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Several times this week I have heard someone say that we live in “Godless times.” Have you ever had that same thought?
In each case, those who said it had reached their conclusion based on the sheer immensity of our current challenges and the disunity we now live with across the world.
The phrase “Godless times” reminds me of my own thoughts about God and religion (not the same thing) back in the 1960s. I was a university student encountering Nietzsche, Feuerbach, and other philosophers for the first time—and the statement “God Is Dead” had penetrated part of pop culture.
I wasn’t entirely sure whether God was dead, or perhaps just busy elsewhere. In any case, I didn’t feel His—or Her—presence in my own life and times. Over a 10-year period, I searched for something I could believe in, and for people whose vision of the future aligned with mine. Frankly I expected to find my answer within philosophy, politics, and any of a host of “isms”—not within a religion. But I did eventually find what I sought within the Baha’i Faith, though its social teachings initially attracted me more than its theological teachings did.
During those 10 years of search I considered myself an agnostic rather than an atheist, because I saw within the natural environment evidence of God’s existence—His handiwork, even if not exactly His presence. Now, as a Baha’i, I understand why. In the words of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith:
Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 142.
Exploring the idea that nature is specifically an expression of God’s will, the Baha’i International Community wrote:
… the grandeur and diversity of the natural world are purposeful reflections of the majesty and bounty of God … – The Baha’i Statement on Nature, 1987.
Everything we so casually call “nature”—what is it if not proof of God’s existence? A creation, after all, implies a Creator.
Whatever may be a person’s own conception of God or the name of their Faith, I am now referring to God as our Creator, as the One who put into motion the physical forces, the natural laws, and everything else that has resulted in our physical world and even the universe. Indeed, the natural world shows us timeless, even eternal, evidence of God and His creative powers.
But that raises yet another question—whether God is still present, or whether He created the world and its governing laws and then moved on, no longer concerned with us. That concept would certainly fit into the “Godless times” theory, right?
As a seeker I didn’t really know what to conclude. Again, though, the Baha’i writings helped me to understand.
Baha’u’llah taught that God instructs humanity through a series of divine messengers—the prophets and founders of the world’s Faiths. Each messenger confirms the eternal truths from prior messengers, and each also helps humanity to progress to the next level of our spiritual and social development. Baha’u’llah referred to the presence of God and His relationship to His creatures with words such as these: “… the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.” – The Most Holy Book, p. 1.
Certainly the non-physical world—which includes the way we behave toward ourselves, each other, and our planet—is not ruled solely by a series of physical laws, nor do we unfold in our spiritual development merely through an evolutionary process. Yes, we are bound by natural laws; but we are also endowed with free will, which we assert through our individual and our collective action.
How does this work? If we examine the teachings within previously revealed religions, we find that every known messenger of God brought a message and then, over time, humanity and civilization adapted and grew toward fulfilment of that message. These teachings, relevant to the current age and its conditions, serve to uplift and advance civilization.
I find this idea easier to understand if I express it within my personal experience. Thinking back to my own school days, I progressed from teacher to teacher, from class to class. Just to offer one example: my 7th grade teacher didn’t contradict anything my 6th grade teacher taught me. Rather, each teacher added to my learning, enlarged the context for prior learning, and helped connect me to more information and greater comprehension.
Baha’u’llah said that this pattern provides the template for human development and maturation, not only on an individual level but on a collective one, too. Within the many Faiths of the world we find titles such as teacher, son, prophet, messenger, or manifestation. These words affirm that God, our Creator, continues to guide us and continues to be present.
Having considered experiencing God’s presence through nature and through His messengers, Part 2 of this series will explore how God’s presence is reflected in our world. Meanwhile, I invite you to join me in considering the idea that God’s existence in today’s world surrounds us at every moment, though at times we ourselves may be more tuned-in than at other times.
As the saying goes, “If God seems distant, who moved?”