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A User’s Guide to God Passes By

June 25, 2022, in Articles > Books, by

With a raging war, a frightening pandemic, climate chaos and divided democracies, we need protection against succumbing to anxiety or despair.

One potent preventative–or antidote–is to spend time with God Passes By, 1 which Shoghi Effendi wrote in the perilous days of World War II.

Here is a user’s guide to “the greatest epic of the millennium.” 2

What is God Passes By?

Published in 1944, the book is the only full-length narrative that Shoghi Effendi wrote, that fact testifying to the importance he saw in its content.

It is a historical survey of the first 100 years of the Baha’i Faith. Its 25 chapters cover the Ministries of the Bab, Baha’u’llah and Abdul-Baha as well as the first 23 years of the Formative Age of the Faith.

Who wrote the title?

At Shoghi Effendi’s request for input on the title, his long-time editorial advisor, George Townshend of Ireland (in 1951 appointed a Hand of the Cause), cabled three words: “God Passes By”. The Guardian replied: “Delighted Title.” This title can be seen to poetically refer to progressive revelation.

Is it a long book?

It is comprehensive but not extraordinarily lengthy.

As Mr Ali Nakhjavani has written in his excellent description, 3 it has 412 pages, of which 41 pages are quotations from sacred scripture and from other people.

There are three useful stand-alone sections: a foreword and “retrospect and prospect” by Shoghi Effendi, and an introduction by Mr Townshend.

What was Shoghi Effendi’s purpose in writing the book?

The Guardian said his purpose was not to write a detailed history but rather a survey of the important events connected to the birth and rise of the Baha’i Faith and its administrative system.

He also said he intended to show how disasters and other setbacks had often proven to be a prelude to fresh, stimulating triumphs that consolidated past achievements.

Why not just rely on reading summaries?

Summaries are useful, and we have been conditioned to scan them, but this detailed book provides comprehensive accounts and perspectives that ground us in deep understandings that water the seeds of inspiration and steadfastness.

So what effect can it have on us?

Baha’is are now summoned to be involved in society-building processes of the utmost importance in a challenging world drained of trust and hope.

God Passes By will arouse, inspire and confirm a belief in Baha’u’llah’s promise that a golden age awaits humanity when it is united in a society based on justice and love.

It will also give us role models–our noble predecessors in the first 100 years, and the ultimate exemplar, Abdu’l-Baha, whom the author knew so well.

There is also something intrinsically pleasurable about reading this book, something rather mysterious. It can make our emotional and intellectual bonds with the Baha’i Faith even stronger.

Does it address today’s events?

Readers will see the relevance of the prescription for peace given by Baha’u’llah–a united global society–that would prevent wars, pandemics and climate emergencies.

There is another reason too, as Hand of the Cause Ugo Giachery pointed out:

To know Shoghi Effendi’s literary work is to know and love him, to penetrate deeply into the discovery of his personality and the world of reality in which he lived. 4

How did Shoghi Effendi write it?

He researched by reading the equivalent of 200 books that included references to the Baha’i Faith by Baha’is and other authors. He had an “inexhaustible” memory, said Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum, and so no doubt he was able to retrieve from it valuable information and perspectives given him by Abdu’l-Baha.

Shoghi Effendi often read his sentences aloud as he wrote them, and changed them if he thought it necessary. He wrote longhand in small pads and then typed up the text, later adding diacritics.

For two years he spent 10 hour days working on the manuscript to meet the 1944 anniversary deadline, his eyes bloodshot, his back stiff with exhaustion, and aware that he still had to work on the project to develop the Shrine of the Bab and answer mountains of correspondence.

What is the best way to read it?

I recommend you read it in the same way as you would tackle a rich fruit cake, one slice at a time, taking the time to slowly digest each morsel.

It is best not to hurriedly bolt it down and race to the end.

Read a chapter at a time. Most are under 20 pages long. Check out the Table of Contents which briefly explains the content of each chapter.

The Guardian was an expert at compressing information. Each chapter is rich in facts and analysis and each few lines can be fascinating if you give yourself time.

There are long sentences which, if printed out, you can go through line by line and be stunned by the beauty and insights. I suggest reading them aloud.

But is it too difficult?

It is not if you read it slowly. Nevertheless, it will provide occasional challenges, so the book comes with a bonus of a free education. Ruhiyyih Khanum said Shoghi Effendi set a standard that “educates and raises the cultural level” of readers at the same time that it feeds their “mind and soul with thoughts and truth.”

How do Baha’i historians view the book?

The description “Mother” of future histories, given by Ruhiyyih Khaum in her own must-read book, The Priceless Pearl, 5 gives an idea of its value to Baha’i historians.

She said, and Baha’i historians would surely agree, the book is

a veritable essence of essences; from this single hundred-year history, fifty books could easily be written and none of them would superficial or lacking in material, so rich is the source provided by the Guardian, so condensed his treatment of it.

How do Baha’i authors regard Shoghi Effendi as a writer?

This quotation from Ugo Giachery says it all:

He dealt with an intangible subject in a way no other writer can ever approach, for lack of the spiritual stature which he possessed. His pen penetrated the most remote by-ways of human feelings, bringing tears to the eyes and gripping the heart with a variety of new emotions. 6

What is a good general description of the book?

George Townshend eloquently wrote in his introduction that the book is

a history filled with love and happiness and vision and strength, telling of triumphs gained and wider triumphs yet to come; and whatever it holds of darkest tragedy it leaves mankind at its close not facing a grim inhospitable future but marching out from the shadows on the high road of an inevitable density towards the opened gates of the Promised City of Eternal Peace.

How did Shoghi Effendi envision the story of the Faith in its first century?

He wrote of an “indivisible, stupendous and sublime drama, whose mystery no intellect can fathom, whose climax no eye can even dimly perceive, whose conclusion no mind can adequately foreshadow.”

Who is the central figure in the book?

Mr Townshend wrote: “The narrative centres around one majestic lonely Figure, and its animating motive is the infinite transcendent love He bears for all mankind and the answering love which He draws forth from the hearts of the faithful.”

In addition, the descriptions of the Master are brilliant. Try chapter XIX for example.

What did the author say about himself as Guardian?

Demonstrating an astounding level of humility, Shoghi Effendi wrote almost nothing about himself in God Passes By. In the foreword, he wrote briefly of his purpose in writing the book but in the text itself there is only a brief mention of the institution of the Guardianship in the list of provisions of the Master’s Will and Testament.

Is there a Persian edition?

After Shoghi Effendi completed the English edition of God Passes By, Shoghi Effendi wrote a 100 pages “epistle” in Persian on the same subject, a masterpiece in itself. Said Ruhiyyih Khanum: “I would hear his voice chanting his composition to himself as he wrote, infinitely plaintive, infinitely beautiful.”

What’s an example that shows the superb quality of writing?

Two sentences on the first page of the opening chapter give an idea of the quality of the writing:

We behold, as we survey the episodes of this first act of a sublime drama, the figure of its Master Hero, the Bab, arise meteor-like above the horizon of Shiraz, traverse the sombre sky of Persia from south to north, decline with tragic swiftness, and perish in a blaze of glory. We see His satellites, a galaxy of God-intoxicated heroes, mount above that same horizon, irradiate that same incandescent light, burn themselves out with that self-same swiftness, and impart in their turn an added impetus to the steadily gathering momentum of God’s nascent Faith.

What other books can elevate our appreciation of God Passes By?

1.The Priceless Pearl by Ruhiyyih Rabbani

2. Shoghi Effendi: The Range and Power of His Pen by Ali Nakhjavani

3Shoghi Effendi: Recollections by Ugo Giachery

4A Celestial Burning: A Selective Study of the Writings of Shoghi Effendi by J. A. McLean

Where can I read a copy?

You can read God Passes By in its entirety on the Baha’i Reference Library: God Passes By

You can also purchase a copy from Baha’i Books Australia here: God Passes By

Footnotes & Citations
  1. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By (1944), Wilmette, Il: Baha’i Publishing Trust, rev. ed. 1974[]
  2. Ugo Giachery, Shoghi Effendi: Recollections. Oxford: George Ronald, 1973, p. 37[]
  3. Ali Nakhjavani, Shoghi Effendi: The Range and Power of His Pen. Rome: Casa Editrice Baha’i. rev.ed. 2007[]
  4. Ugo Giachery, Shoghi Effendi: Recollections, p. 29[]
  5. Rabbani, Ruhiyyih. The Priceless Pearl. London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1969[]
  6. Giachery, Shoghi Effendi: Recollections, p. 31[]
Posted by

Michael Day

Michael Day is the author of "Journey to a Mountain", "Coronation on Carmel" and "Sacred Stairway", a trilogy that tells the story of the Shrine of the Bab, as well as a photo book “Queen of Carmel" on the same topic. He also authored the 2021 publication "Fragrance of Glory: An account of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha". He was a journalist for daily newspapers in Australia and New Zealand. Then, from 2003-2006, he was the editor of the Baha’i World News Service at the Baha’i World Centre. Now based in Benowa, Gold Coast, Australia, he is researching and writing on aspects of Baha’i history.

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