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Ask A Baha’i: Manifestations of God, Part 3

Ask A Baha’i: Manifestations of God, Part 3

Do you have a question about the Baha’i faith? Submit it online or fill out the form below. 

By Daniel Pschaida

Read part one and two this series

“the manifold bounties of the Lord of all beings have, at all times, through the Manifestations of His divine Essence, encompassed the earth and all that dwell therein. Not for a moment hath His grace been withheld…”

Bahá’u’lláh, The Book of Certitude, p. 14

That there has been more than one human emissary, sent by God, to announce His saving, empowering, unifying, uplifting Truth is readily understood among people of many religious traditions.

In the Jewish and Christian traditions we find the likes of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Elijah in a sacred history of prophets with God’s message. While a Christian may focus on the unique and indispensable role of Jesus to forgive and purify and bring humanity back to an eternal relationship with God, one does not negate that the prophets of the Old Testament also taught and announced God’s way before Jesus. Hindus recognize many seers, sages, divine avatars, and gurus that have taught the Eternal Truth (Sanatana Dharma)on the Indian subcontinent. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, did not claim to be the first Enlightened One nor the last. Sikhs assimilate concepts from both Hinduism and Islam in their religious scriptures and celebrate the inspiration of various saint-poets from these religious traditions. Native American traditions recognize many wise elders, shamans, and visionaries of one’s own tribe and those of others. 

This is too complicated! Why does there need to be more than one?! And why do their messages differ?

Unlike the Highlander TV series, there can be more than one, and the world has had need for more than one, for these reasons:

  1. Geographical Obstacles: Most of the world has been separated for most of history by geographical obstacles like oceans, seas, mountain ranges, deserts, and sheer distances. Moses gave a redeeming message in Egypt (and on route to the Holy Land), but how long would it take for God’s summons to reach central Africa, Mongolia, or South America? Raising up various Pure Souls to convey His message is much more expeditious so no people is deprived of God’s grace.   
  2. Divine Physicians: Like medical doctors assessing biological ailments, the precise spiritual and social issues God’s Emissaries need to address have changed in places and eras, and they prescribe the precise remedy each people has needed.
  3. Progressive Revelation: Like the sun that doesn’t instantaneously shine in its full midday height, or school teachers who teach basic adding and subtraction before teaching advanced calculus, each successive human Emissary from God builds off the spiritual education and capacity raised in human societies of one’s predecessor.  As human capacity is raised, so can a later society increase its ability to receive the fullness of God’s universal truths. 

But isn’t there just one Way of/to God?

Yes! God’s Way is unique and only proclaimed with purity and authority by these unique Vicegerents or Emissaries that God has raised in various times and places.  Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Elijah each proclaimed God’s unique Way before its fulfillment in Jesus or the re-establishment of “the Straight Path” in the Qur’an, revealed through Muḥammad. 

Bahá’í Writings name Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muḥammad, and in this age the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh who have proclaimed God’s one Truth and have been as humanity’s umbilical cord or life-line between humanity and God’s quickening grace. 

Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

Every one of them is the Way of God that connecteth this world with the realms above, and the Standard of His Truth unto every one in the kingdoms of earth and heaven.”

Are these special emissaries human or divine?

Yes! Confusion comes from the likes of certain emissaries, such as Moses or Muḥammad, only claiming to be human beings uniquely chosen to convey God’s message and guide humanity, while Jesus or Hindu avatars are considered by their respective followers as incarnations of God on earth. 

Bahá’u’lláh elucidates that these Emissaries, who outwardly look and seem like most other human beings yet to whom their followers recognize there is something immensely special about them, each have a multi-layered station:

  • The physical, which makes them have other biological needs like food, water, and sleep, and some have married and had children
  • Their spiritual station which has a two-fold reality. As a Pure Soul, like a clean mirror turned towards the sun, they are Vehicles of God’s authority, voice, words, and perfections.  At the same time in their “human station” they are servants of God, like other human beings, but—unlike the rest of us who are not always pure and consistent—utterly faithful and devoted servants.

To encompass and make sense of this subtle and manifold station of these Emissaries raised up by God, Bahá’u’lláh introduced the concept of “Manifestation of God” in His writings (maẓhar’u’llah or ẓohúr’u’llah in Persian-Arabic).  Bahá’ís compare the Manifestations of God to stainless mirrors, perfectly turned towards the sun.  If the sun is God in this comparison, it does not stop being the universal Lord of the universe and descend into the mirror, yet we can see the sun perfectly reflected in the mirror.  In their words, teachings, and actions, they convey to human beings perfectly the will of God, the names and perfections of God, and God’s revelation. 

Wait though: Aren’t some actually better than others?

The Bahá’í writings say, “They only differ in the intensity of their revelation and the comparative potency of their light.” Any differences is not due to any intrinsic superiority of one Manifestation of God over another but rather due to the particular mission they were given by God and the social-intellectual conditions of what human beings needed and were capable of handling at that time and place. 

Is Moses equal to the Buddha? Isn’t Jesus superior to Muḥammad? Bahá’ís believe such discussions are not helpful to the unity and well-being of humankind. Rather, we are to celebrate the wonderful teachings and how each one sacrificially dedicated their entire lives to educate & uplift humanity to the heights of spiritual joy.

We turn our minds away from that which brings fruitless contention and antagonism. Instead, we welcome and set our faces to the light of unity, as one human family, in friendship, solidarity, loving-kindness, fellowship—across differences—which each of our religions have indeed taught to us.

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