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The Baha’i Faith teaches the existence of one God, Who has revealed Himself to humanity over the course of history through a series of messengers.
Each of those messengers, or manifestations of God, reveals laws and teachings appropriate for the time in which they appear. Baha’is believe that these manifestations of God provide the impetus for humanity’s progress.
The age in which we live, according to Baha’u’llah, will witness the culmination of humanity’s social evolution—that is, the unification of the peoples of the world as citizens of one homeland. We have reached the age of humanity’s spiritual maturation as well, in which a new world order founded upon God’s law will guarantee justice and prosperity for each and every human being. This is the age of the long-awaited advent of God’s kingdom on Earth.
The spirit that animates all of the teachings of the Baha’i Faith is love. Love is the cause of creation itself, the motivating principle behind the appearance of the prophets, and the key to eternal life. The Baha'i teachings say:
Know thou of a certainty that Love is the secret of God’s holy Dispensation, the manifestation of the All-Merciful, the fountain of spiritual outpourings. Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul. Love is the cause of God’s revelation unto man, the vital bond inherent, in accordance with the divine creation, in the realities of things. Love is the one means that ensureth true felicity both in this world and the next. Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul. Love is the most great law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycle, the unique power that bindeth together the divers elements of this material world, the supreme magnetic force that directeth the movements of the spheres in the celestial realms. Love revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe. Love is the spirit of life unto the adorned body of mankind, the establisher of true civilization in this mortal world, and the shedder of imperishable glory upon every high-aiming race and nation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 27.
All of the teachings of the Baha’i Faith build upon the foundation of love. The same is true for the teachings of all of the divinely-revealed religions.
The reality of human beings is spiritual, and the key to our happiness involves developing our spiritual capacities and drawing near to God. This process is conducive not only to happiness in the life beyond, but also in this world. Our spiritual progress depends upon our own efforts to know and love God, to love and serve others, and to lead lives characterized by the highest moral standards. In the end, each of us must answer to God for our own actions. Baha’u’llah wrote:
Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. – The Hidden Words, p. 11.
From a Baha'i perspective, the surest means for spiritual progress is to accept God’s manifestation for this day and to strive to abide by his teachings. Spiritual progress requires sincerity of intent, selflessness, and eager effort. Another requirement is detachment from the world, in the sense that we must not allow worldly things to become a barrier between ourselves and God. Yet another prerequisite is adherence to justice, which Baha’u’llah defines in part as the ability to discern the truth for ourselves and not to blindly imitate others.
Many passages in the Baha’i writings make clear that each of us must assume responsibility for our own spiritual growth—but our progress doesn’t come entirely through our own efforts. Our progress is always dependent upon God’s love and mercy. Baha’u’llah upheld the principle of salvation by grace in the sense that we can never, by our own deeds, truly deserve eternal life.
Nevertheless, God expects each of us to respond to Him. We are responsible for choosing whether to love and serve God. If we choose correctly, we can progress spiritually and feel His love for us in our lives, as the following verse from Baha’u’llah suggests:
Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant. – Ibid., p. 4.