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Spirituality

Why Do We Need Prophets, Anyway?

David Langness | Jun 3, 2015

PART 3 IN SERIES How to Identify a Prophet of God

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Jun 3, 2015

PART 3 IN SERIES How to Identify a Prophet of God

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

As a child, I remember asking my mother: “Aw, mom, why do I have to go to school, anyway?”

Boy-asking-mom-questionsShe usually answered “So you can learn, little fellow.”

“But I don’t want to learn today—I want to go outside and play!”

“One of these days,” she always told me kindly, “you’ll need the knowledge you’re learning now. When you’re all grown up, what would happen to you if you didn’t know anything?”

I never had a good response for that one, so off I went, trudging to school and resigned to my educational fate. Now, of course, I’m really glad I did.

A couple of decades later, in my three-year search for meaning among the world’s religions, I asked myself and several others that same basic question: Why do we need prophets, anyway? Why believe in a religion when I can believe what I want? Why can’t we all just try to be good people, lead peaceful and productive lives, and follow our own natural instincts?

Because, I finally concluded, everyone needs an educator–both individually and collectively:

…the world of existence stands in utmost need of an educator, and… its education must be achieved through a celestial power. There is no doubt that this celestial power is divine revelation, and that the world must be educated through this power which transcends human power. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 13.

Without our parents and our teachers, where would we be? Without the prophets, and the long history of spiritual and moral guidance they’ve offered humanity, we would have little basis for our civilizations, our rule of law, and the customs and codes that govern human interaction:

Let me ask what is the purpose of prophethood? Why has God sent the prophets? It is self-evident that the prophets are the educators of men and the teachers of the human race. They come to bestow universal education upon humanity, to give humanity training, to uplift the human race from the abyss of despair and desolation and enable man to attain the apogee of advancement and glory. The people are in darkness; the prophets bring them into the realm of light. They are in a state of utter imperfection; the prophets imbue them with perfections. The purpose of the prophetic mission is no other than the education and guidance of the people. Therefore we must regard and be on the lookout for the man who is thus qualified; that is to say any soul who proves to be the educator of mankind and the teacher of the human race is undoubtedly the prophet of his age. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 94.

What, then, is the mission of the divine Prophets? Their mission is the education and advancement of the world of humanity. They are the real Teachers and Educators, the universal Instructors of mankind. If we wish to discover whether any one of these great Souls or Messengers was in reality a Prophet of God, we must investigate the facts surrounding His life and history, and the first point of our investigation will be the education He bestowed upon mankind. If He has been an Educator, if He has really trained a nation or people, causing it to rise from the lowest depths of ignorance to the highest station of knowledge, then we are sure that He was a Prophet. This is a plain and clear method of procedure, proof that is irrefutable. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 364.

This, undoubtedly, explains the continuing magnetic attraction of the great prophets of God. Millions upon millions of people follow the spiritual teachings of Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad and now Baha’u’llah—because, from those prophets, they receive the inner spiritual education that leads them to better, happier and more meaningful lives. Abdu’l-Baha compares the prophets to spiritual gardeners, fostering the fertile soil that nourishes a thriving and progressive human condition:

They are like gardeners who sow the grain which afterward springs up in a thousand forms of advancement. The prophets are therefore the first educators of the world, the head masters of the world. However much man may advance in material civilization, if he remain ignorant of the spiritual civilization, his soul is still defaced.

The prophets are sent to refresh the dead body of the world, to render the dumb, eloquent, to give peace to the troubled, to make illumined the indifferent and to set free from the material world all beings who are its captives. Leave a child to himself and he becomes ill-mannered and thoughtless. He must be shown the path, so that he may become acquainted with the world of the soul–the world of divine gifts. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 109-110.

We need the prophets of God, because without their love and guidance and encouragement and sacrifices, the human condition would suffer terribly. We need the prophets of God to temper our innate human tendencies toward violence, selfishness and greed. We need the prophets of God for their wisdom and their selfless efforts to educate the souls of all people. We need the prophets of God, above all, to prove to us through their actions that beyond this physical world another reality exists:

Wert thou to ponder in thine heart the behavior of the Prophets of God thou wouldst assuredly and readily testify that there must needs be other worlds besides this world. The majority of the truly wise and learned have, throughout the ages, as it hath been recorded by the Pen of Glory in the Tablet of Wisdom, borne witness to the truth of that which the holy Writ of God hath revealed. Even the materialists have testified in their writings to the wisdom of these divinely-appointed Messengers, and have regarded the references made by the Prophets to Paradise, to hell fire, to future reward and punishment, to have been actuated by a desire to educate and uplift the souls of men. Consider, therefore, how the generality of mankind, whatever their beliefs or theories, have recognized the excellence, and admitted the superiority, of these Prophets of God. These Gems of Detachment are acclaimed by some as the embodiments of wisdom, while others believe them to be the mouthpiece of God Himself. How could such Souls have consented to surrender themselves unto their enemies if they believed all the worlds of God to have been reduced to this earthly life? Would they have willingly suffered such afflictions and torments as no man hath ever experienced or witnessed? – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 157-158.

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