Heaven and Hell: A Baha’i Perspective


Baha’is believe what people traditionally refer to as heaven and hell are not literal places in the afterlife, with a person going to one or the other depending on whether he was good or not in this world. Rather, the Baha’i Writings explain heaven and hell as symbolic representations of spiritual conditions of the soul – conditions a person can be in at any time, whether still in this life or in the next. “Heaven” represents the joy experienced by a soul that is spiritually close to God, while the torments of “hell” symbolize the suffering a soul endures when it is spiritually far from its Creator. Baha’is believe such spiritual “proximity to” or “distance from” God is determined by a person’s love for the Creator and the degree to which he sincerely tries in his life to reflect the true Teachings revealed by God’s Prophets.

A person who recognizes and obeys the Manifestation sent by God for the time in which he lives will naturally develop in spiritual ways which are in harmony with God’s Will, and that growth in turn engenders a special deep joy which is carried from this world onto the next. The situation of such a soul can be poetically, or symbolically, described as “being in heaven” or “living in paradise”. Conversely, if a person turns away from the Guidance of God’s Messengers and lives according to his own ideas and selfish desires, this failure to live in accord with the Divine Will inevitably retards the person’s spiritual growth or even causes him to regress – especially if he allows his physical aspect to dictate how he lives, or if any of his actions contravene a Law of God. Whether he realizes it or not, this second type of person has effectively chosen a spiritual condition that is a “hell” of his own making.

Baha’is believe when a soul passes on to the next life, it is able to evaluate how its life on earth was lived. It will rejoice over whatever it has learned of the Creator, and will delight in anything achieved in service to Him. A soul will also recognize how any refusal on its part to follow God’s Teachings while on earth contributed – in various instances, and in varying degrees – to a deterioration of its spiritual powers and a squandering of opportunities for self-development. This belated recognition will surely be a cause of regret for that soul after its passing from this life.

The dynamic of spiritual nearness to or distance from the Creator indicates that souls begin their existence in the afterlife at unequal levels of awareness and in different stages of spiritual development. These differences effectively mirror the extent to which individuals strove for spiritual enlightenment, and how each lived, in this world’s life. ‘Abdu’l-Baha’, Bahá’u’lláh’s Son, explains that from one person to the next differences can be significant:

“For example, the eye and the nail are living; but the life of the nail in relation to the life of the eye is nonexistent. This stone and this man both exist; but the stone in relation to the existence of man is nonexistent….

“In the same way, the souls who are veiled from God, although they exist in this world and in the world after death, are, in comparison with the holy existence of the children of the Kingdom of God, nonexisting and separated from God.”

Furthermore, Bahá’u’lláh makes it clear there are natural spiritual consequences for ignoring or breaking God’s laws while in this world (even if their significance or effect may not be obvious on earth), because Divine Justice requires every individual to bear responsibility for his actions. Thus, any unaddressed wrongs committed by a person against another in this life must be dealt with in the next. Like a parent who withholds special gifts from a child who has misbehaved, God’s justice may result in His keeping certain spiritual bounties from the soul of one who has hurt others while on earth – even as the Lord compensates innocent victims of wrongdoers by giving them special blessings in the afterlife because of afflictions suffered in this world. Since all progress in the afterlife is dependent upon God’s Grace, Baha’is believe being deprived of any Divine Bounty causes spiritual sadness and suffering for a soul and is equivalent to it being punished while every special blessing from the Creator is a source of never-ending joy.

Knowing that one’s situation in the afterlife largely depends upon what one does in this life can be a strong motivational factor encouraging individuals still on earth to firmly follow God’s Teachings so that their souls become adorned with the noble attributes which humans were created to reflect. Bahá’u’lláh advises: “Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.”

Baha’u’llah clearly explains that for humans death is not a state of termination but a process of transition; it is not a sorry end, but a new and wondrous beginning to an existence that is more abundant. He speaks of countless glorious spiritual realms of God, worlds in which souls “undergo a spiritual development that extends throughout eternity.”

Just as the child in the womb cannot comprehend what life in this world might be like, Bahá’u’lláh says the exact “nature of the soul after death can never be described” to those still in this world; and He goes on to note it is actually not “permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men.” Bahá’u’lláh sheds light on why this is so when He explains that if the mysteries associated with man’s physical death were revealed many “would be so filled with gladness as to wish for death, and beseech, with unceasing longing, the one true God … to hasten their end.”

Nevertheless, regarding the life to come ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ does tell us that:

“To consider that after the death of the body the spirit perishes is like imagining that a bird in a cage will be destroyed if the cage is broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the destruction of the cage. Our body is like the cage, and the spirit is like the bird…if the cage becomes broken, the bird will continue and exist. Its feelings will be even more powerful, its perceptions greater, and its happiness increased. In truth, from hell it reaches a paradise of delights because for the thankful birds there is no paradise greater than freedom from the cage.”

And because God knows our weaknesses, like an All-Loving Father He is always ready to assist those who desire to draw ever-closer to Him. Whatever a soul’s spiritual condition may be when it first arrives in the next world, after it is called to give account for its life here, Bahá’u’lláh assures us that because of the Lord’s boundless mercy His Grace will shower upon any soul that seeks His forgiveness and bounty. Thus souls continue to spiritually progress throughout eternity. And Bahá’u’lláh also tells us that in that endless spiritual journey we do not forget the experiences of this life, and we both recognize and associate with our loved ones from this world.


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“The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.”

— Bahá’u’lláh

“Know thou, of a truth, that if the soul of man hath walked in the ways of God, it will, assuredly return and be gathered to the glory of the Beloved.”

— Bahá’u’lláh

–Adapted from bahai.us