The object of God’s teaching to man is that man may know himself in order to comprehend the greatness of God. The Word of God is for agreement and concord. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 80.
Sadly, we humans haven’t always utilized the Word of God for “agreement and concord,” as Abdu’l-Baha defined it.
Instead, throughout history humans have taken that Word and twisted its meaning until we could use it to justify all kinds of hatred and violence. This dysfunctional pattern has bedeviled religious people and communities for a very long time, has given religion itself a bad reputation, and has created endless suffering and pain:
The divine Prophets have revealed and founded religion. They have laid down certain laws and heavenly principles for the guidance of mankind. They have taught and promulgated the knowledge of God, established praiseworthy ethical ideals and inculcated the highest standards of virtues in the human world. Gradually these heavenly teachings and foundations of reality have been beclouded by human interpretations and dogmatic imitations of ancestral beliefs. The essential realities, which the Prophets labored so hard to establish in human hearts and minds while undergoing ordeals and suffering tortures of persecution, have now well nigh vanished. Some of these heavenly Messengers have been killed, some imprisoned, all of Them despised and rejected while proclaiming the reality of Divinity. Soon after Their departure from this world, the essential truth of Their teachings was lost sight of and dogmatic imitations adhered to.
Inasmuch as human interpretations and blind imitations differ widely, religious strife and disagreement have arisen among mankind, the light of true religion has been extinguished and the unity of the world of humanity destroyed. The Prophets of God voiced the spirit of unity and agreement. They have been the Founders of divine reality. Therefore, if the nations of the world forsake imitations and investigate the reality underlying the revealed Word of God, they will agree and become reconciled. For reality is one and not multiple.
The nations and religions are steeped in blind and bigoted imitations. A man is a Jew because his father was a Jew. The Muslim follows implicitly the footsteps of his ancestors in belief and observance. The Buddhist is true to his heredity as a Buddhist. That is to say, they profess religious belief blindly and without investigation, making unity and agreement impossible. It is evident, therefore, that this condition will not be remedied without a reformation in the world of religion. In other words, the fundamental reality of the divine religions must be renewed, reformed, revoiced to mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 141.
That sage advice, Baha’is believe, summarizes our task as human beings in the modern age: to “investigate the reality underlying the revealed Word of God.” If we want to reduce and ultimately eliminate religious conflict and warfare; if we want to stop fundamentalist terrorism; if we want to build a world that values, honors and respects the Word of God in all Faiths, we have to educate ourselves about those Faiths. Rather than professing religious belief, or the lack of it, “blindly and without investigation,” the Baha’i teachings say that we owe it to ourselves and the world itself to make informed, intelligent and independent decisions about what we each actually believe.
Of course, nobody can make an informed decision without first informing themselves.
That means reading the Word of God, in its original form, making a sincere and diligent attempt to go beyond a literal interpretation and understand its inner meanings.
In his Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah asked us to “Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide.” Twice a day, in other words, we can read from the sacred scriptures and ponder their meanings. When asked about that guidance, he answered:
The intention is all that hath been sent down from the Heaven of Divine Utterance. The prime requisite is the eagerness and love of sanctified souls to read the Word of God. To read one verse, or even one word, in a spirit of joy and radiance, is preferable to the perusal of many Books. – pp. 126-127.
The first line—“all that hath been sent down from the Heaven of Divine Utterance”—refers to the Words of God from the founders of every Faith. Baha’u’llah doesn’t separate or divide the holy scriptures of various religious traditions—instead, he unifies them and considers them all as originating from the same Source. In a Baha’i context, the Holy Books don’t compete with each other—they are one. Next, Baha’u’llah tells us how to read the Word of God: with eagerness and love, “in a spirit of joy and radiance.” He concludes by saying that reading a single verse in such a joyful, radiant spirit “is preferable to the perusal of many Books.”
With that in mind, reading the Word of God doesn’t become an onerous homework assignment—it becomes a rapturous, enlightening and joyous undertaking, filled with spiritual discovery and delight:
O peoples of the earth! God, the Eternal Truth, is My witness that streams of fresh and soft-flowing waters have gushed from the rocks, through the sweetness of the words uttered by your Lord, the Unconstrained; and still ye slumber. Cast away that which ye possess, and, on the wings of detachment, soar beyond all created things. Thus biddeth you the Lord of creation, the movement of Whose Pen hath revolutionized the soul of mankind. – Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 117.
Next: What Power can Possibly Change the World?