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[Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment of a six-part essay. Click here to read from the beginning.]
If you believe that God exists; accept the idea of a personal God; extrapolate that a personal God would want to teach us; and can see that human civilization is obviously far from having learned all we’re capable of; the next logical question becomes: who is the teacher for today?
Scads of people have raised their hands and claimed the role of spokespersons for God for today. Haile Selassie (1892-1975), king of Ethiopia, claimed this. As did David Koresh, Jim Jones, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and on and on. Indeed, in the mid-19th century, following the appearance of a Persian prophet known as The Báb, no fewer than 24 men claimed to be the fulfillment of The Báb’s prophecy.
I was on Baha’i pilgrimage in Haifa and had just finished answering my Jewish roommate’s questions about the Baha’i Faith, when he grinned and said, “It takes a lot of chutzpah to claim you’re a Messenger from God.” I thought about his comment for a long time, and when I returned home, I sent him an e-mail, and said, “You may have been right about that, but as we say in Texas, it ain’t bragging if it’s true.”
I believe Baha’u’llah’s claim to be God’s teacher for today for myriad reasons:
- The power of His words. In the time of Baha’u’llah, people expected miracles from those who professed Divine authority. And while accounts of Baha’u’llah’s life are replete with miraculous happenings, Baha’u’llah Himself discounted the ability of these events to convince anyone not “in the room.” Instead, He said, the most convincing evidence of an authentic Messenger of God is the power of His words — which are not really His words at all, but the words of God. This cannot really be explained or conveyed by a third party like myself. All I can do is point you to the words. If they touch you the way they touch me, then you’ll know what I mean.
- Layer upon the power of Baha’u’llah’s words the testament of His life story. That story is beyond the scope of this essay, but suffice it to say for now that the history of the Baha’i Faith, and in particular the history of its Founder, reads like the story of a real religion. The drama upon a sweeping historical stage, still so accessible to us though little realized by wider society, chronicles the dawning of a new age, the sacrifices of tens of thousands, and stories that fill books and testify to the authenticity of this remarkable new religion.
- As part of that life story, we must look at and admit the astonishing effect Baha’u’llah had on those around Him. We can only appreciate this at a remove, but reading accounts written by so many different people leaves little doubt that the force of Baha’u’llah’s personality had a miraculous effect. Would-be assassins became devoted followers, and people gave their lives for His Faith. As Abdu’l-Baha wrote in a description of His father:
Read it and consider: one prisoner, single and solitary, without assistant or defender, a foreigner and stranger imprisoned in the fortress of Akka, writing such letters to the Emperor of France and Sultan of Turkey. Reflect upon this: how Baha’u’llah upraised the standard of His Cause in prison. Refer to history. It is without parallel. No such thing has happened before that time nor since — a prisoner and an exile advancing His Cause and spreading His teachings broadcast so that eventually He became powerful enough to conquer the very king who banished Him. – Baha’i World Faith, p. 223.
- Baha’u’llah fulfilled the messianic prophecies of every world religion. This is a somewhat more esoteric area of study, one that takes effort and discernment, but for those of us who put stock in the writings and prophecies of the world’s great faiths, it is an area of abundant confirmation.
- The sheer beauty of His teachings. Baha’u’llah articulated the very idea of progressive revelation. If we’re looking for the successor to this great chain of teachers, who better than the one who pointed out that there was a chain at all?
Read the next article in the series: Where is The Teacher’s Classroom?
Read the previous article in the series: How Would a “Personal God” Interact With Us?