These three ideas have been on my mind a great deal lately. Let me see if I can summarize:
Faith means to me that life is not dispassionate or inert. Rather, the events of one’s life are animated by a purpose, which is always leading one toward betterment. Thus, there is a “faith” that all events help us on our way, and this builds a confidence that whatever we strike out to do, life will help us to accomplish. Such faith undoes fear, and informs us that no matter what happens, we cannot lose: “The friends of God shall win and profit under all conditions, and shall attain true wealth.”
Perfection is the idea that however life may appear, it is perfect in its being. Although we see only slivers of the present, if we saw the whole picture at once, we would discover that nothing need improve for us to reach our goal. In a way, life is designed for each individual to fit their specific needs. If things appear oddly done, or flawed, it is only because this is what will tweak us in the ways we need. We are immersed in the world, and so we see it as though reading a book one letter at a time. We cannot visualize the whole story, and so things appear flawed in the moment. But perfection is what the eye of faith will see; whenever we see imperfection, we lack faith in what life has presented us with.
Combining these two ideas is the way of Love. Religion teaches that the purpose of life is to educate the soul and develop its spirituality. This primarily refers to developing the capacity to love, since all other virtues stem from this (or so I understand). From the love of God comes the love of His will, and from that comes obedience to His commandments, and fulfillment of the duties that form the basis of society. Even “irreligious” people participate in this, in which case I believe their irreligion has to do more with institutions and beliefs, and not the basic principles that cause the soul to love what is good about goodness.
If the purpose of life is to master love, then faith would say that everything that happens is meant to improve us in this direction: that the world we see is perfectly ordered to allow this improvement.
Such a perfection is a perfection of purpose, not of immediate form. If we look at the world in any given moment, it is easy to point out variations from our imagined perfection, such as the degree of poverty and crime around us. But if the purpose is to develop love, perhaps there is another kind of perfection – one that has nothing to do with what we think is best, but with what really is best for the education of man.
For example, if my friends had no “flaws”, there would be no difficulty in loving them all the time. It would not even really be love, but a kind of automatic response to the perfections of their qualities. But the lover, looking at the world, does not find any need to change it. It is perfect in its being, and does not need improvement. What the lover responds to is what is rather than what could be. And when he loves things as they are, he will ask, “What can I offer, what can I do?” This is how love motivates him to act.
Without such faith, and seeing what appears to be an imperfect world, we feel driven to correct it, to fix it. Since this does not proceed from a motive of love, life (so I believe) will respond in whatever way can teach us about love. This might mean, in some cases, that things would get worse by trying to fix them, until we give up any hope of controlling the world, and learn how to accept it. For whenever we try to “fix” a perfect world, we only cause it to respond in such a way as to maintain its perfection. And if what is perfect is what trains us and educates our souls, then whatever life was doing before, it will continue to do after our attempted fix.
The upshot of this is that appreciating the lessons of life reveals an entirely different basis for action. Rather than viewing all that is imperfect, in ourselves and around us, and setting up a huge task list to fix them all, the object is to accept and love what we see to such an extent that we feel moved to offer something of ourselves. `Abdu’l-Bahá said, “Let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.” Is this possible when we are looking at the flaws of the world so we may fix them? If we no longer have any interest in flaws, but in learning to love what is, our entire relationship to life changes. It becomes a matter of faith, not measurement. Whoever the people we meet may be, the goal is to “burn with loving kindness”; and thus their very being, for us, is a lesson to that end.
And if we did “perfect” the world, where would the lessons go? If we imagine and dream of a future with no war, no hatred, no flaws – what would exercise the capacities of man to overcome hatred? If we work toward a world that no longer challenges us, what are we wanting from life? That it leave us alone?
If life is exactly the set of lessons required to prepare us for what comes next – so asks faith – then the life we see today is the life we are called upon to love. In our world of misery, much of that love will take the form of comfort, solace, aid. However, desiring to aid someone from love is a very different motive from wanting only that their pain cease troubling our conscience.
So faith sees a perfect world, whose purpose is to train us how to love. And it will always do so, and always be the same “world” relative to our state. In this sense, the world we see is really a mirror of our state of growth. As we change, it changes; this is the nature of its perfection. In such an adaptable climate, the real question is not how to achieve the perfections we imagine, but how to respond to what we need.
And if life really is perfect, then there is nothing I ever need ask of it myself; for it already provides (and always will) exactly what I’ve been needing all along. “Gain is their lot, whatever the deal.”