Baha’is believe that us humans were created to love God.
At first glance, this seems to be in tension with the Baha’i teaching that God is an unknowable Essence. Imagine if I, a Baha’i, told you that I’m completely in love with something. You then ask me what that thing is. I respond, “I have no idea, but I love it a lot.” That seems weird, right?
So how, then, could a Baha’i love God without believing something that is weird at the best and incoherent at the worst? Here’s one perspective.
We can first distinguish knowledge of God’s essence from knowledge of God’s attributes. In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha says that we cannot know the essence of the sun, which presumably would be analogous to having some God’s-eye view of every fact to do with the sun. But He says we can comprehend the sun through its attributes – its heat and its light. Abdu’l-Baha states that we can think of God similarly – we cannot know His essence, but we can know His attributes according to our capacity. These attributes include being loving, forgiving, merciful, powerful and all-knowing. So perhaps a Baha’i could say that they love God because they know His attributes.
But practically speaking, how does one foster this love? Does one sit in their room and try to imagine a thing that has all the divine attributes which they then love with all of their heart? Maybe that’s a start, but I suggest that there’s more to the puzzle of how one loves God – namely, that we can love God through seeing His blessings in this world as expressions of His attributes.
I think that this quote from Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah provides some pieces of the puzzle:
Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him. Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties. Render thanks and praise unto Him, and be of them that are truly thankful.1
I think this quote is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it states that there is nothing wrong with partaking of the benefits of the world. Baha’is can consequently enjoy the pleasure of transitory things which some ascetic religious adherents shun. These may include, for example, back massages, perfumes, games, yummy food and dance music (my favourite).
However, the second interesting thing about this is not only that Baha’is can partake of these things, but also that they should partake of them and be grateful to God in doing so. Recall that Baha’u’llah actually exhorts one to “Eat” of “the good things that God hath allowed”. He seems to be metaphorically stating that we should partake of the blessings of the world here. But He also exhorts us to be thankful to God for these things!
So it seems to me as if this quote supports the general idea that we should be loving toward God for the bounties that He provides us with in this world. These bounties, I presume, also include blessings less trivial than, say, back rubs – such as genuine love between humans and the fulfilling service that we can render to others.
This might sound all good up until we hit another paradox. In The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah says,
Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.2
It might seem as if Baha’u’llah is implicitly endorsing a principle like this: if something is transitory, don’t get happy or sad about it. If we endorse this principle, then all of sudden, we seem to have to have no reason to be happy about the transitory blessings of God. The back rub is just something which happens, but it’s temporary, and nothing to be stoked about. Why, then, should I be grateful to God for something which I have no reason to feel positive about? And furthermore, how depressing is a world view which says that I can’t even enjoy a simple back rub?
Here’s one approach to the paradox. Perhaps these quotes from Baha’u’llah collectively suggest that at a higher level of consciousness, one sees the transitory blessings of this world as opportunities to rejoice in the eternal attributes of God and not in the transitory expressions of those attributes. For instance, one might see back rubs, feelings of fulfilment from particular acts of service and the like as being expressions of God’s love for humanity. This way, one can enjoy a back rub while not delighting in something purely ephemeral. We are therefore no longer left with a seeming contradiction nor a depressing world view.
If one thinks this is a perspective that’s worth having, then how does one go about developing this gratitude? Yet again, a hint may be found in the writings. In Tablets of Baha’u’llah, we find the exhortation to…
Ponder ye in your hearts the grace and the blessings of God and render thanks unto Him at eventide and at dawn.3
This is an interesting practice (and one which I am still trying to foster) alongside other spiritual habits like prayer, fasting, and reading the Writings. To sum up, it seems that we can love God through practicing gratitude daily whereby we see the blessings of this world as being expressions of God’s eternal attributes.
These are but a few of my thoughts on cultivating a love of God, a topic deserving of a lifetime of study. What do you think? If you’re looking for more thoughts on our relationship to God, Steph wrote about 4 Things to Help You Develop Your Relation with God, Matt reflected on the Fear of God, and Sam wondered about the nature of God.