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Prophecies often foretell miracles. These signs and wonders are portents, or divine signs. One big problem, though: are miracles literal or symbolic?
That’s an important question, because the answer makes all the difference. After all, an actual miracle would be totally obvious—so obvious that everyone who saw the miracle would believe. If you saw a miracle happen right before your eyes, what choice would you have?
But what if that miracle is not so obvious? What if miracles and prophecy send us a symbolic “code” describing future spiritual events? If so, then prophecies would never be capable of being fulfilled in the eyes of people who expect outward miracles.
From a Baha’i perspective, the inward miracles are much more important than any outward ones. Here, by “miracle,” we mean some kind of profound physical or spiritual transformation.
The popular expectation is that miracles are supernatural proofs of a divine mission. In other words, a prophet or messenger of God is supposed to perform miracles. But what if that isn’t true?
With that in mind, let’s introduce a new definition of the word “miracle.” That definition includes the revelation of messages from God, which has been described as a miracle in the past. For instance, the verses of the Qur’an are also called “miracles” as well as “verses”—the very same Arabic word describes them both.
To delve into this new meaning of a miracle, let’s consult a book by the Bab, the forerunner of Baha’u’llah, called The Seven Proofs, and acclaimed as “the most important of the polemical works of the Bab” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 26). The “First Proof” of the Seven Proofs has never been officially translated and published as an authorized translation. Now, for the first time, the following provisional translations (which, under current Baha’i policy, can be posted online, although not officially approved) are offered, in both the Persian and Arabic versions:
If the verses of the Quran were not greater than the miracles of all the Prophets [who appeared before Muhammad], then how is it that their Books came to be abrogated by the Quran? How is it that the Quran alone hath endured? This in itself is strong and decisive evidence that this proof [the Quran] hath ever been—and still remaineth—greater than the rod of Moses and other such physical miracles presented as proofs [by the Prophets of the past]. – The Bab, Seven Proofs, provisional translation from the Persian by Omid Ghaemmaghami.
The Bab’s “First Proof” strikes me as masterful in its force of logic, watertight in its argument, charismatic in its tone and tenor, and powerful by dint of its astonishing brevity.
I was thunderstruck by this passage. For me, this is a true miracle, if a miracle is defined as a supernatural event—not supernatural in the sense of suspending natural laws, but supernatural in conveying divine wisdom in its purest form.
In my limited understanding of this logic, the Bab uses the term “miracles” in two ways: (1) physical miracles; and (2) holy books, i.e. the scriptures of the world’s religions. This is in perfect accordance with the traditional Islamic understanding of “miracles.” The Quran is considered to be a “miracle” because its power and uniqueness cannot be reproduced, meaning no one can create its equivalent. The very same logic applies to the Bab’s writings, and to Baha’u’llah’s writings.
The contrast could not be more profound: while physical miracles are momentous in their moment, their influence is fleeting and short-lived—although the memory of those miracles may endure. Such miracles are literally “incredible,” which means they can only be made credible as a matter of faith. Skeptics, who demand proof, will not accept such claims. In other words, miracles are unverifiable, except as a matter of faith for those who witnessed them, and cannot be reproduced.
The greater miracle, as the Bab’s first proof points out, comes from the revelation of the Word of God, which creatively and profoundly influences the minds, hearts and souls of those moved by reading or listening. So the effect on the listener or reader is powerful, charismatic, enduring, verifiable and reproducible. In this sense, the Word of God has a more powerful, miraculous and lasting influence than any physical miracle, whether recounted in the Bible, or in the Quran, or in some other sacred text.
Now for a translation of the Arabic version of that first proof:
None save God shall ever have the power to reveal verses like unto those of the Furqan [the Quran]. Indeed, is there any created thing more wondrous than this, if ye were of those who reflect on this truth? We ordained a period for the people of the Furqan from the day of its revelation to this time, until all knew of a certainty that they were powerless to produce the like thereof, that haply when they heard the verses of God in the Day of the Revelation of His proof they would believe as they did aforetime. Ponder how God had barred the gates of their veils, and how He hath not been so gracious unto all the peoples of the earth as He hath been unto them; and yet they are heedless of the Cause of God. Whensoever God doth wish to reveal a verse, no escape from it have they in the matter of their faith.
Presently, they say this (the Quran) is verily from God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting, but if they were to say that these verses are not from God, then they would negate the Word of God which they had received of old in the Furqan. For none save God hath the power to reveal so much as a single verse; ye were certain of this, one and all, in times past. – The Bab, Seven Proofs, provisional translation from the Arabic by Joshua Hall.
Here, I understand the Bab as referring outwardly to the Quran, but inwardly to the Bab’s own revelation—and to the sustaining, miraculous power of the Word of God.