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The Prophets of God are the first Educators. They bestow universal education upon man and cause him to rise from the lowest levels of savagery to the highest pinnacles of spiritual development. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 84-85.
So far in my investigation of faith I had established to my satisfaction that the Baha’i theory of history seemed accurate. I had also proven to my satisfaction that the concept of successive prophets enabled me to understand most of the troublesome or enigmatic passages in scripture, whether in the Old Testament, the New Testament, or even in the Qur’an, the Vedas, or the Bhagavad-Gita.
In short, one logic path became indisputable for me, and I would in the future have a very difficult time understanding why others could not also instantly accept this inescapable sequence of thought—even though it had taken me three years to accept in an incomplete fashion what I unreasonably expected others to apprehend in a matter of minutes. This expectation was not so much intolerance as it was the assumption on my part that other people were smarter than I was; therefore, they should not need as much time as it had taken me.
Here’s the first premise or proposition in my deductive reasoning: there is a God who has chosen to create human beings that He might bestow upon us unconditional love. Implicit in this premise is that these beings (us) are fashioned with sufficient intelligence to obtain knowledge about the Creator and with sufficient free will to pursue attaining knowledge of the Creator.
My second premise: since we cannot instinctively know how to go about comprehending an essentially metaphysical being (God), especially one possessing properties or attributes to a degree beyond anything we ourselves can achieve, we require an educator who inherently possesses this knowledge—who does not need to be taught by others. Furthermore, this educator must be willing and able to convey this information to us in terms that we can comprehend, but also willing to undergo humiliation and suffering to accomplish this task indirectly, without imposing his will on us.
My third proposition: because education must take place over time in sequential increments of learning, no single educator during one segment of time can possibly provide all the guidance required for continuing human advancement. Consequently, there have always been and will always be periodic updating of the collective advancement of the human body politic through the successive appearances of divine messengers who, like teachers of various grade levels in a school, continue this progressive enlightenment from where the previous prophets left off:
…the holy Manifestations of God, the divine Prophets, are the first Teachers of the human race. They are universal Educators, and the fundamental principles they have laid down are the causes and factors of the advancement of nations… Nobody can question their truth. They are the very source of life and the cause of happiness to the human race. – Ibid., p. 85.
The fourth, and at the stage I was studying, the conclusive step in this logical sequence, was the clincher regarding the station of Baha’u’llah in relationship to my personal decision. If everything in these first three propositions is true, and if Baha’u’llah is the newest teacher appointed by the Creator to provide the needed information to guide humankind at this critical stage of transition in our collective history, then by what rationale could I not do what Baha’u’llah proposes that I do—to become a follower of Baha’u’llah by joining the religion that he himself had revealed and designed, and to abide by his guidance regarding how to go about the remainder of my life’s journey.
Naturally I was fully aware that simply knowing the best course of action does not by itself ensure that we human beings will follow it. Socrates long ago posited the theory that no one does evil in full knowledge, that all recalcitrance is the result of not appreciating the full impact or outcome of our wrongdoing. In committing injustice, we injure ourselves and our own souls more than we injure anyone else. Baha’u’llah articulates this same idea in his mystic treatise The Seven Valleys, that true knowledge or understanding derives from our ability to “see the end in the beginning,” to appreciate the end result of any course of action.
This notion may at first seem so abstract as to be pointless, but I have discovered over time that it really isn’t. He would say, in other words, that one who smokes cigarettes may be aware that he or she is risking future calamity, but the distance in time between cause and effect is so great that one takes the long-term risk to enjoy what is perceived to be some more immediate pleasure. Therefore, this person cannot be truly said to possess the full knowledge; the smoker possesses only a vague awareness of the theory and the consequences. The possession of full or complete knowledge in this example would be to experience subjectively the throes of some dire illness, such as lung cancer, that will be a possible end result of this course of action.
In conclusion, at this point in the progress of my assessment of this path “less travelled by,” if I could complete my logic path successfully, as I had thus far done, my choice would be clear. Upon seeing the end in the beginning, the rest of my challenges and milestones on this path would consist of acquiring the discipline and courage to stay on that path by willfully transforming my character, a process portrayed by Baha’u’llah as habituating by degrees the appropriate responses to life as delineated in the authoritative Baha’i texts.
Having been an athlete, I knew that discomfort and persistent stress against my own inertia was the only sure method for advancing my physical condition, and I knew from the Baha’i writings that such was no less the case with regard to spiritual advancement. Consequently, in my mind I have always associated this last part of the logic path with what I had learned from sports, from getting into condition for track in particular. If I never ran harder or longer than what felt easy or not too difficult, then my condition would never advance. To become a first class hurdler, I had to run a full flight of hurdles not once or twice, but over and over. This stress of pushing beyond the limits of comfort and accustoming myself over time to increasingly more strenuous exercise has remained for me a persistently useful analogy for my intellectual and spiritual aspirations.
Related to this analogy in my own mind was the fact that no matter how disciplined I tried to be in pushing myself, there was no substitute for a good coach, someone who knew my capacity and knew how to stretch me a bit more than I might have been willing to push myself. In this analogy, the Baha’i “coach” is the voice of the prophet whose teachings, when perused on a daily basis as prescribed by Baha’u’llah, constantly exhort us to increasingly higher levels of performance in every aspect of our daily lives. With all of this in mind, I felt ready for the final battle to begin.
Next: The Great Debate: Logic versus Faith. Both Win.