how Bahá'ís view the relationship between God, religion and humanity, the best place to
start is with the Bahá'í concept of God. And that concept begins with the realization
that God is unknowable.
Bahá'u'lláh taught that
God is the Creator of the universe and its absolute ruler. His nature is limitless,
infinite and all-powerful. It is therefore impossible for mortal men and women, with
limited intellect and finite capacities, to directly comprehend or understand the Divine
reality, Its motives or the way It operates.
While unknowable in His essence, God has
chosen to make Himself known to humanity through a series of divine Messengers.
These Messengers have been the only way to
knowledge of God, and their number includes the Founders of the world's great religions:
Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, and Muhammad--to name those Messengers who are
Bahá'ís also include other prophets in this
group, such as Noah and Abraham.
"A new life is, in this age, stirring within all the peoples of
the earth..." -- Bahá'u'lláh
The Messengers, in Bahá'u'lláh's words, are
"Manifestations of God." The Manifestations are perfect mirrors of God's
attributes and perfection, providing a pure channel for the communication of God's will
This idea--that God has sent a succession of
Messengers to educate humanity--is called "progressive revelation." An analogy
is the process of schooling. Just as children start with simple ideas in the primary
grades, and are given increasingly complex knowledge as they move on through secondary
school and college, so humanity has been "educated" by a series of
Manifestations. In each age, the teachings of the Messens~ers of God have conformed not to
Their knowledge but to the level of our collective maturity.
A Two-Fold Station
The Manifestations of God have a
two-fold station. On the one hand, they are Divine beings, reflecting perfectly God's
will. On the other hand, they are humans, subject to birth, disease, suffering and death.
They have different physical identities and they address humanity at different stages in
history. These differences give rise to cultural distinctions between religions that
sometimes conceal their inherent unity.
"The Word of God hath set the heart of the world afire; how
regrettable if ye fail to be enkindled with its flame!" --Bahá'u'lláh
"Every Prophet Whom the Almighty and
Peerless Creator hath purposed to send to the peoples of the earth hath been entrusted
with a Message, and charged to act in a manner that would best meet the requirements of
the age in which He appeared," Bahá'u'lláh said.
Fundamentally, however, the spiritual message
of God's Messengers has been universally the same. Each has stressed the importance of
love for God, obedience to His will, and love for humanity. Although the words have
varied, each has taught the "Golden Rule"--that individuals should treat others
as they would like to be treated themselves.
"Know thou assuredly that the essence of
all the Prophets of God is one and the same." Bahá'u'lláh
wrote. "Their unity is absolute. God, the Creator, saith: There is no distinction
whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message..."
The Manifestations of God communicate God's
will to humanity through the process of divine revelation. This process of revelation has
been recorded in the world's great holy books--books that range from the Torah to the
Qur'an, and which include Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Zoroastrian scriptures. These
writings represent humanity's record of God's revealed Word.
Bahá'u'lláh says that the Word of God is the "master key" for
the whole world. Only it can unlock the spiritual potential latent within every
individual; only it can help us develop to our fullest potential. Without the Word of God,
humans would remain captives of instinct and cultural conditioning, dwelling only on
qualities that are associated with physical survival. Greed, selfishness, dishonesty,
corruption and the like inevitably flourish if there is no divine guidance.
"The door of the knowledge of the Ancient Being hath ever been,
and will continue for ever to be, closed in the face of men. No man's understanding shall
ever gain access unto His holy court. As a token of His mercy, however, and as a proof of
His loving-kindness, He hath manifested unto men the Day Stars of His divine guidance, the
Symbols of His divine unity, and hath ordained the knowledge of these sanctified Beings to
be identical with the knowledge of His own Self.... Every one of them is the Way of God
that connecteth this world with the realms above..." --Bahá'u'lláh
For Bahá'ís, the books,
tablets and letters penned by Bahá'u'lláh represent today the Word of God renewed.
Although they are consistent with past religious revelations, and represent "the
changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future," the writings of
Bahá'u'lláh also contain fresh truths about God's will for