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What do you have faith in? What do you believe? Are the two synonymous? In reality, faith is not just a synonym for belief, as many might think.
Belief is the acceptance of some truth claim based on rational deductions or simple appeals to authority or tradition. From a Baha’i perspective, faith is the human capacity to know and love God, born of the objectivity manifested in the opening verses of Baha’u’llah’s Book of Certitude: “No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth.”
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If any person simply imitates or unthinkingly adopts the beliefs of others, they will lose the ability of having their soul enkindled with the fire of the love of God. While they may experience what they think of as divine love, in fact unthinking and uncritical belief embodies a defensive, tribalistic love generated through imitation and a feeling of group belonging or heritage.
For if a soul never bothers to put “at risk” their treasured conceptions or beliefs, one can never experience a true understanding, which underlies the commandment to know and love God.
Abdu’l-Baha explained that divine love represents a new, higher form of life. In this point of view existence is divided into several levels: mineral, vegetable, animal, human, and the spirit of faith:
… the Spirit of Faith which is of the Kingdom (of God) consists of the all-comprehending Grace and the perfect attainment (or salvation, fruition, achievement) and the power of sanctity and the divine effulgence from the Sun of Truth on luminous light-seeking essences from the presence of the divine Unity. And by this Spirit is the life of the spirit of man, when it is fortified thereby, as Christ saith: “That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.”
This new type of existence is called by various names; the Spirit of Faith, the Kingdom of God, or being born again. In a talk he gave in Minnesota in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha said:
Just as man has been physically born into this world, he may be reborn from the realm and matrix of nature, for the realm of nature is a condition of animalism, darkness and defect. In this second birth he attains the world of the Kingdom. …This is the station which Christ has interpreted as the second birth. He says that just as ye were physically born from the mother into this world, ye must be born again from the mother world of nature into the life of the divine Kingdom”
Baha’u’llah wrote that the appearance of this new type of existence represents the very purpose of Creation:
Having created the world and all that liveth and moveth therein, He [God], through the direct operation of His unconstrained and sovereign Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him and to love Him — a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and the primary purpose underlying the whole of creation …
From this vantage point, the Baha’i teachings liken humanity to a mirror or lamp of divine, spiritual potential which requires illumination or enlightenment, and this spirit of faith is that fire which provides light:
Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing He hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty.
These energies with which the Day Star of Divine bounty and Source of heavenly guidance hath endowed the reality of man lie, however, latent within him, even as the flame is hidden within the candle and the rays of light are potentially present in the lamp. The radiance of these energies may be obscured by worldly desires even as the light of the sun can be concealed beneath the dust and dross which cover the mirror. Neither the candle nor the lamp can be lighted through their own unaided efforts, nor can it ever be possible for the mirror to free itself from its dross. It is clear and evident that until a fire is kindled the lamp will never be ignited, and unless the dross is blotted out from the face of the mirror it can never represent the image of the sun nor reflect its light and glory.
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Thus kindling this spirit of faith is the very point of our existence and the Universe’s, predicated upon initial detachment and perception. The agency for lighting this fire is the word of God. If, however, this perception is obscured or clouded, then any belief structure – even destructive ones – will be adopted.
Baha’u’llah alluded to this point in his Book of Certitude, explaining the meaning of the words “oppression” and “clouds” in Biblical scripture:
What “oppression” is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it? … by “oppression” is meant the want of capacity to acquire spiritual knowledge and apprehend the Word of God.