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O SON OF MAN!
Down through the ages, men have claimed to know and understand the Creator. Gurus, seers and religious leaders have all asserted that they, and only they, have a close personal relationship with God. The Baha’i teachings clearly say, though, that a true understanding of God exceeds the capacities and capabilities of any human being, no matter how insightful:
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. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 317-318.
Our minds have limits, Baha’u’llah writes, that we cannot transgress. Attempting to exceed those limits only leads us to the edges of our abilities as human beings, and no further.
This powerful and fascinating concept – the idea of an unknowable Essence we call God – threads its way throughout the Baha’i teachings:
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. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 97.
When you think of God, what image comes to mind? Many people have formed an image of god in their imaginations, and tend to worship that image – but all the imaginations of our finite minds must also be finite.
And of course some religious groups worship their own thought, their imaginary conceptions of a Supreme Being. A few even depict God as some angry, supernatural person in heaven – but those conceptions are only superstitions. Perhaps that is what Moses meant when he asked his followers not to worship graven images – that we should guard against attempting to picture, define or quantify something so far beyond our experience or imagination.
Many atheists and agnostics reject any simplistic, imagination-driven depictions of God – and Baha’is do, too. In fact, some religious scholars have said that the Baha’i Faith comes closest to what agnostics already perceive – that no human being can possibly describe or understand God. Baha’is believe strongly and surely that all creation comes from the Supreme Being, but that God remains far beyond our thought and imagination, holy and uncontainable by our standards, our abilities and our perceptions.
All the great philosophers have wrestled with this profound conundrum. Baha’is believe that no human being will ever overcome it, and that the only way we can experience God is through the Prophets, the Manifestations, the Founders of the world’s great Faiths:
Men at all times and under all conditions stand in need of one to exhort them, guide them and to instruct and teach them. Therefore He hath sent forth His Messengers, His Prophets and chosen ones that they might acquaint the people with the divine purpose underlying the revelation of Books and the raising up of Messengers, and that everyone may become aware of the trust of God which is latent in the reality of every soul. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 161.