The Heart of the Matter

When was your last broken heart?  Was it over a love lost or concern for a family member’s well-being?  Did you suffer a reversal of fortune?

Consider what happened and how you felt. Most anguish over the setbacks and sufferings of their loved ones.  All may understand and commiserate over another’s pain and suffering.  However, could you be similarly concerned for a person in the perverse position of fearing the loss of something unwholesome or worse – evil?   Robert E. Lee’s December 27, 1856 letter to his wife illustrates such sympathy.  He admits slavery is a “moral and political evil” that enlists his feelings for its victims, but his heart allied with slavery’s perpetrators who feared losing their precious – however improper – prerogatives and property.

…There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil.  …I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race. While my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more deeply engaged for the former. – Robert E. Lee

Robert Lee’s concerns for slave owners illustrates the peculiar predicament of a heart wedded to an admitted evil.   It can’t see.  Perverse desires prevent Salvation.  Christ illuminates the perils of the dynamic beautifully here.

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would convert them. – Matthew 13:15

Lee’s generation of southern slave owners treasured the inequitable advantages of free labor and would not willingly forsake their possessions for anything divine.  Christ calls us to detach our hearts from the things of the earth how much more its evils.  In the excerpt below regarding abolitionists Lee asserts that he would rather fight than eschew the precious advantages procured through slavery and racism.

…this institution, for which they are irresponsible and non-accountable, can only be changed by them through the agency of a civil… war. – Robert E. Lee

Many in America shared Lee’s unholy all-consuming determination to preserve an acknowledged abomination.  This was the heart of the matter and the cause of the war.  The Almighty had for a time allowed the institution, but the Day of Judgement was at hand.  The time had come to remove the veils and sweep away the impediments to justice.

Observe equity in your judgment, ye men of understanding heart! He that is unjust in his judgment is destitute of the characteristics that distinguish man’s station. He Who is the Eternal Truth knoweth well what the breasts of men conceal. His long forbearance hath emboldened His creatures, for not until the appointed time is come will He rend any veil asunder. – Baha’u’llahGleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 204.

Christ had returned in the Glory of the Father.  Baha’u’llah inseminated the earth with the embryonic conscientiousness of the oneness of humanity.  Humanity is insensibly drawn to fulfill God’s will.  The Kingdom of God emerges in fits and starts through crisis and victory inexorably sweeping away inequitable institutions as it reveals a divine order derived from institutions based on justice.

This is the Day in which God’s most excellent favors have been poured out upon men, the Day in which His most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. …Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth, and is the Knower of things unseen.. – Baha’u’llahGleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 6-7.

Being diametrically opposed to the Spirit of the Age, Baha’u’llah abolished slavery.  God Almighty condemns all outlooks and every institution that veils the Holy Spirit from taking its rightful home – the human heart.

ALAS! ALAS! O LOVERS OF WORLDLY DESIRE!  …Ye bow the knee before your vain imagining and call it truth.  Ye have cast to the winds the loving counsels of the Beloved and have effaced them utterly from the tablet of your hearts, and even as the beasts of the field, ye move and have your being within the pastures of desire and passion. – Baha’u’llahThe Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah, p. 38.

This contest for the hearts of men was the battle for the soul of a nation.  On the one hand were the entrenched interests of slaveholding elite and their beneficiaries on the other the detached hearts illumined by the resuscitating influence of Christ Returned in the Glory of God.

Many expected the Advent would instantly remake the world.  However, from time immemorial God’s Manifestations transform earth by changing hearts.  Manifestations convert “satanic energy into heavenly power” through their speech and writings.  The Word of God inspires everyone even those who have no direct intercourse with the Manifestation of God on earth.  Baha’u’llah explains the process here:

Say: If it be Our pleasure We shall render the Cause victorious through the power of a single word from Our presence. He is in truth the Omnipotent, the All-Compelling.  However, since Our loving providence surpasseth all things, We have ordained that complete victory should be achieved through speech and utterance, that Our servants throughout the earth may thereby become the recipients of divine good. – Baha’u’llahTablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 197-198.

Abraham Lincoln exemplifies the Spirit of the Age enabling a soul to effectively confront and ultimate overcome slavery.  Consider this first-hand account of the conversion of one of Mr. Lincoln’s hard-hearted critics who attended Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address on February 27, 1860.  .

He was tall… so angular and awkward that I had for an instant, a feeling of pity for so ungainly a man.  His clothes were ill fitting, badly wrinkled… …I said to myself” ‘Old fellow, you won’t do; it’s all very well for the Wild West, but this will never go down in New York.’  But pretty soon he began to get into his subject; he straightened up, made regular and graceful gestures; his face lighted as with an inward fire; the whole man was transfigured.  I forgot his clothes, his personal appearance, and his individual peculiarities.  Presently on my feet with the rest, yelling… cheering this wonderful man.  When I came out of the hall my face glowing with excitement and my frame all a-quiver, a friend, with his eye aglow asked me what I thought of Abe Lincoln, the rail spliter.  I said, He’s the greatest man since St. Paul. – Noah Brooks, Abraham Lincoln the Downfall of American Slavery, pp. 186-187

The Cooper Union address struck a chord that propelled Lincoln to prominence.  See below the sum and substance of the 7000-word address which spoke to both sides according to their heart’s understanding and attachment to the issue of slavery.

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it. – Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Address, New York, New York
February 27, 1860

In the next article we assess the impact of Lincoln’s assent and the American response to the Day of Judgment.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.