The Baha’i teachings assure us that God always watches over humanity, primarily through the gradual unfoldment of spiritual teachings by an ongoing series of divine messengers and prophets.
As an extension of this experience, I am now thinking about seeing the physical world as a reflection of God. Even as I write this, I am reminding myself that, much like a reflection in a mirror, no matter how pure the reflection, it is not precisely the same as the reality.
Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son, explained our human inability to directly know God’s reality:
That which we imagine is not the Reality of God; He, the Unknowable, the Unthinkable, is far beyond the highest conception of man. – Paris Talks, p. 26.
This doesn’t mean we cannot experience God; it just means that we cannot literally know or comprehend His entire unbounded reality. Instead, we can observe His qualities through His messengers—in Baha’i terms, the manifestations of God. If we want to know God, the Baha’i teachings say, we must know those manifestations and follow their examples. To endeavor to understand and practice the spiritual qualities Christ or Buddha or Baha’u’llah exemplified, in other words, gets us as close as possible to the reality of the Divine. As Abdu’l-Baha further explained:
In the Manifestation of God, the perfectly polished mirror, appear the qualities of the Divine in a form that man is capable of comprehending. – Ibid.
We have within ourselves these qualities, limited though we may be as fallible human beings. When we live at our highest potential; when we regard all people with dignity, respect, and love; when we turn our energy to uplifting humanity; when we take care of our planetary home—in these ways we reflect God’s essence and therefore His existence.
Some of us may wonder how to recognize the signs of God in today’s world, since we’re surrounded by environmental degradation, political disunity, extremes of poverty and wealth, bigotry, violence, and other signs of social disintegration. The Baha’i teachings explain that old systems need to break down, so that new systems can take their place—and that the disunity we see today represents an outcome of that process. We can perhaps envision this by considering a parallel process in nature where, for example, a tree dies so that others can grow in its place.
In our social world, we find that the process of disintegration accompanies the progress of integration. If sometimes we think things cannot get worse—and then they do get worse—it tests our faith. We may feel cynical and disappointed or even shocked and distressed. On the other hand, we can find comfort in knowing that setbacks are temporary, and that our overall movement continues forward. Just to offer an example from the physical world, we can think of a trail winding its way up a very steep hill, yet along the way we will notice flat or even downward-sloping portions.
So whatever may be our own sources of news, we need to balance our exposure to bad news with seeking out the good news. I am encouraged to learn of advances in health and sanitation, educational access, helpful technologies, increasing attention and action to address our climate emergency, and so many more signs of progress. Sadly, positive events and developments are usually overshadowed by the more disturbing news around the world. We need to intentionally look for and be encouraged by humanity’s overall progress.
What can I as an individual do about all of this? I am inspired by the idea that I might “reflect” divine qualities to some degree. I am also inspired to observe and learn from others. We can’t all be at our best every moment, try as we might. But that needn’t keep us from recognizing our potential to reflect divine qualities and to recognize the same in other people.
This short Baha’i quotation sums it up nicely:
… the outward is the expression of the inward; the earthly realm is the mirror of the heavenly Kingdom; and the material world is in accordance with the spiritual world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 104.
As many of us know from personal experience, yoga classes almost always end with a prayer pose and the sharing of the word “namaste.” I’m not claiming to be an expert in either yoga or the many dimensions of this word, but it is commonly interpreted as meaning “The god in me salutes the god in you.” Isn’t this further evidence of the divine-like qualities within us all—and, for that matter, an example of an eternal truth?
The Baha’i teachings agree with this idea. Abdul-Baha spoke of humanity in words such as these: “You are all waves of one sea, mirrors of one reflection.” – Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 48.
In closing, I’d like to invite you to join me in experiencing God in today’s world through immersion in nature, recognizing all of His messengers, and in seeing the highest qualities in all people. Everyone who strives to follow the lofty vision brought by the founder of their Faith; everyone who follows that Faith through their own acceptance of it and not just blind obedience; and everyone who strives to put into action spiritual principles and practices to advance civilization and to care for our planet and its creatures—these people experience and reflect God’s existence in today’s world.