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We can all benefit from an enduring analogy – the process of nourishing and strengthening our bodies – to understand the gradual spiritual program the Creator employs to educate humanity.
For example, no matter how well or healthily we may eat one day, we will still need to take nourishment the next. Likewise, if we wish to become physically strong, no matter how completely and intelligently we exercise one day, we cannot progress without a program of exercise carried out over an extended period of time.
All are the servants of God and members of one human family. God has created all and all are His children. He rears, nourishes, provides for and is kind to all.
Similarly, these plans or programs of physical health and development never cease. If we stop eating decent foods on a regular basis or become lax in our exercise, the progress we have made will cease and all the development attained will begin to dissipate.
The Principle of Gradualness
This principle of gradualness in both processes is likewise comparable. We may wish we could advance quickly, and thereby attempt to exercise more than we’re yet ready to undertake, in which case we may damage our body.
Patience and incremental advancement constitute the most crucial components in any program of human development, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, as the Baha’i writings repeatedly point out. In the book Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha referred to this axiom as a “universal and divinely ordained law:”
It is even as the seed: The tree exists within it but is hidden and concealed; when the seed grows and develops, the tree appears in its fullness. In like manner, the growth and development of all beings proceeds by gradual degrees. This is the universal and divinely ordained law and the natural order. The seed does not suddenly become the tree; the embryo does not at once become the man; the mineral substance does not in a moment become the stone; No, all these grow and develop gradually until they attain the limit of perfection.
For this reason we need educators other than ourselves, those who are experts in training the body, the mind, and spirit. Those educators are essential for our individual and collective development. For this same reason, a single divine teacher or revelation is insufficient to guide humankind for all time. The social, intellectual, and spiritual advancement of humanity represents an ongoing process, an evolving dynamic, because there is no end point. Our individual and our collective refinement is never finalized or completed. We are and will ever remain a work in progress, because while we will never become anything other than human souls, within that station or category of existence is the capacity for endless or infinite development.
It is in this sense that we as a human family on planet Earth will never reach a point where we will no longer require this external assistance. We cannot merely intuit what should be the next stage in our spiritual refinement or when it should be undertaken or administered, any more than a patient can diagnose his or her disease, prescribe the best course of treatment, and then apply the treatment intelligently.
Our Dependence on the Manifestations of God
In light of the incremental nature of this program of human development, Abdu’l-Baha explained in Some Answered Questions that without the periodic infusion of grace and guidance released with the advent of these divine prophets, messengers, and intermediaries from the celestial realm, human civilization would be incapable of evolving, and that we would never have emerged from our primitive stage of existence:
The enlightenment of the realm of thought proceeds from these Centres of light and Exponents of mysteries. Were it not for the grace of the revelation and instruction of those sanctified Beings, the world of souls and the realm of thought would become darkness upon darkness. Were it not for the sound and true teachings of those Exponents of mysteries, the human world would become the arena of animal characteristics and qualities, all existence would become a vanishing illusion, and true life would be lost. That is why it is said in the Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word”, that is, it was the source of all life.
Another passage from the Baha’i writings can further help us appreciate the logical necessity for the graduated appearance of the manifestations to instigate and sustain human progress, both as our progress depends on general knowledge about reality and as our enlightenment relates to fostering our love relationship with the Creator. This all-encompassing statement by Baha’u’llah reminds us that everything we know or wish to know ultimately is accomplished through our knowledge of God through the teachings of His prophets and messengers: “The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His Glory, and this cannot be attained save through the knowledge of His Divine Manifestation.”