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What happens when the religions who claim the Creator’s blessing seem to have become flawed or faulty?
If, as the world’s religions proclaim, perfect love emanates from an omnipotent and benign Creator, and if that love becomes systematically expressed in this plane of existence through the messengers that establish divinely revealed religions, we would naturally want to know how it is possible that these expressions of the divine will – the ancient religions that still exist in the world – often seem imperfect.
If the plan of God expects religion to be the source of human enlightenment and progress, how could these same forces become a principal source of conflict, turmoil, and hatred – the very antithesis of what a loving Creator would wish or will to take place?
The Baha’i teachings offer us an answer: humanity’s free will. In the book Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha explained: “… all the doings of man are sustained by divine assistance, but the choice of good or evil belongs to him alone.”
As an omnipotent Creator, God could have created whatever He desired, but He wished to be known by beings capable of freely coming to appreciate and benefit from His unconditional love.
That creational goal required that God fashion beings capable of acquiring knowledge and, subsequently, of choosing to apply that knowledge. Therefore, as a perfect educator, the Creator devised an indirect methodology in order to make knowledge available to humankind by degrees.
This process of free will forms the most basic requirement for all education. If our learning consists solely of memorizing axioms in rote ways, then we have not acquired anything of enduring value – we only parrot what somebody else has learned. But when we receive gentle and subtle guidance from a loving teacher, together with the essential tools for obtaining information for ourselves, we are no longer being indoctrinated. We are acquiring knowledge and, more importantly, we are learning how to learn!
True education or enlightenment is, therefore, not the acquisition of a body of fact, but the honing of the tools for acquiring understanding as we become gradually exposed to successively greater challenges and ever more complex questions. To achieve this kind of authentic education, we need a teacher to prime us and guide us. But at every stage of this process, we must also maintain an abiding desire to pursue this sometimes arduous and demanding task. We require the freedom to exercise this desire – so the fact is that free will is an essential part of enlightenment, at the heart of the logical requirement that the Creator fashion us as beings rich with potential for success, but also capable of error and failure.
This requirement is also the rationale behind all the indirection involved in our education. It is for this reason that we begin our lives in this physical classroom of material life that emulates in symbolic or sensually perceptible terms the fundamental realities and relationships operant in the spiritual realm which we are being prepared to enter.
There is another equally important conclusion we draw from this understanding of the Creator’s methodology in fashioning us to become participants in our own progress. If it is essential that in this life we acquire not merely information but the means of acquiring information and the means to express that knowledge in action, then we necessarily must conclude that we will continue to need these same tools and processes after our transition to the spiritual realm.
Put another way, the ultimate goal of the education religion is revealed to teach us is that we become ever more aware of how our daily experience with reality, particularly with other human beings, can inform us about the divine reality that awaits us all. The ultimate purpose of that information and foundational training is to prepare ourselves, through God’s systematic educational plan, for entrance into this inevitable reality. If we become aware of this objective and the educational system provided to attain it, we will then be less troubled by what seem to be an abundance of injustices in this realm. We will also be more likely to welcome that transition, and perhaps be better prepared to navigate a metaphysical environment.
The fact that all our freely chosen efforts at acquiring knowledge are focused on our future existence should in no way be construed as devaluing or deemphasizing our existential or “earthly” experience. Unlike the somber teachings of ascetically oriented religions and sects, the Baha’i teachings exhort us to enjoy this life and take full advantage of all it has to offer.
We should be ever mindful of our abiding purpose of extracting spiritual lessons from this educational experience, but this process necessarily requires that we indulge ourselves in the active pursuit of our own enlightenment, a quest that should exhilarate us, not render us grave, dour, and withdrawn from this world.