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If you wanted to examine the best, most effecting teaching methods, it stands to reason that you would ask the best teachers.
Since the metaphorical process is the principal means by which spiritual growth is achieved in the physical world, it would seem logical that the process would be evident in the methods of the prophets or messengers of God. That is, if the theological tenets of the world religions are correct, the messengers of God are perfect teachers sent to direct our spiritual development. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that they would employ perfect teaching methods. When we examine the techniques they do employ, we indeed discover that analogical methodologies are at the heart of their techniques.
In fact, metaphorical devices constitute the core of the methodology employed by the founders of the world’s Faiths. The metaphorical process as a teaching technique is apparent in their actions, in their language, and in the laws they reveal. Even the persona or identity of each messenger involves the metaphorical process, for in addition to being emissaries from the divine realm come to inform us, they also exemplify the very same spirituality God is trying to encourage in us.
Put in the simplest of terms, the messengers and prophets are perfect reflections of all the attributes of God, insofar as these attributes can be dramatized in human expression. This station of perfection relates directly to humanity’s twofold purpose:
The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His Presence. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 70.
Since the Baha’i writings depict God as essentially unknowable, the most effective means of knowing God is to know His messengers who, as a prism makes visible the concealed attributes of light, reveal to us the constituent qualities of Godliness.
In this sense it is clear that attaining the presence of God, as described in the scriptures of various religions, does not imply attaining physical proximity to God, but rather changing the spiritual condition of our souls so that we are constantly increasing our capacity for acquiring the spiritual attributes of God, for becoming more like Him.
Yet, as we have already seen, acquisition of spiritual attributes cannot take place without understanding. In effect, knowing God and attaining His presence are two aspects of one process. In this regard Baha’u’llah points out in his Most Holy Book that we cannot sever the recognition of God’s messengers from obedience to His laws: “These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other.” – p. 19.
Recognition of the prophet is, therefore, a necessary prerequisite for spiritual advancement; it is not sufficient simply to follow a pattern of behavior. But this is not an arbitrary requirement. Recognition of the messenger of God implies more than perceiving the validity of his description of the universe, the pragmatic value of his ordinances, or even the value of his sacrificial life. It involves perceiving the way in which the messenger “metaphorizes” or dramatizes God for us.
In this way, the prophet is clearly distinct from all other spiritual teachers, no matter how astute their teachings, no matter how wise their laws. To know God is to know the messenger, and to know the messenger is to understand the way he manifests the qualities of God. So it is that in responding to Philip’s request to see the mysterious “Father” about Whom Jesus had said so much during His ministry, Christ responds, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” – John 14:9.
In considering Christ’s response to Philip, we must not confuse the tenor with the vehicle by accepting the metaphor as having literal significance. Instead, we are challenged to extract the meaning by discerning the similarity between the two essentially distinct components. In this important passage, we are challenged to discern the similarity between Christ (the vehicle) and God (the tenor) while realizing that each is in “essence” distinct from the other.
Clearly the similarity between these two essentially different entities is not physical, since the messenger is not necessarily physically impressive, and since God is not a physical being. Neither is the similarity in physical power, since none of the prophets aspire to earthly ascendancy or accept it if it is offered to them. The commonly shared qualities are spiritual powers and capacities. To confuse the literal or physical nature of the vehicle (the person or personality of the messenger) with the tenor he represents (the nature of God) is to do more than mangle an analogy. To miss the metaphorical nature of the relationship between the prophet and God is to misunderstand completely the nature of the messenger, to fail to understand God Himself, and to confuse the whole educative process by which the prophet attempts to instruct us.
No doubt it is because of the tendency to confuse the vehicle with the tenor that the messengers expend extensive effort in making this metaphorical relationship clear. For example, even though Christ states that no one can understand God except by first understanding Christ, he also explains that he is essentially different from God: “‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.’” Furthermore, throughout his teachings Christ explains that he is not the ultimate source of authority behind the revelation, but a reflection of the Deity Who is:
He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. – John 12:44.
For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. – John 12:49.
The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. – John 14:10.
In a similar manner, Baha’u’llah explained the relationship of the prophet to God and repeatedly articulates the same theme—that he is an instrument God has employed to educate men:
This thing is not from Me, but from One Who is Almighty and All-Knowing. And He bade Me lift up My voice between earth and heaven …. – Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 11.
This is but a leaf which the winds of the will of thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Praised, have stirred. – Ibid., pp. 11-12.