Baha’u’llah wrote The Book of Certitude in response to several questions from a maternal uncle of the Bab, who had not yet accepted the Bab as a Messenger of God. The Bab’s uncle could not understand how the Bab’s claims could be true when he had apparently failed to fulfill the prophecies of Islam.
In The Book of Certitude Baha’u’llah not only vigorously upholds the Bab’s claims; he also depicts all religious history as the unfoldment of one process of which God is the Author, and the ultimate goal of which is the spiritual awakening of humanity.
In setting forth this remarkable thesis, Baha’u’llah refers to the Old and New Testaments and to the Koran, explaining the nature of the prophecies they contain and how they were indeed fulfilled. He also clarifies the primary purpose of religion and explains what humanity’s response to it ought to be.
In The Book of Certitude, Baha’u’llah asserts that God’s nature is far beyond human understanding:
To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is and hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men. . . . No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures. He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. . . .
. . . All the Prophets of God and their chosen Ones, all the divines, the sages, and the wise of every generation, unanimously recognize their inability to attain unto the comprehension of that Quintessence of all truth, and confess their incapacity to grasp Him, Who is the inmost Reality of all things.—The Book of Certitude, pp. 97–99.
Because human beings cannot know God directly, He sends His messengers and prophets to educate humanity and lead them towards Him. Baha’u’llah also refers to these souls as manifestations of God, because they embody His attributes like perfect mirrors reflecting the sun. In these essays we will use the terms prophet, messenger of God, and manifestation of God interchangeably, since Baha’u’llah uses all of those designations in reference to these Holy Beings.
Among the manifestations of God, The Book of Certitude names Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and, most recently, the Bab. The prophets all take part, Baha’u’llah wrote, in a single process designed by God to educate humanity. The laws and teachings they reveal are meant for humanity’s spiritual upliftment and salvation.
To the Bab’s uncle, skeptical of his nephew’s claim because it did not appear that He had fulfilled many well-known Islamic prophecies, Baha’u’llah pointed out that every manifestation of God without exception has faced rejection and persecution—often from the very people who have been awaiting his appearance. The Book of Certitude identifies one of the reasons for this persecution: the failure of the people to understand the true meaning of the prophecies.
Baha’u’llah recounts the stories of several divine messengers, demonstrating how each was persecuted when he appeared. Jesus was persecuted by the Jews, Muhammad by his countrymen, and the Bab by the people of Islam—the very people who had been awaiting his advent.
Why is it that the prophets always meet with rejection? For one thing, Baha’u’llah says, the prophets and messengers appear outwardly to be ordinary human beings. They have neither worldly riches nor political power. In addition, they always challenge well-established notions and beliefs, to which most of the people cling unthinkingly.
Baha’u’llah states that such conditions are the “clouds” referred to in the New Testament:
And now regarding His [Christ’s] words, that the Son of man shall “come in the clouds of heaven.” By the term “clouds” is meant those things that are contrary to the ways and desires of men. . . . These “clouds” signify, in one sense, the annulment of laws, the abrogation of former Dispensations, the repeal of rituals and customs current amongst men, the exalting of the illiterate faithful above the learned opposers of the Faith. In another sense, they mean the appearance of that immortal Beauty in the image of mortal man, with such human limitations as eating and drinking, poverty and riches, glory and abasement, sleeping and waking, and such other things as cast doubt in the minds of men, and cause them to turn away. All such veils are symbolically referred to as “clouds.”. . .
It is evident that the changes brought about in every Dispensation constitute the dark clouds that intervene between the eye of man’s understanding and the divine Luminary which shineth forth from the dayspring of the divine Essence. Consider how men for generations have been blindly imitating their fathers, and have been trained according to such ways and manners as have been laid down by the dictates of their Faith. Were these men, therefore, to discover suddenly that a Man, Who hath been living in their midst, Who, with respect to every human limitation, hath been their equal, had risen to abolish every established principle imposed by their Faith—principles by which for centuries they have been disciplined, and every opposer and denier of which they have come to regard as infidel, profligate and wicked—they would of a certainty be veiled and hindered from acknowledging His truth. . . . Such men, when acquainted with these circumstances, become so veiled that without the least question, they pronounce the Manifestation of God an infidel, and sentence Him to death. You must have heard of such things taking place all down the ages, and are now observing them in these days.— The Book of Certitude, pp. 72–73.