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Because we’ve been good friends since childhood, a dear relative of mine knows he can speak openly and frankly with me about religion. He also knows I’m a Baha’i, and likes to challenge my beliefs.
He recently said:
The world is a mess and there are some awful people in it resulting in humanity going through all kinds of atrocities due to war, lies and every kind of injustice! If only God would show Himself plainly, people would know that there really is a God, and they would become believers and behave better!
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Despite his reference to God, my relative leans toward atheism, because he believes an all-powerful deity that can create the universe and everything in it could also easily somehow reveal Himself openly, while still giving humanity the ability to grow and develop. If people could only clearly see that God exists, he maintains, they could keep their very worst tendencies in check, and the world would be a much better place.
Of course, I’ve related to him the Baha’i teachings: that throughout history God has revealed Himself and his teachings through His messengers, who perfectly manifest the attributes of God. Baha’is believe that the sacred scriptures brought to us by those messengers – including Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad and most recently Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith – contain the divine teachings and guidance necessary for people to know God’s will and purpose. Those scriptures reveal the teachings and laws which, if followed, can cause happiness and well-being for every soul and the betterment of the entire world.
My relative’s response? He feels relying on a messenger is not good enough. Looking at history, he says, the words of these founders of religion have been interpreted, reinterpreted, and misinterpreted throughout the ages, resulting in disunity, sometimes to the point of conflict and terrorism. He wonders: couldn’t this all be avoided with some concrete proofs for all to see?
Baha’u’llah wrote about this very question:
Within the treasury of Our Wisdom there lieth unrevealed a knowledge, one word of which, if we chose to divulge it to mankind, would cause every human being to recognize the Manifestation of God and to acknowledge His omniscience, would enable everyone to discover the secrets of all the sciences, and to attain so high a station as to find himself wholly independent of all past and future learning.
In this passage, Baha’u’llah made it clear that if God so willed it, He could indeed easily provide the proof of His existence and lift humankind to new levels of wisdom and understanding. Then the question becomes: why doesn’t God do that, so we can avoid all the difficulties we find ourselves in?
To find the answers to that question, let’s examine three different aspects of it from the Baha’i writings.
- Rewarding Those Who Put Forth Efforts
Our society awards a license to practice medicine to those who put in the many years of medical school study and then residency – because those newly-trained physicians have earned it as a result of their arduous efforts. It would be an injustice if such licensure were simply given to those who did not make the same efforts. (As well as bad news for their patients!)
The same principle applies to the attainment of spiritual truths. In this regard, Baha’u’llah wrote that God’s:
… purpose, however, is to enable the pure in spirit and the detached in heart to ascend, by virtue of their own innate powers, unto the shores of the Most Great Ocean, that thereby they who seek the Beauty of the All-Glorious may be distinguished and separated from the wayward and perverse.
In several other places throughout the Baha’i writings it becomes clear that a person needs to explore the truth of the Baha’i Faith with an open and unbiased mind using the gift of their understanding and their own volition in order to come to a state of certitude as to its validity. There can be many barriers that some have to overcome as they strive for the truth. These can include such things as prejudices, an inflated ego, an excessive attachment to material things, fear of losing status, closed-mindedness to anything other than what they were taught in school or in the home, and any other belief that dissuades one to become, “pure in spirit and … detached in heart.”
The Baha’i teachings promise that those who make the effort to overcome these barriers and become sincere seekers of truth will be rewarded.
- The Nature of Free Will
The question of free will, a complex one that goes beyond the scope of this essay, means that human beings have the innate ability to seek truth for themselves. This bears directly on the important Baha’i principle of the independent investigation of truth. But in reference to the reason why God and His messengers do not fully reveal their full glory to the eyes of the people, I can do no better than quote from the book, The Covenant of Baha’u’llah by Baha’i writer and scholar Adib Taherzadeh. He wrote:
Should this happen (i.e. God’s messenger reveal his full potential for all to plainly see) man would become a puppet of God and lose his free will; everyone would follow the path of truth not by his own volition, but by capitulating to the irresistible power of the Manifestation of God. By the force of God’s command, all would obey His teachings and would live a goodly life; no one could have the choice to be different and there would be no wickedness. If this were to happen, man would become devoid of creativity, and turn into a creature whose actions were controlled by a higher realm. Then the principles of justice, of reward and punishment would become inoperative and meaningless in society.
- The Joy of Achievement
A third reason why the Creator doesn’t directly reveal Himself to humanity may have to do with the joy of working toward a difficult and complex goal, putting forth a great effort, working together with others, overcoming formidable odds, and achieving that goal. The principles of the Baha’i Faith are many and lofty indeed! They include the establishment of world peace based on justice, the equality of men and women, elimination of racial and religious prejudices, and many more. As the worldwide Baha’i community grows in strength and influence and works toward winning these goals, it will continue to bring joy to the hearts of all. In this regard, Baha’u’llah wrote:
Should it be God’s intention, there would appear out of the forests of celestial might the lion of indomitable strength whose roaring is like unto the peals of thunder reverberating in the mountains. 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. This is but a token of God’s bounty vouchsafed unto them.
So exercising our free will, facing challenges, and appreciating the associated joys of achieving both small and great goals all make life a lot more interesting and rewarding. Thank you, God, for revealing Yourself in the wise way that You do!