physical aspect of marital union considers it as subordinate to the moral and spiritual purposes and functions with which it has been invested by an All-Wise and loving Providence. Only when these different values are given each their due importance, and only on the basis of the subordination of the physical to the moral, and the carnal to the spiritual can such excesses and laxity in marital relations as our decadent age is so sadly witnessing be avoided, and family life be restored to its original purity, and fulfill the true function for which it has been instituted by God."
    (From letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, May 8, 1939: Ibid)
    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 226)