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What’s the purpose of the prophets? Why do the founders and messengers of the world’s major Faiths go to the trouble of giving us new spiritual teachings, anyway?
Make no mistake: history demonstrates that the prophets and founders of new religions suffer immensely for their trouble. Few would knowingly volunteer for such an assignment, because the horrific persecution that comes with it would immediately deter even the most courageous and sacrificial souls. To bring us a new revelation, those revelators sacrifice everything, including their lives.
So how does it happen, and why? What is the mission of the founders of our Faiths? The Baha’i teachings offer this answer:
Let me ask what is the purpose of prophethood? Why has God sent the prophets? It is self-evident that the prophets are the educators of men and the teachers of the human race. They come to bestow universal education upon humanity, to give humanity training, to uplift the human race from the abyss of despair and desolation and enable man to attain the apogee of advancement and glory. The people are in darkness; the prophets bring them into the realm of light. They are in a state of utter imperfection; the prophets imbue them with perfections. The purpose of the prophetic mission is no other than the education and guidance of the people. Therefore we must regard and be on the lookout for the man who is thus qualified; that is to say any soul who proves to be the educator of mankind and the teacher of the human race is undoubtedly the prophet of his age. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 405.
The prophets, Abdu’l-Baha emphasizes, educate humanity and allow us to progress spiritually:
Their mission is the education and advancement of the world of humanity. They are the real Teachers and Educators, the universal Instructors of mankind. If we wish to discover whether any one of these great Souls or Messengers was in reality a Prophet of God, we must investigate the facts surrounding His life and history, and the first point of our investigation will be the education He bestowed upon mankind. If He has been an Educator, if He has really trained a nation or people, causing it to rise from the lowest depths of ignorance to the highest station of knowledge, then we are sure that He was a Prophet. This is a plain and clear method of procedure, proof that is irrefutable. We do not need to seek after other proofs. We do not need to mention miracles, saying that out of rock water gushed forth, for such miracles and statements may be denied and refused by those who hear them. The deeds of Moses are conclusive evidences of His Prophethood. If a man be fair, unbiased and willing to investigate reality, he will undoubtedly testify to the fact that Moses was, verily, a man of God and a great Personage. – Ibid., pp. 364-365.
If you revere and worship one of the prophets of God, as a Buddhist or a Christian or a Muslim or from the standpoint of any other Faith, the Baha’i teachings invite you to “be fair, unbiased and willing to investigate reality” by considering the other prophets of God, as well:
In further consideration of this subject, I wish you to be fair and reasonable in your judgment, setting aside all religious prejudices. We should earnestly seek and thoroughly investigate realities, recognizing that the purpose of the religion of God is the education of humanity and the unity and fellowship of mankind. Furthermore, we will establish the point that the foundations of the religions of God are one foundation. This foundation is not multiple, for it is reality itself. Reality does not admit of multiplicity, although each of the divine religions is separable into two divisions. One concerns the world of morality and the ethical training of human nature. It is directed to the advancement of the world of humanity in general; it reveals and inculcates the knowledge of God and makes possible the discovery of the verities of life. This is ideal and spiritual teaching, the essential quality of divine religion, and not subject to change or transformation. It is the one foundation of all the religions of God. Therefore, the religions are essentially one and the same. – Ibid., p. 365.
Whether you believe in one messenger of God or several, the Baha’i teachings ask you to earnestly and fairly look into the lives and teachings of those you haven’t yet accepted, go beyond the surface of different names and different eras, and realize that the reality of the messengers is one and the same:
Today the enmity and rivalry existing between the religions are over mere words.
It is an established fact that the followers of all the religions believe in a Reality, the benefits of which are universal; which Reality is a medium between God and man. The Jews call that Reality Moses, the Christians Christ, the Muslim Muhammad, the Buddhists Buddha, and the Zoroastrians Zoroaster.
Now mark well that none of these religionists have ever seen the Founders, they have only heard His name. If they overlooked these names they would realize that they all believed in a perfect Reality which is an intermediary between the Almighty and His creatures.
Their dissension is over a word, otherwise they all share in common the belief of the Mediatorship between the Creator and the creature. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 3, p. 54.