Who is God?
If there is a God, lets take a look at His handiwork -- or was it all a cosmic accident?
The Earth! Beautiful, isn’t it?
It’s unique and mysterious in so many ways and it’s our only home.
We are trustees of the earth so it’s our responsibility to take care of it. The earth has been here a long time (4.6 billion years). We, however, are newcomers. Scientists believe that human beings have existed, in our present form for approximately 3.7 million years.
The earth from afar is a beautiful and tranquil oasis in the vast stretches of space. Life thrives on this tiny, blue gem. It is home to countless millions of species and to more than 7 billion people. Humans dominate the earth to such an extent that every aspect of life on this planet has been affected. Those affects have result in an ongoing mass extinction of species not seen since the end of the age of dinosaurs.
As far as we know, earth is unique among the billions of galaxies observed by astronomers.
As Baha’is, we know that is not true.
“Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute.”
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990, p. 163.
Life is very common throughout the universe according to Bahá’u’lláh, and we are a part of this Grand Design. This fact makes life on earth, all life, important and worthy of our admiration, protection, and study.
Our study of Baha’i history is the story of life itself as it grows and struggles to express the reasons for its existence and to develop the attributes and powers with which it is endowed by its Creator. So let’s start our study by taking a look at our life and there is no better place to start than with our hopes and dreams. They point the way to a better understanding of our history, our Faith, and what we have to do in order to life meaning, purpose, and happiness in life.
So in the history of the world we can see traces of our own history. Both have purpose, though at times it gets lost in periods of waywardness and violence. After suffering enough, humanity returns to its Source, seeking guidance and forgiveness, and ultimately resumes it quest.
Every person has times when they are overwhelmed by the grace of God. We are awestruck by the evidences of God’s power and mercy as they are reflected in our lives and in the world around us. And then there are other times that we struggle, sometimes bitterly. Sometimes, our tests and difficulties in life seem overwhelming but we find strength and comfort in turning to God and seeking His help. And sometimes, we lose our way, some may even turn away from the Light, but everyone will find their way Home eventually after much suffering, searching, and questioning.
History goes through cycles of war and peace, darkness and progress, and so do all of us. It is a natural part of living and if we train ourselves to see it we can avoid, or at least understand what is going on, why, and work our way through the difficult times. These tests and difficulties are necessary to help humanity and each of us as individuals, progress and develop. It is only by experiencing the dark and difficult tests that we appreciate the Light, and delights of the Kingdom are all the sweeter after tasting the bitterness of suffering and struggling.
So the first question has to be: Does God exist? Because, if He doesn’t then all of this is an imagination, a lie or a delusion, but if He does, then it is in our best interest to seek out His help and live according to the standard and expectations He has for us.
“Absolute existence is strictly confined to God.”
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990, p. 157.
“That Essence of the Divine Entity and the Unseen of the unseen is holy above imagination and is beyond thought. Consciousness doth not reach It.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith—Selected Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Section Only), U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976, p. 282.
Nevertheless, the proofs of the existence of God are many but the doubters are legion. Nevertheless, the outcry of the doubters should not cloud the vision or deter the ardor of the true seekers, the valiant lovers, or the wise.
The greatest proof of the existence of God is that the universe could not have come into existence by itself. The universe could not have created itself. There has to be a Creator, a First Cause.
“One of the proofs and demonstrations of the existence of God is the fact that man did not create himself: nay, his creator and designer is another than himself.
"It is certain and indisputable that the creator of man is not like man because a powerless creature cannot create another being. The maker, the creator, has to possess all perfections in order that he may create.
"Can the creation be perfect and the creator imperfect? Can a picture be a masterpiece and the painter imperfect in his art? For it is his art and his creation. Moreover, the picture cannot be like the painter; otherwise, the painting would have created itself. However perfect the picture may be, in comparison with the painter it is in the utmost degree of imperfection.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990, p. 5.
So God does exist, but what is He? Is He a Man sitting upon a golden thrown in a puffy white cloud? Is He an alien so advanced that we cannot comprehend the nature or reality of so great a being?
“The Divine Reality is Unthinkable, Limitless, Eternal, Immortal and Invisible. The world of creation is bound by natural law, finite and mortal. The Infinite Reality cannot be said to ascend or descend. It is beyond the understanding of man, and cannot be described in terms which apply to the phenomenal sphere of the created world.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, U.K. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1972, pp. 57-8.
“Now concerning the essence of Divinity: in truth it is on no account determined by anything apart from its own nature, and can in no wise be comprehended. For whatsoever can be conceived by man is a reality that hath limitations ... Similarly it is certain that all human conceptions are contingent, not absolute; that they have a mental existence … How then can the contingent conceive the Reality of the absolute? Minerals, plants and animals are bereft of the mental faculties of man that discover the realities of all things, but man himself comprehendeth all the stages beneath him. Every superior stage comprehendeth that which is inferior and discovereth the reality thereof, but the inferior one is unaware of that which is superior and cannot comprehend it. Thus man cannot grasp the Essence of Divinity, but can, by his reasoning power, by observation, by his intuitive faculties and the revealing power of his faith, believe in God, discover the bounties of His Grace. He becometh certain that though the Divine Essence is unseen of the eye, and the existence of the Deity is intangible, yet conclusive (spiritual) proofs assert the existence of that unseen Reality. The Divine Essenceas it is in itself is however beyond all description. For instance, the nature of ether is unknown, but that it existeth is certain by the effects it produceth, heat, light and electricity being the waves thereof. By these waves the existence of ether is thus proven. And as we consider the outpourings of Divine Grace we are assured of the existence of God. For instance, we observe that the existence of beings is conditioned upon the coming together of various elements and their non-existence upon the decomposition of their constituent elements. For decomposition causes the dissociation of the various elements. Thus, as we observe the coming together of elements giveth rise to the existence of beings, and knowing that beings are infinite, they being the effect, how can the Cause be finite?”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith—Selected Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Section Only), U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976, p. 341-2.
So, God exists but His essence is unknowable. Does that mean that He created us and now we are cut off from Him? Did He create the universe and now sits big and lets it evolve the way it will? If not, how can we know God?
“Then how can the eternal everlasting Lord, who is held sanctified from comprehension and conception, be known by His essence? That is to say, as things can only be known by their qualities and not by their essence, it is certain that the Divine Reality is unknown with regard to its essence, and is known with regard to its attributes. Besides, how can the phenomenal reality embrace the Pre-existent Reality? For comprehension is the result of encompassing—embracing must be, so that comprehension may be—and the Essence of Unity surrounds all, and is not surrounded.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith—Selected Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Section Only), U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1976, p. 322.
Starting from the premise that God exists but we cannot know His essence, we naturally wonder about the attributes of that God. This is the theme of Lesson 1: the nature and reality of God. That theme is as relevant in our study of history as it is in our individual growth and development.
The challenges people faced in the past were in many ways the same challenges that we as individuals face today. Differences in culture, changes due to the progress of science and technology make these challenges appear to be different, but the essential challenges were, are, and always will be the same. The details may differ, but human nature does not. Each of us has to grow and develop and we do that by facing challenges and learning from them. We will face these challenges again and again, in one form or another, until we learn.
The study of world history, therefore, should be a very personal and intimate journey. Did the mob thrust their daggers into you, Julius Caesar? Did Joan of Arc die needlessly, or was she a martyr for a great cause? That is to say, are you living a humble life serving God and developing yourself, or are you leading an arrogant, power-hungry life, like Caesar? Are you willing to sacrifice everything, even your life, for a cause you believe in, like Joan of Arc?
History can and should be very personal. In historical figures we can see our self, and if we are smart and diligent we can embrace their virtue and avoid their vice. Are you a Julius Caesar or Joan of Arc? Do the tests and difficulties they encountered mirror your own?
With knowledge comes choice. We either learn from the successes and failures of our predecessors or we are doomed to face them again and again until we learn our lesson. This is our challenge just as it was our ancestors.
So the challenge of Lesson 1 is to explore how people throughout history knew that God existed. What proofs did they point to? What was their line of reasoning? Were they logical proofs or were they based on faith alone?
Intellectual answers are not enough. Looking for virtue in the life of historical figures is perhaps one of the surest ways to answer that question.
Intellectual proofs never were, and never will be suffice to satisfy the mind of the materialist or the heart of the skeptic. As for the rest, giving lip-service to the Divine is not the same thing as devoting your life to the service to God and humanity.
As we explore the lives and events of past ages, ask yourself: Are virtues and the vices that our ancestors faced the same today as they were throughout history?
God created humanity so there must be a reason. God must have a purpose or plan for humanity. This can best be seen in the Covenant God made with humanity, and with His followers. The former is called the Greater Covenant; the latter, the Lesser Covenant.
As we proceed with our study of Baha’i History, we must look to the past in order to see the stages of development humanity passed through. Evidence of God’s plan for humanity will be seen in the lives of people and in historical events.
“As the Plan bequeathed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá unfolds, through successive decades of the present century, its measureless potentialities, and gathers within the field of its operations nation after nation in successive continents of the globe, it will be increasingly recognized not only as the most potent agency for the development of the world Administrative System, but also as a primary factor in the birth and efflorescence of the World Order itself in both the East and the West.”
Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1947, p. 97.
Why is God Important?
Who is God and why is He important? Opinions abound, but little is truly known, except what God’s chosen Manifestations teach us.
Although this may appear self-evident after reading Baha’u’llah’s words, it has been the greatest of challenges since the dawn of time. God is most often conceived of as the supernatural creator and overseer of the universe.
God is unknowable but the evidences of His existence and His relationship to us is all around us and inside us.
“Know thou of a certainty that the Unseen can in no wise incarnate His Essence and reveal it unto men. He is, and hath ever been, immensely exalted beyond all that can either be recounted or perceived. From His retreat of glory His voice is ever proclaiming:
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990, p. 49.
Why did God create us? He created us to know Him and love Him.
“O SON OF MAN! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.”
Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Arabic #4, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1985, p. 4
How are we going to be able to love God if we can’t know Him? That’s the beauty of His creation. We can know Him through His creation. All that we see is evidence of His love and power. We love Him by following His Plan for us.
What is the Plan? God’s Plan is to lead us to recognize Him and I doing so transform this nether world into a paradise. God’s Plan has two parts: one for all of humanity and the other for His followers. This Plan is embodied in God’s covenants. The one with all of humanity is called the Greater covenant and the one with His follower is called the Lesser Covenant.
We are going to look for signs and evident of the Greater and Lesser covenant throughout history and explore how the Manifestation of God influenced their followers (Lesser) and humanity (Greater).
What we know of God is from the Manifestations. The nature of God is both hidden and evident. We will never know His essence, but we are intimately tied to Him. In fact, we could not live without the life giving rays (the Holy Spirit) which shine from His Manifestations.
“All that the sages and mystics have said or written have never exceeded, nor can they ever hope to exceed, the limitations to which man’s finite mind hath been strictly subjected.
To whatever heights the mind of the most exalted of men may soar, however great the depths which the detached and understanding heart can penetrate, such mind and heart can never transcend that which is the creature of their own conceptions and the product of their own thoughts.
The meditations of the profoundest thinker, the devotions of the holiest of saints, the highest expressions of praise from either human pen or tongue, are but a reflection of that which hath been created within themselves, through the revelation of the Lord, their God.
Whoever pondereth this truth in his heart will readily admit that there are certain limits which no human being can possibly transgress.
Every attempt which, from the beginning that hath no beginning, hath been made to visualize and know God is limited by the exigencies of His own creation—a creation which He, through the operation of His own Will and for the purposes of none other but His own Self, hath called into being.
Immeasurably exalted is He above the strivings of human mind to grasp His Essence, or of human tongue to describe His mystery.
No tie of direct intercourse can ever bind Him to the things He hath created, nor can the most abstruse and most remote allusions of His creatures do justice to His being.
Through His world-pervading Will He hath brought into being all created things.
He is and hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His own exalted and indivisible Essence, and will everlastingly continue to remain concealed in His inaccessible majesty and glory.
All that is in heaven and all that is in the earth have come to exist at His bidding, and by His Will all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being.
How can, therefore, the creature which the Word of God hath fashioned comprehend the nature of Him Who is the Ancient of Days?”
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990, pp. 317-8.
Believing in God, recognizing the latest Manifestation of His will, and bowing the knee in obedience, we may live a noble life and die a glorious death after long years of striving, serving, and suffering. Anything less is a waste of time and an evident loss.
“As to thy question, doth every soul without exception achieve life everlasting? Know thou that immortality belongeth to those souls in whom hath been breathed the spirit of life from God. All save these are lifeless—they are the dead, even as Christ hath explained in the Gospel text. He whose eyes the Lord hath opened will see the souls of men in the stations they will occupy after their release from the body. He will find the living ones thriving within 190the precincts of their Lord, and the dead sunk down in the lowest abyss of perdition.
Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth. Afterwards, however, the individuals will vary according to what they acquire of virtues or vices in this world. Although all existent beings are in their very nature created in ranks or degrees, for capacities are various, nevertheless every individual is born holy and pure, and only thereafter may he become defiled.
And further, although the degrees of being are various, yet all are good. Observe the human body, its limbs, its members, the eye, the ear, the organs of smell, of taste, the hands, the fingernails. Notwithstanding the differences among all these parts, each one within the limitations of its own being participateth in a coherent whole. If one of them faileth it must be healed, and should no remedy avail, that part must be removed.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Center, 1982, pp. 189-90.
And what is true for individuals, it is true for humanity as a whole.
“And it was this peerless Source of wisdom that at the beginning of the foundation of the world ascended the stair of inner meaning and when enthroned upon the pulpit of utterance, through the operation of the divine Will, proclaimed two words. The first heralded the promise of reward, while the second voiced the ominous warning of punishment. The promise gave rise to hope and the warning begat fear. Thus the basis of world order hath been firmly established upon these twin principles.”
Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed After the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, U.S. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1988, p. 66.
Therefore, our quest must be sincere, our search ardent. The object of that quest, the aim of our search is to find a trace of the Traceless Friend, the Manifestation of God for the age we live in. Two millennia ago, that Manifestation was Christ. One millennia ago the Manifestation was Muhammad. Today, His name is Bahá’u’lláh.
“And if, by the help of God, he findeth on this journey a trace of the traceless Friend, and inhaleth the fragrance of the long-lost Joseph from the heavenly messenger, he shall straightway step into the Valley of Love and be dissolved in the fire of love.”
Note: This Refer to the story of Joesph in the Qur’án and the Old Testament.
Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, U.S. Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1991, pp. 7-8.