In human history, no prophet—whether spiritual or scientific—has ever appeared unopposed.
In the history of religion, every founder of a great world Faith has faced persecution, ridicule, torture, imprisonment and even death. But despite that initial opposition, despite the machinations of kings and rulers and the past religious authorities, those Faiths and their teachings prevailed, have lasted for centuries and have guided, enlightened and enriched the spiritual lives of millions.
Those teachings—all from poor, humble messengers of God, almost unrecognized during their physical time on Earth but whose guidance ultimately revolutionizes the world—have created entire civilizations. The Baha’i teachings describe those messengers as “manifestations of God,” who act as the “divine Shepherds of humanity”:
The Prophets of God have been divine Shepherds of humanity. They have established a bond of love and unity among mankind, made scattered peoples one nation and wandering tribes a mighty kingdom. They have laid the foundation of the oneness of God and summoned all to universal peace. All these holy, divine Manifestations are one. They have served one God, promulgated the same truth, founded the same institutions and reflected the same light. Their appearances have been successive and correlated; each One has announced and extolled the One Who was to follow, and all laid the foundation of reality. They summoned and invited the people to love and made the human world a mirror of the Word of God. Therefore, the divine religions They established have one foundation; Their teachings, proofs and evidences are one; in name and form They differ, but in reality They agree and are the same. These holy Manifestations have been as the coming of springtime in the world. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 150.
As we know, however, the pure message of love and unity that the prophets initially bring can become corrupted. Some people, intent on using the teachings of religion for their own selfish purposes, have split religion into warring sects and divisions, losing sight of its original purpose. The Baha’i teachings explain this seemingly inevitable cycle with this metaphor:
When the Sun of Reality returns to quicken the world of mankind a divine bounty descends from the heaven of generosity. The realm of thoughts and ideals is set in motion and blessed with new life. Minds are developed, hopes brighten, aspirations become spiritual, the virtues of the human world appear with freshened power of growth and the image and likeness of God become visible in man. It is the springtime of the inner world. After the spring, summer comes with its fullness and fruitage spiritual; autumn follows with its withering winds which chill the soul; the Sun seems to be going away until at last the mantle of winter overspreads and only faint traces of the effulgence of that divine Sun remain …. But again the cycle begins and a new springtime appears. In it the former springtime has returned, the world is resuscitated, illumined and attains spirituality; religion is renewed and reorganized, hearts are turned to God, the summons of God is heard and life is again bestowed upon man. – Ibid., p. 95.
Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, suffered terribly to transmit the Baha’i teachings to humanity. When Baha’u’llah began to teach his new religion in Persian in the middle of the 19th Century, he was persecuted for the rest of his life in horrible ways—exiled from place to place, stripped of his resources and belongings, cruelly tortured and imprisoned for forty years. He died a prisoner, but left a spiritual legacy so powerful it has spread to every nation on Earth and inspired millions to follow his teachings.
Why was Baha’u’llah treated so terribly? Imprisoned solely for his beliefs, this prisoner of conscience, who brought a divine message that comprised the first signs of renewal in a global spiritual reawakening, founded a new spiritual movement destined to spread to every part of the world.