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Spirituality

How Our Questions Propel the Search after Truth

Christopher Buck | Oct 4, 2020

PART 42 IN SERIES Transforming Time: Turning Godly Perfections Into Goodly Actions

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Christopher Buck | Oct 4, 2020

PART 42 IN SERIES Transforming Time: Turning Godly Perfections Into Goodly Actions

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Recently my Baha’i community in Pittsburgh had a virtual Nineteen-Day Baha’i Feast via Zoom, celebrating the “Feast of Words.” I took part by reading Baha’u’llah’s “Words of Wisdom,” which says:

The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.

Thus have We instructed thee, manifested unto thee Words of Wisdom, that thou mayest be thankful unto the Lord, thy God, and glory therein amidst all peoples. (emphasis added)

In this essay, we’ll continue our quest to understand this intriguing and puzzling name of God known as “Questions.” Rather than attempting to assign any theological precision to this particular attribute, we will try to provide further information — this time, by applying Baha’u’llah’s exhortation to “look into all things with a searching eye.” In other words, the Baha’i principle of search after truth may be the key to understanding what the divine attribute of “Questions” is all about.

As Baha’i scholar Stephen Lambden noted: “The Name of God, the ‘Questioner,’ is not, however, among the classical 99 Names of God given by the Prophet Muhammad according to the well-known hadith..”. So, here, suffice it to say that the Bab implies that God is “the Questioner,” whose divine “Questions” we humans may invoke — the power, inspiration, and focus of which we can each pursue in our own independent investigations after truth. We can then internalize and actualize the truths that we end up discovering, as part and parcel of our spiritual and material progress in life. 

In other words, God is the source of all necessary questions as to the nature and purpose of our existence and the conduct of our lives, whereby the questions themselves represent God’s agenda, as it were, for our spiritual welfare and progress. In other words, God, as “the Questioner,” is the source of all fundamental questions, the investigative powers of which will, ideally, lead to their answers. (See Part 27: “Is God Present? A Month of Questions, A Year of Answers.”) As T. S. Eliot famously wrote:

“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.”
– T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (emphasis added).

Here, one can say that Baha’u’llah encourages us to ask “overwhelming questions” for our own good and edification.

The original Arabic word for questions, Masa’il, has a significant semantic range. In the singular form, “mas’ala” means: “question; issue, problem; matter, affair, case; request.” In its plural form, Masa’il now names an entire Baha’i month in the Badi Calendar, originally introduced by the Bab in several works, including his Persian Bayan (5:3) and elsewhere. The Bab’s Book of Names (Kitab al-Asma) is an extraordinary book, considering that this remarkable work is one of the single lengthiest books of scripture in the history of religions:

This work, the complete text of which is more than three thousand pages, is the largest revealed book in sacred history. It consists of nineteen unities and 361 gates (chapters). Many parts of the text are yet to be located. Some of the chapters were written during the Bab’s imprisonment in Maku, and others while He was in Chihriq. The dates are indicated in the text itself. This book approaches various categories of human beings as reflections of divine names and attributes and discusses ways that all of reality can be spiritualized through the recognition of the supreme Source of divine revelation.”– Nader Saiedi, Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Bab.

Not only is the “Book of Names” exceptional in terms of its length, it is also extraordinary as to its subject matter. True to its title, the Book of Names is all about the “Names of God” – a euphemism for attributes, qualities, energies, and perfections that emanate from God. We, as human beings and spiritual realities, can start to emulate, radiate, and instantiate those names and attributes, by way of our actions, as part of our respective individual and collective social transformation. 

One passage in the “Book of Names” is a prayer that invokes the perfection of “Questions” — along with other divine powers, forces and energies — and has been provisionally translated by Stephen Lambden as follows:

So reveal ye now then unto them, O my God! this very Night, what will be made manifest through all of Thy Glory in its Supreme Glory, from all of Thy Splendour at its Most Splendid, from all of thy Beauty in its supreme Beauty, from all of thy Might at its acme of Might and from all of Thy Light through His Lights.

And from all of thy Mercy let it be diffused abroad!
By virtue of all of Thy Words are matters completed!
By virtue of all of Thy Names things are magnified!
By virtue of all of Thy Might are things empowered!
By virtue of all of Thy Will everything is actualized!
As a result of the totality of Thy Knowledge matters were befittingly transmitted!
And all of Thy Questions [Objectives] (Masá’il) become especially beloved for Thy sake. Such were assuredly ennobled for Thy sake!
For by virtue of all of Thy Nobility was everything made noble!
By virtue of all of Thy Sovereignty was everything ever-abiding!
– The Bab, The Book of Names, provisional translation by Stephen Lambden.

Here, the Bab says that God’s “Questions” are “especially beloved” and those who seek answers to these divine questions are “assuredly ennobled.” This quest for truth is our duty, each and all, for time and eternity. In some sense, this quest, to an infinitesimal degree, replicates the attribute of God as “the All-Searching”: 

Verily I say, the creation of God embraceth worlds besides this world, and creatures apart from these creatures. In each of these worlds He hath ordained things which none can search except Himself, the All-Searching, the All-Wise. Do thou meditate on that which We have revealed unto thee, that thou mayest discover the purpose of God, thy Lord, and the Lord of all worlds. In these words the mysteries of Divine Wisdom have been treasured. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah

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