Clearly the subject of sin and forgiveness is incredibly central to any study of or discussion about religion and religious belief. How successfully I have broached this most important question is something that has caused me to re-read this work of late. And while I have yet to receive a great deal of feedback from readers—either in person or via comments on the various online fora—I feel comfortable in saying I find the work informative, enjoyable, and important.
At the heart of what I have attempted is to deal with the central question of what exactly constitutes “sin.” In addition, I naturally proceed from that question to other equally obvious but no less ponderous questions: How do we seek forgiveness? Are there any sins that are unpardonable? Is an act sinful even if one is not aware of the law governing the behavior involved? Is there such a thing as a sinful animal, or is sin something exclusive to the human condition?
On the one hand, the Bahá’í texts state point blank that there is no physical hell, no Satan, and no act that cannot be forgiven—other than detestation of the “light,” that is, rejection of the source of forgiveness itself. And yet, we are constantly admonished that “the fear of God” is good, that it keeps us aligned with God’s plan for our individual purpose in life. Furthermore, we come across capitalized epithets such as “the Evil One,” and are forewarned by Bahá’u’lláh, “How often hath a sinner attained, at the hour of death, to the essence of faith, and, quaffing the immortal draught, hath taken his flight unto the Concourse on high! And how often hath a devout believer, at the hour of his soul’s ascension, been so changed as to fall into the nethermost fire!” (Gleanings 266)
In other words, no simplistic phrases or axiomatic dictums suffice to abate the legitimate concerns or fear we have about how we bring ourselves into account each day, even as we will assess our entire lives as we transition to the realm of the spirit. We can review the compilation of laws in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and even those handful of laws for which Bahá’u’lláh has designated punishment, and I dare say few of us can say that we have been faithful to them all.
At the same time, the Bahá’í Writings assure us we are always a work in progress, even that the forgiveness we may not have acquired in this life can be attained hereafter: “Thus as souls in this world, through the help of the supplications, the entreaties and the prayers of the holy ones, can acquire development, so is it the same after death. Through their own prayers and supplications they can also progress, more especially when they are the object of the intercession of the Holy Manifestations” (Some Answered Questions 231).
These are the kinds of enigmatic issues this book examines and attempts to resolve, beginning with Part 1“Some Major Axioms about Reality,” and proceeding through Part 2 “Moral Laws and the Nature of Sin,” Part 3 “The Awful Truth about Satan,” Part 4 “Exploring the Depths of Hell,” and Part 5 “Salvation and the Happy Ending.”
Perhaps as much as any work I have attempted, I found in doing the research for this project great joy in posing the most difficult salient questions I could think of regarding individual morality and its consequences, whether pertaining to this world or the next. And as has ever been the case, so long as I persisted in my quest, the internal logic of the Writings never failed to lead me to satisfying and reasonable answers, though, as usual, I in no way pretend that I have come close to exhausting the subject.