With fire We test gold

Driving through some country roads this week my reverie began to dwell on one of the succinct teachings of Baha’u’llah, that are collected in a book called the Hidden Words.

Busy not thyself with this world, for with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants.    (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)

On a first reading it is quite obvious that Baha’u’llah is referring to our tendency to accumulate material possessions. However I began to mull over other interpretations of the ‘gold’, and ‘tests. If tests are methods of realising the true structure and function of a thing, such as a student in an exam that tests her knowledge or skills, then gold is a reference to that structure and function. Gold is also a valuable material. And so we test for value in our skills. Gold is also the reward for achieving a valuable outcome. Even for young children we have gold stars for their achievements in social behaviour or lessons in school. Gold stars and gold coin are useful for locking us into a relationship with our family, friends and community, as a recognition of our status with them. We enjoy this recognition a great deal and we become proud of who we have become.

Well so far, so good. Why not. Our western civilisation is built of such a concept and seems to be progressing from strength to strength. Yet Baha’u’llah warns us that the gold is also a test of true spirituality. Sure, it is easy enough to see that the material girl is not taking the time to reflect upon the purpose of life, her life, the ultimate value of her actions because she is always thinking of the new thing to possess. Yet, if material girl isn’t so material, but well rewarded to take an attitude of the middle class revolution – service, volunteering, fighting for the underdog – is this reward also a test of spirituality?

I’d like your comments.


11 thoughts on “With fire We test gold

  1. The servant could have multiple opportunities to be tested by gold. The test may be caused by the absence of financial resources, whether to the extreme or simply inconvenient level. What flaws and strengths do financial challenges reveal, or develop? Persistency, determination, hard work, ambition, self sacrifice? Or bitterness, frustration, envy, greed… even thievery? Or the test could come from ‘just getting by’. Having just enough to pay the bills, but not enough to do anything extra. Do you learn to become more thrifty, invest more wisely, economize more judiciously, etc. so that you create a margin of savings where none existed before, or develop additional income by putting in extra hours at your current or an additional job or business venture? Or do you discover that ‘just getting by’ frees your mind and spirit for other interests and you simply allow the affairs of this world to take care of the affairs of this world. Finally, and rarely, could that test come from extreme success and prosperity. Does winning a lottery, inheriting a fortune, cashing in on a long shot IPO change your life? Does it change YOU? What flaws and strengths in your character are revealed? How do you handle ‘excess’?

  2. Hi, this topic goes back a year now. But re-reading it, the premise I was exploring is whether our own skills, the modern gold, become also our test. If we classify economic classes by: poverty is below basic need; lower class is basic needs but nil excess; Middle class is small to moderate excess to needs; and upper class is vast excess to needs, then we can apply such definition to our own skills. Many people, for example, have skill in excess to the job they perform. Many middle class people have excess hours. Is the spiritual test about what we are doing with our excess abilities and resources? Do we continue to add financially rewarding work to our time? Or do we spend that time in pursuits that build community and nation? What if the financially rewarding pursuits are also overtly valuable in building community or nation? Might it not be important to do other things, for their spiritual worth? I am not suggesting a clear cut answer. Honest exploration of the dilemma must be part of the spirtitual enterprise. The question then arises, how do we engage that honest exploration, with our family, friends, business and professional colleagues? What do we do when we see another person moving laterally in life, reducing their financially rewarding activities for human development activities? Do we discourage? Do we encourage? Do we leave to themselves? Do we use the opportunity to learn more about them and ourselves? Aren’t our responses to others also key to our spiritual development?
    And I wonder, whether, if we are honest with our engagement, even if we can’t always get the practical answers to our liking, we find pathways and solutions that we never thought we would, and gradually engender a whole new economic system.
    Which suggests in full circle, that our inability to view our trade, resources, skill, savings, from the spiritual perspectives, is potentially damaging to the development of trade, resources, skills, and wealth building.

    Busy not thyself with this world, for with fire We test the gold, …
    To me Baha’ullah is telling us first that if we are to become spiritual, pure and loved followers and teachers of the Bahia Faith (gold) then we will have to go through the furnace of life for the more you fire gold the purer it becomes and like wise with human kind. We are tested through hardships and difficulties to burn away our impurities by helped when we turn to God through prayer and meditation this enables to rise above these trials when all seems lost.
    In Proverbs 27:21 we read,
    21 As the refining pot for silver and the furnace for gold [bring forth all the impurities of the metal], so let a man be in his trial of praise [ridding himself of all that is base or insincere; for a man is judged by what he praises and of what he boasts]
    In ancient times, refining involved a craftsman sitting next to a hot fire with molten gold in a crucible being stirred and skimmed to remove the impurities or dross that rose to the top of the molten metal. With flames reaching temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius.

    ….and with gold We test Our servants. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words) and if we are to become regard as servants of the cause then the following account shows clearly how we can be tested and easily fail but in the full story which is well worth the read for the interested and invaluable to those on a spiritual path for the moral of the story is that those that en devour and realise they have lost their way and turn back to God and listen, they will be rightly guieded.
    by Sherveen Lotfi
    Hájí Muhammad-Báqir-i-Qazvíní already had the spiritual wealth that comes with
    being a follower of Bahá’u’lláh. But he also wished to have money and fame – things he
    did not have.
    So, he traveled to Baghdád to ask Bahá’u’lláh to grant his wish.
    Bahá’u’lláh instructed Hájí Muhammad to become a cotton merchant. But he also
    warned him not to allow riches to become a barrier between him and God.
    To protect us, Bahá’u’lláh has given us the same warning: “… Rejoice not in the
    things ye possess; tonight they are yours, tomorrow others will possess them. … Happy
    the days that have been consecrated to the remembrance of God … Neither the pomp of
    the mighty, nor the wealth of the rich … will endure. All will perish, at a word from Him.
    He, verily, is the … All-Compelling …” 2
    Though Hájí Muhammad quickly obeyed Bahá’u’lláh’s first counsel, he soon forgot
    the second. The cotton trade made him rich, but he became proud. He forgot that it was
    Bahá’u’lláh Who guided him to wealth. He thought his success came through his own
    doing only.
    One day, as Hájí Muhammad went about his carefree life, he received some sudden
    and shocking news. His younger brother, who lived in Írán, was arrested and cast into
    prison because he followed Bahá’u’lláh. Hájí Muhammad loved his younger brother more
    than anything else. He would do anything to save him from the harm that would surely
    come to him in prison….

    • Thanks Trevor, it was an old post so I had to remind myself about it. Today I might ask the question slightly differently such as, “how would we make the distinction between an impurity and a purity?” Even ‘doing service’ might be ‘impure’ if it has the expectation of a reward (gold) attached. One method is through the story of tests, as you have reported here. However story is cumbersome if it has to be attached to everything we learn. Drawing out broad methodological principle ‘compresses’ our learning opportunity. But what other methodologies will allow us access to the distinction?

      • On “how would we make the distinction between an impurity and a purity?” would be based on our individual perception on this as a subject matter by meditation, reflection and consideration, its hopeful by the grace of God some form of answer would be forth coming to us. But is it our opinion that really matters on this? For me the true guidance on how might reach and understand the higher spiritual concepts is only through prayer mediation and reflection of the Holy writings. Other wise we could all to easily get lost in the back eddies of our own minds constantly twirling round in conjecture and deliberation with little or no progress to show for all our efforts.

        Proverbs 22:11 One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with …
        One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend. …
        The one who loves a pure heart and gracious lips–the king is his friend. … .

        1. O SON OF SPIRIT!
        My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.

        The importance of this first counsel from Bahá’u’lláh in the mystical writings The Hidden Words can to me never be underestimated, its almost saying this is your first requirement if you are even to begin your spiritual growth.

        “. … Magnify ye, then, His station, for behold, He is poised in the midmost heart of the All-Highest … Naught in the Bayan and in the sight of God is more loved than purity and immaculate cleanliness …” The Bab

        As a child we are taught the basics of cleanliness and hygiene and cleaning of the heart must needs follow some of the same principles ( so as above so as below) only this time the guidance we need comes from those who can rightly guide us, for our own understanding of this matter alone will surly be insufficient.
        with kind regards Trevor

      • Thanks again. Good points. There is, of course, the analogy from Baha’u’llah that we are like a mirror that can reflect the light of the Holy Spirit but for the dross that collects. In a sense then impurity is just something that is a barrier between the light of God and the mirror, preventing reflection. If we make the other connection from Abdu’l-Baha that our job is to bring the angelic aspect to ascendancy over our animal aspect, then here we have another idea of reaching for purity. Of the latter I avoid the tendency to make the ‘body’ impure, rather accept the body as it is and recognise that Abdu’l Baha is talking to the way the mind works ie our focus is either on the drivers of the appetities that are physiological, survival etc; or we can focus on the possibility of being generative, creative, loving. I have recently come to see this process as the dissipation of identity among all the people of the planet, well at the very least, those whom we might have some immediate or secondary influence. That is, through love of God, we become present to each other, empowering of great deeds and simple accountabilities, ignorant of the tides of anger and force that might otherwise change the hearts of people.

  4. Not until man is tried doth the pure gold distinctly separate from the dross. Torment is the fire of test wherein the pure gold shineth resplendently and the impurity is burned and blackened.
    So too will solid gold wondrously gleam and shine out in the assayer’s fire. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
    Its a very interesting topic you have posted Owen and I thank you for presenting it on your Blogg site. Its relevance to those fortunate enough to be treading the spiritual path is that it could help to bring some comfort and understanding to those under going test and difficulties. May God grace and mercy reach out to help us when we are distressed in our time of need. Thanks again for a subject well worthy of giving thought and consideration to. Loving Baha’i greetings Trev

    • Thanks Trevrichy. The perception of distress, itself, is also transmuted with the fire of test. Perhaps we have a belief that distress show how sacrificial and long-suffering we are, however maybe this ‘gold’ of virtue is a ts for the spiritual perception can be that ‘all is of God therefore nothing is wrong’, and generosity and abundance flows in whatever portions that are available. Well there are several other teachings of Baha’u’llah that juxtapose on this theme.

    Busy not thyself with this world,
    How to not to get caught up in this busy world is beyond me at times and ‘all is of God’ yes “He doeth whatsoever He willeth, and ordaineth that which He pleaseth. … ‘All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding! but ‘therefore nothing is wrong’ to me is too open to misinterpretation misunderstandings. Is it possible that some time or other that many of us have had our very own taste from tree of the knowledge of good and evil? so in doing so !the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die! The death being to the world with the hope of a spiritual rebirth.

    • It seems to me that the Great Educators point us to a way of being. They know we are ‘busy with the world’, that we know how to do that. So, rather like the principal of a school, they set the next outcome goals, and then just offer some pointers to finding how to get there. They don’t seem to be greatly interested in methodologies, leaving that to various other teachers who have learnt some subset methods to acquire an access to some particular way of being. The believer only gets generic instructions and therefore are able to enter the ‘coursework’ wherever they ‘see’ an entrance for themselves. I trust that God is only asking me to carry on my business and, indeed is dissuading me from the dishonesty of believing I can be involved in anyone else’s business. At a place (some philosophers call a ‘clearing) we can interact with others around generative or creative things I am sharing from myself, my commitment without attachment or expectation that others will enter that space and play my game, but nonetheless, in this, miracles occur between people.

  6. I could not agree more with both the contents and sentiments of your above statement Own. You have echoed my own feelings on this and explained them better than I could of hoped to do myself. Having a sense of balance and moderation as well as contentment in all things is so important to me.

    As you say the Great Educators point us to a way of being both from their state of being to the state of being they aspire for us. We as developing Human beings and servants of Baha’ullah are so fortunate or should I say blessed to be able to draw on from the very beginning a depth and wealth of Holy inspirational writing.

    Genesis 2:7 NIV
    the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

    Acts 17:28 NIV
    ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

    O SON OF MAN! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.

    O SON OF WORLDLINESS! Pleasant is the realm of being, wert thou to attain thereto; glorious is the domain of eternity, shouldst thou pass beyond the world of mortality; sweet is the holy ecstasy if thou drinkest of the mystic chalice from the hands of the celestial Youth. Shouldst thou attain this station, thou wouldst be freed from destruction and death, from toil and sin.

    I feel that although it has been a most enjoyable and interesting time interacting with you I might be distracting you from your more pressing work or other important duties you need to attend to. The following prayer is something I need to keep in my mind so I thought I might share it with you.
    So with hope that God will bless all you affairs and Loving Bahia Greeting.
    from Trevor

    “Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess:

    Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

    Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

    Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

    Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

    I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

    Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

    Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

    ― Margot Benary-Isbert

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