We cannot find God on our own. This is not a new assertion; it’s at least as old as the Katha Upanishad, an ancient Hindu holy book, which says:
That Self [God] cannot be gained by the Veda [scripture], nor by understanding, nor by much learning. He whom the Self chooses, by him the Self can be gained. The Self chooses him [the seeker] as his own. – 1:2:22-23.
So do we choose God, or does God choose us? If we choose to believe in God, and thus believe that the system we live in is God’s, then God has allowed us to find Him; He has chosen us. Either way, we are not the ultimate controlling authority – but we do have the ability to understand:
Suffer not yourselves to be wrapt in the dense veils of your selfish desires, inasmuch as I have perfected in every one of you My creation, so that the excellence of My handiwork may be fully revealed unto men. It follows, therefore, that every man hath been, and will continue to be, able of himself to appreciate the Beauty of God, the Glorified. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143.
The Baha’i teachings clearly say that everyone has the inborn, innate potential to search for and recognize the truth of the existence of God:
… it behooves us all to be lovers of truth. Let us seek her in every season and in every country, being careful never to attach ourselves to personalities. Let us see the light wherever it shines, and may we be enabled to recognize the light of truth no matter where it may arise. Let us inhale the perfume of the rose from the midst of thorns which surround it; let us drink the running water from every pure spring. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 133-134.
The understanding that God chooses us echoes throughout every religion. In Judaism, it is God who carries His people on eagles’ wings and brings them to Himself (Exodus 19:4). In Christianity, it is God, who with His amazing grace, “saves a wretch like me.” In Islam it is God who brings us out from the depths of darkness into light: and it is He who is full of mercy to those who believe (Qur’an 33:43). In Hinduism, the greatest proponent of Vaishnavism to the West in my lifetime, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote: “We can only understand Krsna by acquiring the grace of Krsna,” and in Buddhism, it is very clear that God, the “unborn, unarisen, and unconditioned” is the One who frees us, for as Buddhist scripture says:
Were there not an unborn, unarisen, and unconditioned, there would be no escape for those born, arisen and conditioned. Because there is the unborn, unarisen, unconditioned, there is escape for those born, arisen, and conditioned. – Udana, 8.3.
Salvation is not something we achieve on our own; it is given to be achieved. Thus all religions, including the Baha’i Faith, describe God as the Supreme Giver and His grace as necessary for finding God and making spiritual progress:
God’s grace is like the rain that cometh down from heaven: the water is not bounded by the limitations of form, yet on whatever place it poureth down, it taketh on limitations – dimensions, appearance, shape – according to the characteristics of that place. In a square pool, the water, previously unconfined, becometh a square; in a six-sided pool it becometh a hexagon, in an eight-sided pool an octagon, and so forth. The rain itself hath no geometry, no limits, no form, but it taketh on one form or another, according to the restrictions of its vessel. In the same way, the Holy Essence of the Lord God is boundless, immeasurable, but His graces and splendours become finite in the creatures … – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 161.
Because we can’t find God on our own, the Creator has given us guidance in the form of a progressive sequence of messengers and prophets – the holy manifestations of God who bring us His grace, His wisdom and His love:
Praise be to God, the All-Possessing, the King of incomparable glory, a praise which is immeasurably above the understanding of all created things, and is exalted beyond the grasp of the minds of men. None else besides Him hath ever been able to sing adequately His praise, nor will any man succeed at any time in describing the full measure of His glory. Who is it that can claim to have attained the heights of His exalted Essence, and what mind can measure the depths of His unfathomable mystery? From each and every revelation emanating from the Source of His glory, holy and never-ending evidences of unimaginable splendor have appeared, and out of every manifestation of His invincible power oceans of eternal light have outpoured. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 60-61.
Thankfully, as the American poet James Russell Lowell proclaims in his Vision of Sir Launfall: “Tis heaven alone that is given away, ‘Tis only God may be had for the asking …” All is given to be found.
Faith can probably not be earned, but because it’s freely given, there’s no need. We are chosen not because of our acquired knowledge or noble deeds, but probably, simply, because we learn to see our situation and stand in conscious awe before an ever-present Giver and say “I believe.”
I believe I’m living in the presence of a living, purposeful, God who infuses everything with meaning, with traces of God’s existence, even at this moment.