June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Very good approach. I also think that God manifests His love and compassion for us thru His creation, be it in the form of human beings or nature itself. But getting to know this is a life-long process and each one of us has his own unique experience. In religion most of us look for transcendency and meaning to our lives; we need to believe in a God that’s not only the Supreme Inteligence but also the Supreme Compassion; a compassion that is made visible and tangible by all that that surround us and all that exists in the Universe.
Cori Correa (February 2, 2016 at 10:46 PM)
Hi Cori, Thanks for the kind comment 🙂 Yes, I think you raise a good point! I wonder to what extent His greatest expressions of love, compassion and other attributes toward us may come through other humans, such as parents, partners or even a Manifestation of God (which we might say is an incomparable kind of a quasi-human!).
Sandy Williams (February 2, 2016 at 1:25 AM)
I just think it is wonderful how God gives us these teachings just when we are ready to learn from them. It was just last night when i worried about things that you now explained and made me think with more peacefully. Thank you for the article!
Leena (February 2, 2016 at 6:27 AM)
Yes. What a nice coincidence 🙂 I’m glad the post was useful. Thank you for for your comment!
Sandy Williams (February 2, 2016 at 1:27 AM)
Thank You for sharin this article. It has very interestin expects on how we has Bahai’s & even more how all see & feel about how we should love God & show this love. I’m goin to share this article w/my Study Circles & Devotionals.
Anne Turner (February 2, 2016 at 10:12 PM)
Thanks for the comment! Glad you liked the post. All the best with the study circles and devotionals!
Sandy Williams (February 2, 2016 at 1:28 AM)
I was enthralled to see the connection this author made between our loving God and Him being the Unknowable Essence. A wonderful insight. I’ve often pondered it and I think it is largely misunderstood in Bahá’i circles.
You see, I love God passionately and have since a young child. I think it’s a gift I have and I’m eternally grateful for it.
An important point… God is not unknowable. In fact we pray everyday if we use the short obligatory prayer, that we are created to know Him.
It is His Essence which remains unknowable. This is an important distinction. I know and love God because I’ve walked and talked with Him forever. He is closer than my “life vein” and its natural that I love Him because he is amazing and showers His love on me in many many small and big confirmations and blessings moment by moment, day by day. I fear Him too because He’s awesome too.
Just because I can’t sense Him with my eyes or ears or smell or touch or taste… doesn’t mean I can’t sense Him. We have other senses. That’s why it’s called the Bahá’i Faith. It’s not a philosophy. It’s a matter of faith. By faith we can love Him and then our faith grows and becomes strong just like our bodies do when we look after them.
It is a great blessing that we don’t know God through our normal senses, because as science is now discovering, we all perceive things differently and inaccurately with our senses. Our senses are unreliable. To know God through touch or sight would a pollution through the intervention of our mortal senses. But through our immortal gift of spirit and faith – our love for Him can be the purest most beautiful possession imaginable.
“Commune with my Spirit. This is the essence of my command”. I hope you lovingly do so, especially during the upcoming fast.
That’s what I’d like on my tombstone… He loved God
Anton Clark (February 2, 2016 at 11:21 PM)
Thanks for the reflections and sentiments, Anton. And what a lovely tombstone 🙂
Sandy Williams (February 2, 2016 at 1:35 AM)
I AM the Me that I AM, not the me i think i am.
Allen Warren (February 2, 2016 at 7:22 PM)
Love the article! Trusting in God is such an elevated concept and a wonderful choice for all of us to make! Personally, I felt like the elevated tone dropped with the mention of whether a piece of clothing makes you look fat, as our appearance is immaterial and irrelevant to our spiritual development. I find that we have to work super hard to change the media messages women receive today telling us women’s appearance almost determines their worth. Meanwhile, thanks for a well thought-out article and the beautiful story of the Baha’is in Akka – such an important reminder for us all to trust even though we might never know the outcome.
Lorraine Manifold (July 7, 2016 at 11:36 PM)
Hi Lorraine, Thanks for the positive feedback! And yes, perhaps it would have been better to have another example which is potentially less tone-dropping or related to a subject that is sensitive for many people. I hope it nevertheless illustrated the underlying point. Regardless, thanks again for reading and commenting 🙂
Sandy Williams (July 7, 2016 at 6:07 AM)