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Consider this idea: we have a Creator, and the Creator always speaks to us, whether we’re listening or not.
You may believe this idea or disbelieve it, but just give it the benefit of the doubt for the moment, and contemplate it.
What if the Creator does speak to us—but we just don’t know how to hear? Let’s think about it—what way would a Supreme Being use to actually communicate with His creation? As strange as it sounds, what if you had set in motion the creation of several billion lives—how would you speak to them all?
Most of us read scripture and holy writings or pray and meditate to hear the voice of the Creator speaking to us. But God speaks to us in several different ways, including through the beauty of nature, through the perception and intuition of our souls, through our circumstances and through others.
Baha’is believe that the Creator speaks to us primarily through the prophets and founders of the world’s great Faiths. Those messengers and manifestations give us a continuing, evolving and yet eternal set of spiritual guidelines about how to live our lives:
Each one of the divine religions has established two kinds of ordinances: the essential and the accidental. The essential ordinances rest upon the firm, unchanging, eternal foundations of the Word itself. They concern spiritualities, seek to stabilize morals, awaken intuitive susceptibilities, reveal the knowledge of God and inculcate the love of all mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 338-339.
Of course, beyond those essential, eternal guidelines, the laws of religion do change over time. These “accidental” laws, meant to adapt to changing conditions in the world, are modified and altered by subsequent prophets and their Faiths:
The accidental laws concern the administration of outer human actions and relations, establishing rules and regulations requisite for the world of bodies and their control. These are ever subject to change and supersedure according to exigencies of time, place and condition. For example, during the time of Moses, ten commandments concerning the punishment of murder were revealed in His Book. Divorce was sanctioned and polygamy allowable to a certain extent. If a man committed theft, his hand was cut off. This was drastic law and severe punishment applicable to the time of Moses. But when the time of Christ came, minds had developed, realizations were keener and spiritual perceptions had advanced so that certain laws concerning murder, plurality of wives and divorce were abrogated. But the essential ordinances of the Mosaic dispensation remained unchanged. These were the fundamental realities of the knowledge of God and the holy Manifestations, the purification of morals, the awakening of spiritual susceptibilities—eternal principles in which there is no change or transformation. – Ibid.
The Creator speaks to us, Baha’is believe, through both those permanent and temporal teachings—but concentrating on the temporal can often block the eternal:
Briefly, the foundation of the divine religions is one eternal foundation, but the laws for temporary conditions and exigencies are subject to change. Therefore, by adherence to these temporary laws, blindly following and imitating ancestral forms, difference and divergence have arisen among followers of the various religions, resulting in disunion, strife and hatred. Blind imitations and dogmatic observances are conducive to alienation and disagreement; they lead to bloodshed and destruction of the foundations of humanity. Therefore, the religionists of the world must lay aside these imitations and investigate the essential foundation or reality itself, which is not subject to change or transformation. This is the divine means of agreement and unification. – Ibid., pp. 338-339.
If we want to listen to God’s voice, which speaks to us through the prophets and founders of the world’s Faiths, it stands to reason that we would pay particular attention to the most recent iteration of that voice. Each one of those iterations, those cycles of revelation, is called a dispensation, which Webster’s defines as “the ordering of events under divine authority.”
The Baha’i teachings say that a new dispensation, a fresh holy cycle, the promised age of agreement and unification, has now dawned:
It is a long time since the Sun of Truth mirrored forth by the Lord Christ has shed its radiance upon the West, for the Face of God has been veiled by the sin and forgetfulness of man. But now again, praise be to God, the Holy Spirit speaks anew to the world! The constellation of love and wisdom and power is once more shining from the Divine Horizon to give joy to all who turn their faces to the Light of God. Baha’u’llah has rent the veil of prejudice and superstition which was stifling the souls of men. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 34.
In other words, Baha’is believe that the Creator has spoken to humanity once more.