An Alternate View of Salvation (from My Baha’i Faith):
The Bahá’í Teachings resolved my discomfort with the concept of salvation by offering completely new responses to four simple questions.
What am I being saved from?
Why do I need to be saved?
Why can’t I save myself?
What do I have to do to be saved?What am I being saved from?
Like Christ, Bahá’u’lláh teaches that God wants to save me—but not
from some outside force (the devil) or some external punishment (hell), and not even from my own supposedly innate sinfulness. God’s great desire for me is to save me from my complete and utter ignorance of my own true self.
God’s goal is to help me redefine who I am, why I was created, and how I can achieve my fullest potential. God wants me to learn, grow, love and be happy.
If we see a plant that does not grow, we call it dead. Likewise a human soul that does not grow and learn and become what God meant for it to be is spiritually dead. There is no worse “punishment” than this. Bahá’u’lláh says, “True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self.”
Why Do I Need to Be Saved?
The usual answer to this question is that we are sinful—that because of original sin we deserve punishment and are unworthy of God’s grace. But if we replace the word “sinful” with the word “ignorant,” then we can easily recognize our innate need for education without feeling any shame for not being perfect to begin with. We are all born ignorant, but with an immense capacity to learn and grow. We are born not knowing who we really are, and not having lived up to our full potential. This is obvious.
Why do I need help to be saved?
What is not so obvious is why we are in need of Jesus—or any other Prophet—as an outside source of guidance. Why can’t we “save ourselves?” That is, why can’t we figure out who we are on our own? Plants don’t need teachers in order to grow and blossom, why do we?
We need God to send us these Divine Educators for the simple fact that people learn primarily through example. We study and observe the people and things around us and come to conclusions about how things work and how we should behave. If humans were simply animals, then we could learn everything we need to know by observing other animals. But we aren’t. Humans have souls. We are infused with the Holy Spirit. Our souls operate under a different set of laws and are guided by a different set of principles than animal instinct. In order to learn how to behave like humans, we need spiritual examples. This spiritual example has to come from outside the normal worldly plane.
If people followed the example of animals, we would live by the “law of the jungle,” but God wants us to follow the Golden Rule. When we explore the example of the physical world, we find that it is limited and prone to chaos. When we explore our spiritual reality, we find that we are unlimited, creative and full of love. This does not mean that the material world is evil. It simply means that the material world is an inadequate example for us to follow when we are trying to explore our uniquely human potential.
With all of the examples of limited physical reality that surround us, it is essential that God save us from a material perspective by providing us with spiritual examples. We cannot create these examples or discover these truths on our own. That is why God sent us Jesus Christ. That is how He saved us. The example of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ save us from the degradation of a purely material, animal existence. That is how all of God’s spiritual Teachers save us from ignorance of our true spiritual selves.
Because these Messengers have been providing positive examples since the beginning of time, we might try to convince ourselves that we don’t really need them. But if we try to imagine a world in which there never were any spiritual examples, it becomes clear that we would not have “discovered” the Golden Rule (let alone “turn the other cheek”) by observing nature alone.
What do I have to do to be saved?
The two competing answers to this question that we hear from most Christians are that we are either saved by faith or saved by works. Bahá’ís say that both are required. First, I have to have faith that God knows more about me than I know about myself. Second, I have to be able to recognize, believe in and love God’s Teachers when He sends them. This is no small task. But salvation is not a one-time event. It is a process of discovery and growth. So in addition to these initial acts of faith, salvation also requires a lifetime of effort, action and strength of will on my part to live up to my full capacity.
Becoming My True Self
Becoming my true self involves loving God and obeying God. It involves loving God’s virtues, and living those virtues in my daily life.
Bahá’u’lláh explains that we are all created in the “image of God.” We “reflect” God when we develop our God-given virtues such as love, compassion, honesty, reverence and courage. He says:
Loving, learning, growing, living, reflecting virtues, being human, being obedient—these are not separate processes. They are different ways of looking at the same thing. When we embrace the process, then we are assured of eternal life and growth. And when we resist the process, we begin to wither and die.
This simple explanation of what God was saving me from, why and how, made a lot of sense to me. I suddenly understood so much more of what Jesus had been saying. There was no longer a conflict between the idea of salvation and my faith in God’s loving-kindness.