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The Baha'i teachings say that the Creator creates so He might bestow His gifts of love, education, enlightenment, and advancement on a being capable of understanding and utilizing these gifts:
… those souls whose inner being is lit by the love of God are even as spreading rays of light, and they shine out like stars of holiness in a pure and crystalline sky. For true love, real love, is the love for God, and this is sanctified beyond the notions and imaginings of men.
That passage, from “Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha,” affirms that the “clincher” in this process of love and enlightenment, as it is with human parental love, is that to accomplish this task, the gift of unconditional love and assistance must be freely recognized and received because any authentic love relationship, by definition, must be reciprocal.
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This is not to say that love cannot be unilateral. Certainly we may dearly love another who does not love us in return. But for the power of our love to be unleashed and an authentic love relationship to be established, a bilateral or reciprocal process must begin. Only then can the power of this primal force grow and develop and become refined, whether this love exists between two human beings or between the Creator and us, the created.
Reciprocity Requires Response
Certainly our love relationship with God cannot make us coequal with God, but it is still a relationship in which there is reciprocity. In the passage from Baha’u’llah cited in an earlier essay in this series, in which he speaks in the voice of the Creator and states, “If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee,” God is by no means implying that He will withhold His love from us unless we love Him in return. His love is unconditional, unvarying, unwavering, relentless, constant.
Instead, Baha’u’llah affirmed in this revealed axiom that a love relationship is not possible unless we willingly participate.
That kind of participation implies not merely our recognizing God’s love for us, but also our demonstrating that recognition by acting accordingly. That action may take the form of thanking God for bringing us into being and for enabling us to recognize His love for us, or in praising the infinite powers and attributes that He has potentially bestowed on us — “potentially” because we must employ them in our lives before they become actualized. It also takes the form of consciously and conscientiously living into our innate nobility as human beings, because God’s love is what makes us noble, as this passage from Baha’u’llah’s “The Hidden Words” suggests:
O Son of Spirit! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.
A simple analogy for this relationship with God can be understood in terms of a telephone call. God may be calling us and we may hear the ringing in the form of all sorts of reminders, whether in the love of others or in the beauty of nature. But God’s love cannot “reach” us unless we pick up the phone, unless we receive His call. That reception is instigated when we take part in a dialogue, when we speak to Him in return so that there is reciprocal communion.
It is in this sense, no doubt, that prayer is prescribed and exhorted as part of a daily regimen in every religion, because this flow of communication is an essential ingredient in maintaining the health of this love relationship.
Knowledge Precedes Response
For God’s love to reach us, to affect us, to uplift us, we must be aware of it. Only then can we become receptive to it and respond to it. Consequently, the knowledge or awareness of God’s existence and desire — that we “pick up the phone” — must precede our response. In order to be aware of God’s love, we need to be guided to understand that to which we are attracted and what underlies that attraction. We need to be made aware of what distinguishes that ringing noise from the distracting din of all the other sounds that compete for our attention.
Obviously, the Creator is capable of fashioning a recipient of His love in whatever way He wishes. But if we accept this concept as axiomatic, then we necessarily must also conclude that we have been created precisely the correct way to accomplish the goals the Creator desires for us. In other words, the gradualness with which we learn who and what we are, and then proceed by degrees to discern the love of God as the motive force behind this educative process, becomes apparent once we begin seriously to examine the axiomatic statement Abdu’l-Baha made to the Bethel Literary Society in Washington, DC in 1912 — that we are inherently created to be desirous of understanding reality:
Science is the first emanation from God toward man. All created beings embody the potentiality of material perfection, but the power of intellectual investigation and scientific acquisition is a higher virtue specialized to man alone. Other beings and organisms are deprived of this potentiality and attainment. God has created or deposited this love of reality in man.
This series of essays is adapted from John Hatcher’s book The Face of God Among Us, with the permission of the author and the publisher. To purchase the entire book, please click here.