Throughout the ages, humanity has been concerned with the nature of the relationship between actions in this world and their consequences here and the world to come. Certain cultures have placed focus on harmony between humanity and the cosmos. Others have depicted a paradise where the deserving are rewarded and an underworld in which the unrighteous are punished. These explanations have helped people in all corners of the world to reflect on the direction of their lives, to resist the promptings of their lower nature, and to contemplate the exigencies of a spiritual life.
The Bahá’í teachings state that there is no such physical place as heaven or hell, and emphasise the eternal journey of the soul towards perfection. They explain that references to “heaven” and “hell” in the Holy Scriptures of other religions are to be understood symbolically, describing states of nearness to and distance from God in this world and in the realms beyond. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said that when human beings “become illuminated with the radiance of the sun of reality, and ennobled with all the virtues, they esteem this the greatest reward, and they know it to be the true paradise. In the same way they consider that the spiritual punishment…is to be subjected to the world of nature; to be veiled from God; to be brutal and ignorant; to fall into carnal lusts; to be absorbed in animal frailties; to be characterized with dark qualities…these are the greatest punishments and tortures…”1
In certain religious traditions, the concept of heaven has been used, not only to refer to the state of the individual soul, but also to describe a future world of peace, harmony, and justice—“heaven on earth”. Indeed, such a time is anticipated in many cultures and civilizations. The Bahá’í writings explain that the time for the fulfilment of such promises has come. "The whole earth," Bahá’u’lláh has written, "is now in a state of pregnancy. The day is approaching when it will have yielded its noblest fruits, when from it will have sprung forth the loftiest trees, the most enchanting blossoms, the most heavenly blessings.”2
Referring to this new social order, Shoghi Effendi has written: “National rivalries, hatreds, and intrigues will cease, and racial animosity and prejudice will be replaced by racial amity, understanding and coöperation. The causes of religious strife will be permanently removed, economic barriers and restrictions will be completely abolished, and the inordinate distinction between classes will be obliterated. Destitution on the one hand, and gross accumulation of ownership on the other, will disappear. The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race.”3