Ask A Baha’i: Manifestations of God
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By Pete Haug
“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:12-13
These words of Jesus offer hope to his disciples for a continuing unfoldment of God’s message. Jesus was one of many Manifestations of God offering hope to humankind that a loving Creator will never abandon them. In Genesis, God makes a covenant, symbolized by the rainbow, with Noah. Later God promises Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee…for an everlasting covenant.”
From a Baha’i perspective, this covenant is a promise that God will never leave mankind alone. The other side of the agreement is that man will follow God’s commandments. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions began with Adam. The Old Testament contains stories of many messengers of God besides Moses. Many of those stories are repeated in the Quran, with variations in details. These prophets all renew the ancient covenant between God and his followers. Scriptural traditions call such messengers “prophets.”
Baha’is regard them as “Manifestations of God.” Each Manifestation ushers in a new “dispensation” of religious teachings destined to guide humankind for many centuries. When circumstances warrant, a new Manifestation appears, reiterates God’s unchanging laws, and brings in new laws commensurate with humankind’s ability to implement those laws.
Baha’u’llah writes, “The Bearers of the Trust of God are made manifest unto the peoples of the earth as the Exponents of a new Cause and the Revealers of a new Message.” He says they “are regarded as one soul and the same person. For they all drink from the one Cup of the love of God, and all partake of the fruit of the same Tree of Oneness.”
In both Old and New Testaments, we find expectations that prophecies by one Manifestation will be fulfilled by future Manifestations. This is the meaning of Jesus’s words above from John 16. These expressions of hope throughout millennia reflect a better world in the future. Jesus taught his followers to pray for God’s “kingdom” where God’s will is done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” This longing for a peaceful society promised by God pervades most religions.
The Promise of World Peace
A 1985 message “The Promise of World Peace,” to “the peoples of the world” addresses this longing. Its opening paragraph introduces many pages of detailed explanation:
The Great Peace towards which people of goodwill throughout the centuries have inclined their hearts, of which seers and poets for countless generations have expressed their vision, and for which from age to age the sacred scriptures of mankind have constantly held the promise, is now at long last within the reach of the nations. For the first time in history it is possible for everyone to view the entire planet, with all its myriad diversified peoples, in one perspective. World peace is not only possible but inevitable. It is the next stage in the evolution of this planet—in the words of one great thinker, “the planetization of mankind.”
Manifestations of God across the planet and throughout millennia have brought messages to various societies and cultures with very different needs. The teachings of these Manifestations have had two purposes. The first was to introduce or reiterate the oneness of God and the need to obey God’s laws. The second portion was to establish the laws themselves, laws suitable for the cultures that received them. These laws were subject to change by later Manifestations, just as Christ abrogated some of the ancient Jewish laws.
Baha’is believe that this is the time for fulfillment of basic promises of all religions. We no longer need Manifestations in different parts of the world because we now understand that humanity all shares a single planet. Similarly, there are no “races.” In unraveling the human genome, science has demonstrated we are truly one people in an infinite rainbow array of colors, sizes, abilities, and myriad other human characteristics.
The latest Manifestation to proclaim these truths was Baha’u’llah. His writings explain the concept of Manifestations of God and the historical implications of earlier Manifestations. He is the fulfillment of promises throughout previous religious dispensations. His teachings are ushering in a millennium that history will regard as the transition from humankind’s adolescence into a spiritual maturity dreamed of only by humanity’s idealistic thinkers.
The environmental and social upheavals the world is experiencing are raising fundamental questions about how humankind may resolve its problems and live in a prosperous peace. Baha’is share those concerns but are optimistic. In the 19th century, Baha’u’llah anticipated these upheavals. He also brought guidance that requires a critical mass of humankind to recognize God-sent guidance and begin implementing it on a global scale:
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