The Baha’i teachings say that reason and religion should be in harmony with each other:
If religion is opposed to reason and science, faith is impossible; and when faith and confidence in the divine religion are not manifest in the heart, there can be no spiritual attainment. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 299.
Let’s apply this fundamental Baha’i teaching to an important topic in Christianity, as well as in Judaism and Islam: the resurrection of humankind on the Day of Judgment. How will this occur? A better question: How can it possibly occur, if at all?
The metaphysics of resurrection involves the theory of the human person. Just to be clear, the “resurrection,” first and foremost, refers to the triumph of Jesus over death, as the basis of faith, from the Christian perspective I grew up with. Then there is the resurrection that occurs on the Day of Judgment. I was taught in Sunday school that if Jesus could rise from the dead, then so could we, if we remained faithful Christians.
That promise appealed to us youth especially, as attachment to our physical bodies was strong and vibrant. The typical Christian doctrine of end-times resurrection has more to do with being given a perfect body, with eternal youth, here on Earth, than it does with disembodied notions of afterlife. And so the doctrine of physical resurrection is not only supernatural in nature (in which the laws of nature are suspended), it is a somewhat materialistic doctrine, at least in terms of its carnal appeal. It also runs counter to science, as we know it.
If the human being is endowed with a soul, and is essentially a spiritual being, why is the body needed at all, beyond this physical life here on Earth? Why is the reunion of body and soul so central to popular Christian beliefs about the Day of Judgment? This may well have to do with personal identity, and its attachment to the physical body.
So the Christian doctrine of resurrection is problematic, not only from the standpoint of reason and science, but also from a spiritual perspective. At the heart of all of this, it is the basic definition and doctrine of the human person that is at stake.
Basically, the Baha’i teachings state that the soul is immortal, and that the body is mortal. In other words, the soul is spiritual, and the body is physical.
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen,” St. Paul told the Corinthians, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:12–14. I struggled with this fundamental criterion of my Christian beliefs when I first encountered the Baha’i Faith.
When I was taught about resurrection in Sunday school, a person’s individual consciousness was not the sole criterion of human personhood. Consciousness required the instrumentality of the senses. Their operation, at some point after death, was guaranteed by the resurrection of Christ as “God made flesh,” which is the central mystery of the Incarnation. But the Baha’i writings reject the idea that God can somehow become incarnate:
Know thou of a certainty that the Unseen can in no wise incarnate His Essence and reveal it unto men. He is, and hath ever been, immensely exalted beyond all that can either be recounted or perceived. From His retreat of glory His voice is ever proclaiming: “Verily, I am God; there is none other God besides Me, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. I have manifested Myself unto men, and have sent down Him Who is the Day Spring of the signs of My Revelation. Through Him I have caused all creation to testify that there is none other God except Him, the Incomparable, the All-Informed, the All-Wise.” He Who is everlastingly hidden from the eyes of men can never be known except through His Manifestation, and His Manifestation can adduce no greater proof of the truth of His Mission than the proof of His own Person. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 49.
Psychosomatic unity—body and soul—are severed at death. So how is it that the physical bodies we had here on Earth could possibly be reunited with our souls? This is a problem of identity. When I was investigating the Baha’i Faith, the time came for me to totally rethink my personal identity, as well as the basis of my identity as a Christian. I also had to rethink my understanding of the identity of Jesus Christ.
So you can well imagine my surprise and astonishment when I first read the following by Abdul-Baha, who wisely, yet candidly, explained:
O thou who dost believe in the Spirit of Christ, in the Kingdom of God!
The body is composed, in truth, of corporeal elements and every composition is necessarily subject to decomposition; but the spirit is an essence, simple, pure, spiritual, eternal, perpetual and divine. He who seeketh Christ from the point of view of His body hath, in truth, debased Him and hath gone astray from Him; but he who seeketh Christ from the point of view of His Spirit will grow from day to day in joy, attraction, zeal, proximity, perception and vision.
Thou hast then to seek the Spirit of Christ in this marvelous day. The heaven whither Christ ascended is not an infinite space. His heaven is much rather the kingdom of His Lord, the Munificent. As He said, “The Son of Man is in heaven.” It is known then that His heaven is beyond the boundaries that surround existence and that He is elevated for the people who adore.
Pray God to ascend to this heaven, to taste of its food—and know thou that the people have not understood to this day the mystery of the Holy Scriptures. They believe that Christ was deprived of His heaven when He was in this world, that He had fallen from the heights of His elevation and that later He ascended to this elevated pinnacle—that is to say, towards the heaven which doth not exist, for there is only space. They expect that He will descend from this heaven seated upon a cloud. They believe that there is in the heavens a cloud upon which He will be seated and by which He will descend; while, in reality, the clouds are vapors which rise from the earth and which do not descend from the heavens. The cloud mentioned in the Holy Scriptures is the human body, because it is a veil for them, like a cloud, which prevents them from seeing the Sun of Truth which is shining in the horizon of Christ.
I pray God to open before your face the gates of revelation and of vision in such a way that thou shalt learn the mysteries of God in this known day. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 316–317 (emphasis added).
When I first read this statement: “He who seeketh Christ from the point of view of His body hath, in truth, debased Him and hath gone astray from Him,” I was thunderstruck. It challenged my very Christian identity. At that point, I decided that I would be a truer Christian if I became a Baha’i, rather than remaining a Christian. By embracing the Baha’i Faith, I was not only accepting the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecies in terms of recognizing Baha’u’llah as the “return” of the spirit and power of Christ, but reaffirming of my lifelong identity as a follower of Jesus Christ, with a brand-new understanding.
I had never realized before that the foundation of my former beliefs about Jesus were based primarily on the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, which meant, to put it rather crudely, that I could get my body back on the Day of Judgment.
So, after reading Abdu’l-Baha’s remarkable explanation, I suddenly realized that my “faith is also vain,” as St. Paul had asseverated—but for an entirely different reason. I had believed in Christ for what were essentially “vain” reasons (i.e. attachment to my physical body, connected with the promise of physical resurrection). My conception of the person and work of Jesus Christ had to be entirely reconceived and reformulated.
So I was “born again,” in one sense, with a new understanding of all things Christian, with a more profound appreciation for what Christ taught and accomplished—where such beliefs were no longer in contradiction to reason, or even science. This, for me, was a triumph of insight—inspired, aided and assisted by the Baha’i teachings.
At this late stage in life, I’m not too proud to say that I am eternally grateful for this breakthrough in the fundamental nature of my faith and belief in Jesus Christ, which not only was reinforced by my embrace of the Baha’i Faith, but which was profoundly deepened by the spiritual insights of the Baha’i scriptures, and greatly expanded by the universal principles of the Baha’i teachings.
The truth and mystery of the Day of Judgment—and the doctrine of the “resurrection of the dead” associated with it—require a new understanding, predicated on the singular act discriminating discernment, by the exercise and reflex of an independent, personal judgment.
Let this be a public testament of faith—and reason.