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One of the great bounties of living in this age is the wealth of prayers that the three central figures of the Baha’i Faith — the Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l Baha — have revealed to humanity. Prayers that call on God for assistance, healing, families, forgiveness, enlightenment, and for almost every other situation a person may find themselves in are part of the vast revelation of the Baha’i Faith. Just as food feeds our bodies, these prayers feed our soul so that we can grow spiritually in faith and knowledge.
An important element of many of these prayers is that they help us to better understand some aspects of the nature of God. This is especially important because, throughout history, there have been misinterpretations of holy writings that led to many false concepts and images of God, and have led some people away from the true reality of God and religion, or even turned them away from faith altogether.
There are many examples of Baha’i prayers that have an educational function. One of these is a verse found in a well-known prayer by Baha’u’llah. This prayer brings a sense of spirituality, hope, and happiness as we beseech God to “create in me a pure heart…reveal unto me Thy path…lift me up unto the heaven of holiness…let the breezes of Thine eternity gladden me…let Thine everlasting melodies breathe tranquility on me…and let the tidings of the revelation of Thine incorruptible Essence bring me joy…” It is truly an uplifting prayer!
The last phrase in this prayer reveals something about God. Baha’u’llah ends the prayer with the verse, “O Thou Who are the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden.” We all have secrets that are known only to ourselves, so we are all partially hidden — but this verse says that God is both the most hidden and, at the same time, the most manifest.
How can that be? Let’s explore these attributes of God.
According to the dictionary, the word “manifest,” means “readily perceived by the eye or the understanding; evident; obvious.” There is nothing more obvious or evident than everything around us, and all created things, from the distant stars in the night sky, to the things found in nature, to strands of DNA and everything in between are ultimately creations of God. All the scriptures of religion, from Genesis in Bible to the writings of the Baha’i Faith, reaffirm that God is the Creator. Baha’u’llah wrote:
Know thou that every created thing is a sign of the revelation of God. Each, according to its capacity, is, and will ever remain, a token of the Almighty. Inasmuch as He, the sovereign Lord of all, hath willed to reveal His sovereignty in the kingdom of names and attributes, each and every created thing hath, through the act of the Divine Will, been made a sign of His glory.
With these physical manifestations of God’s creation in mind, a clarification is in order. A school of philosophy called pantheism believes that God is incarnate in the things of this world. Baha’u’llah clarifies the relationship between God and His creation:
Consider the relation between the craftsman and his handiwork, between the painter and his painting. Can it ever be maintained that the work their hands have produced is the same as themselves? By Him Who is the Lord of the Throne above and of earth below! They can be regarded in no other light except as evidences that proclaim the excellence and perfection of their author.
Another way in which God is the “most manifest of the manifest” is through the Messengers of God sent to humanity by God. Baha’u’llah taught that the founders of the world’s religions perfectly manifested the qualities of God through the knowledge they imparted, their standards of morality, the ability to kindle in the hearts of their followers a love for God and humanity, and the ability to overcome every obstacle to establish their Faith no matter how fierce the opposition.
God not only manifests Himself through His chosen prophets, but the scriptures revealed to humanity by these prophets also reveal a glimmer of the reality of God. And, because Baha’u’llah is the most recent Manifestation of God whose mission is to bring all the peoples of the world to an age of maturity in the form of universal peace, unity, justice, and loving-kindness, the amount of the writings he produced for our guidance and understanding far surpasses those of the past.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, when writing on the vastness of the Baha’i revelation, quoted Baha’u’llah saying: “In this most mighty Revelation all the Dispensations of the past have attained their highest, their final consummation.”
Thus, God manifests Himself through His creation, the Messengers sent to humanity that manifest His qualities, and by the Holy Writings they produce.
Now, let’s explore the “most hidden of the hidden” part of the verse.
A myriad of Baha’i writings make it abundantly clear that it is impossible for anyone to comprehend the Essence of God. Baha’u’llah wrote: “Exalted art Thou above the description of anyone save Thyself, and the comprehension of aught else except Thee.” And also, “Exalted, immensely exalted art Thou above every human attempt, no matter how searching, to describe Thee! For the highest thought of men, however deep their contemplation, can never hope to outsoar the limitations imposed upon Thy creation, nor ascend beyond the state of the contingent world, nor break the bounds irrevocably set for it by Thee.”
An apt analogy of the relationship of the creator to the created is that of an artist to their painting of a portrait. No matter how perfect the painting is, no matter how life-like the portrait, it can never reach the comprehension of the artist. They are on two separate and unequal levels of existence. Likewise, we humans are the created, and God is our Creator, so our minds are limited and cannot reach the intellectual level of God. Thus, the essence of God is “hidden.”
Another aspect of the hidden is the depth of wisdom in God’s revealed Word and the limits of our ability to comprehend them in their entirety. Holy writings are like an endless ocean, and even after a lifetime of study, a sincere seeker will always continue to deepen their understanding of the truths within.
As we read and meditate on the passages of the Word of God, it becomes apparent that His essence is unknowable to us. That does not, however, prevent us from having a spiritual connection with Him through His Creation, His Manifestation, and the verses they reveal. Prayer and study of the holy writings bring us closer to God and to a better understanding of Him.