Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Paragraph 120

Consider how with this one verse which hath descended from the heaven of the Will of God, the world and all that is therein have been brought to a reckoning with Him. Whosoever acknowledged His truth and turned unto Him, his good works outweighed his misdeeds, and all his sins were remitted and forgiven. Thereby is the truth of these words concerning Him made manifest: “Swift is He in reckoning.” Thus God turneth iniquity into righteousness, were ye to explore the realms of divine knowledge, and fathom the mysteries of His wisdom. In like manner, whosoever partook of the cup of love, obtained his portion of the ocean of eternal grace and of the showers of everlasting mercy, and entered into the life of faith—the heavenly and everlasting life. But he that turned away from that cup was condemned to eternal death. By the terms “life” and “death,” spoken of in the scriptures, is intended the life of faith and the death of unbelief. The generality of the people, owing to their failure to grasp the meaning of these words, rejected and despised the person of the Manifestation, deprived themselves of the light of His divine guidance, and refused to follow the example of that immortal Beauty.

You may notice the similarity between this and the previous paragraphs. In the last few, He talked about how, with a single word, Muhammad separated all these things from all these other things, such as "light from darkness, the righteous from the ungodly, and the believing from the infidel". He also mentioned the problem with taking some of these verses literally, such as the lamb and the wolf enjoying a good meal together.

Here, as in many instances in Part 1, He points out that life and death, when mentioned in the scriptures, in this manner, means "the life of faith and the death of unbelief". In other words, it is not meant to be taken literally.

We could talk about this a lot, really, but it seems that anything we say would be merely repeating what Baha'u'llah has already said, and we would do it in a more lengthy, and less interesting, manner.

Instead, we noticed the word "consider". This is a point where we can consider so many things, and this time we want to use this paragraph to do something a little different. Look at the word "ocean". It is used here in a similar manner to how He uses it elsewhere in this book, so we would see how it is used throughout.

The first instance, as you will no doubt recall, is in the very first sentence: No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding... (1)

He also refers, in subsequent paragraphs, to:
  • the ocean of the divine presence (2)
  • ocean of truths treasured in these holy words (3)
  • the ocean of true understanding (4)
  • the ocean of His bountiful grace (5)
  • the ocean of divine knowledge (6)
  • the billowing ocean of God's grace (7)
  • the ocean of His tender mercies (8)
  • the oceans of wisdom (9)
  • the ocean of eternal grace (10)
  • the ocean of faith (11)
  • the ocean of divine mercy (12)
  • the ocean of the inner meaning of these words (13)
  • the Ocean of everlasting bounty (14)
  • the ocean of eternal grace (15)
  • the ocean of acceptance (16)
  • the ocean of His knowledge (17)
  • the oceans of ancient and everlasting holiness (18)
  • the ocean of ancient Knowledge (19)
  • that Ocean of divine wisdom (20)
That's a lot of oceans.

As we noticed, fairly quickly, many of them refer to some form of knowledge.

But is there a path here? Well, let's find out.

It begins with the ocean of true understanding (1) and our search to reach its shores. Let's suppose that this desire comes from our understanding of the previous scriptures. We begin with sincere search, and attain, in the Day of our Lord, the divine presence(2). Once we have attained His presence, we truly begin to see the deep truths treasured in these holy words (3), as we are discovering in this very book. This leads us on to a true understanding (4), and helps us unravel the mysteries in those very texts.

When we reach this higher understanding, based on the Writings of Baha'u'llah, we begin to receive His bountiful grace (5), which carries us forward to divine knowledge (6). Previously, it may have been our own deficient knowledge, based on our sincere understanding, but now it is closer to Baha'u'llah's, and yet we are still only at the very beginning of this path. We must continue to study and reflect on His Words. We must act on them, moving them off the page and into our daily lives. We have to reflect on our actions and, in light of the guidance from His mighty Pen, strive to make every day an improvement over yesterday. This is when we will get a far greater sense of the billowing ocean of God's grace (7). This is when we can truly see His tender mercies (8).

Sometimes, though, we will encounter tests and difficulties. This isn't just a possibility. It is a guarantee. As we move forward, we know that we are making progress because the road is getting more difficult. If it wasn't getting more difficult, we wouldn't be able to grow. It is like when we exercise our body. If we do not push ourselves, we will not gain any benefit. When we look past our own comfort to the end of things, then we can begin to sense God's wisdom (9). When we reconcile ourselves to God's will, and strive to maintain that radiant acquiescence in the face of tests and trials, then we can begin to get a sense of His eternal grace (10). Again, it may seem like step seven, but it is, in truth, a spiral. We see this grace at a higher level. We understand more thoroughly that He is always bestowing upon us His ever-loving favours. We see the wisdom of the struggle, and the benefits that arise from it. and while we may not actively enjoy it, we accept it gracefully and radiantly.

This is when we have truly started on that path of faith (11) that Baha'u'llah describes, that path in which we are willing to give up everything. When we do this, all those tests and trials seem to fade in His light, and we sense that continual divine mercy (12) in our life. It is not a temporary thing, that we only sense when things are going well, but even recognize when those difficult times are before us.

It is only then that we can truly start to appreciate the inner meaning of these words (13), and not just their surface meaning. We see many layers of meaning in all His Words. We see truths in the former scriptures that we never sensed before, things that were hidden to our eyes, but are now evident in light of historical experience. Now we begin to sense His everlasting bounty (14) in a whole new way, and can get an even higher sense of that eternal grace (15). As we read the Iqan, we recognize that this eternal grace is far more profound than we had imagined. This is when we are better able to enter into that state of acceptance (16) with whatsoever He has ordained. We see more clearly that cycle He has described of crisis and victory. We see the various twistings and turnings of history as nothing more than curves on that eternal road of history, leading us ever forward to that promised Kingdom.

When we see this, when we truly begin to accept whatever He has ordained for us, then we find ourselves at a whole new level of His knowledge (17). This is when we begin to get an even grander sense of His ancient and everlasting holiness (18). This is when we can clearly see the truths in all faiths and recognize His overwhelming presence in all of history. We see ourselves not as some random, final pinnacle of history, but as another step in that eternal path God has laid out for us. We see ourselves and our Faith as another pearl on that divine strand. We see the ancient Knowledge (19) intermingled, and identical to, that present Knowledge, which has been restated for today.

This, dear Reader, is when we truly begin to get a greater sense of the divine wisdom (20) that pervades all aspects of our life.

Even with all of this, we can still recall that this incredible book was written before Baha'u'llah declared His mission. And that, dear Reader, fills us with even more awe and wonder.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Paragraph 119

This is the significance of the well-known words: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together.” Behold the ignorance and folly of those who, like the nations of old, are still expecting to witness the time when these beasts will feed together in one pasture! Such is their low estate. Methinks, never have their lips touched the cup of understanding, neither have their feet trodden the path of justice. Besides, of what profit would it be to the world were such a thing to take place? How well hath He spoken concerning them: “Hearts have they, with which they understand not, and eyes have they with which they see not!”

What is the significance? This refers to the last sentence from the previous paragraph that says "how numerous are those peoples of divers beliefs, of conflicting creeds, and opposing temperaments, who, through the reviving fragrance of the Divine springtime, breathing from the Riḍván of God, have been arrayed with the new robe of divine Unity, and have drunk from the cup of His singleness."

Once again, as we saw throughout Part 1, Baha'u'llah is lamenting the state of those people who see these passages as being interpreted literally. And then, interestingly enough, He links together understanding and justice, pointing out that these literal interpreter have neither.

But why here? What does this have to do with His essay on sovereignty? It might just be a reminder to not interpret this sovereignty literally, as the uncle seemed to want to do. Over and over in Part 1 He talked about how these verses from Jesus, quoted in Matthew 24, had myriads of meanings, and that the literal should not be seen as the only one. Here, He seems to be making the same point, but with something more relevant to the questions of the uncle.

As usual, though, it seems that He is talking to a far greater audience than just the uncle. It seems that He is warning us, too, to avoid literalism. If we cling to literal interpretations, He seems to say, then we will not understand the true and deeper spiritual meanings within the text. And if we don't understand, then we will not be able to act with justice, that "best beloved of all things in (His) sight".

There is another point, though, that catches our attention. Why is He choosing this particular verse to examine in this paragraph? Is it just because of the obviousness of it? The sheer absurdity of trying to take it literally? Or is there, perhaps, more?

As you can no doubt guess, we think there is more.

To get a better understanding of this verse, we decided to go back to the source, Isaiah 65. As we read through it, it seemed that there were a lot of references to Baha'u'llah, the Bab, and everything that was happening at the time.

The very beginning, with its references to a nation that is not called by His name, and stretching out His hands to even the rebellious, seems to apply to every Day of God. Even in Long Obligatory Prayer, Baha'u'llah has us say "and by the words 'Here am I, Here am I,' which Thy chosen Ones have uttered in this immensity..." These very words we say every day hearken back to this chapter of Isaiah.

Later, though, in Isaiah 65:9 and 10, He makes all these references to the Holy Land. One that sticks out for many Baha'is is the reference to the Valley of Achor. Now, some Baha'is mis-interpret this as the Valley of Akka, which it isn't. The Valley of Achor is south of Jericho, which is quite some distance away. And yet, 'Abdu'l-Baha clearly says, "It is recorded in the Torah: And I will give you the valley of Achor for a door of hope. This valley of Achor is the city of ‘Akká, and whoso hath interpreted this otherwise is of those who know not." So does that mean He is wrong? Well, the Valley of Achor literally means the Valley of Repugnance, so named because of the horrific events that happened there. That is the literal interpretation of the name. Perhaps 'Abdu'l-Baha is telling us that it is not a literal interpretation of the original Valley of Achor, south of Jericho, but rather this new valley of repugnance, Akka, so named "repugnant" because of the terrible things that happened there in Baha'u'llah's life. We don't actually know, but it is the only way we can reconcile this.

But just a few verses later, Isaiah refers to the holy mountain, and Gad and Meni. The holy mountain could easily be Mount Carmel, and Gad and Meni refer to general names for stars and constellations, as well as Jupiter and Mercury. Given all that Baha'u'llah has already said about the stars and the heavens in Part 1, this could be another oblique reference.

Verse 17 on, though, is all about the new creation and new Jerusalem. It seems to us that He is clearly referencing this, drawing the attention of the careful reader to all the wonderful statements that occur in that incredible Book.

So what does all this mean? Well, read the last half of Isaiah 65 and see for yourself. It is a promise of great things that will happen in the time of the Promised One. And when we look at all the various prophecies of Isaiah, we feel it is good to be reminded of them. Surely it must have been a source of great comfort to the Babis, too, as they suffered such hardships at the time this book was written.

Up until now, in this book, Baha'u'llah has had us continually looking to the past. It seems that here, He is also asking us to look to the future.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Paragraph 118

The following is an evidence of the sovereignty exercised by Muḥammad, the Day-star of Truth. Hast thou not heard how with one single verse He hath sundered light from darkness, the righteous from the ungodly, and the believing from the infidel? All the signs and allusions concerning the Day of Judgment, which thou hast heard, such as the raising of the dead, the Day of Reckoning, the Last Judgment, and others have been made manifest through the revelation of that verse. These revealed words were a blessing to the righteous who on hearing them exclaimed: “O God our Lord, we have heard, and obeyed.” They were a curse to the people of iniquity who, on hearing them affirmed: “We have heard and rebelled.” Those words, sharp as the sword of God, have separated the faithful from the infidel, and severed father from son. Thou hast surely witnessed how they that have confessed their faith in Him and they that rejected Him have warred against each other, and sought one another’s property. How many fathers have turned away from their sons; how many lovers have shunned their beloved! So mercilessly trenchant was this wondrous sword of God that it cleft asunder every relationship! On the other hand, consider the welding power of His Word. Observe, how those in whose midst the Satan of self had for years sown the seeds of malice and hate became so fused and blended through their allegiance to this wondrous and transcendent Revelation that it seemed as if they had sprung from the same loins. Such is the binding force of the Word of God, which uniteth the hearts of them that have renounced all else but Him, who have believed in His signs, and quaffed from the Hand of glory the Kawthar of God’s holy grace. Furthermore, how numerous are those peoples of divers beliefs, of conflicting creeds, and opposing temperaments, who, through the reviving fragrance of the Divine springtime, breathing from the Riḍván of God, have been arrayed with the new robe of divine Unity, and have drunk from the cup of His singleness!

This is all under the topic of true sovereignty, and how the Bab demonstrates His sovereignty. As we can see, He is using the story of Muhammad to demonstrate the similarity to the story of the Bab.

Here, in this paragraph, we are being asked to consider what we have heard, namely that with a single verse Muhammad "sundered light from darkness, the righteous from the ungodly, and the believing from the infidel". This leads to a basic question, though. Which verse ? Nobody really knows, it could be any of them. But it doesn't really matter, does it? After all, as Hooper Dunbar says in his study guide to this book, a "verse such as 'Verily, I am the Messenger of God unto you all' (7:18) uttered by Muhammad would produce the results mentioned." So rather than try to figure out the history behind this, let's look instead at the paragraph itself.

One thing that stands out for us is the idea that this verse, whichever one it may be, is a blessing for the righteous, and "a curse to the people of iniquity". It reminds us of paragraph 61, where Baha'u'llah says, "such deeds and words are the fire of vengeance unto the wicked, and inwardly the waters of mercy unto the righteous". This is a concept that He has already introduced to us, so the idea of the dual nature of the Word should not come as a surprise. But to find the positive side of this nature,
it is not with the mind that we must search. "Were the eye of the heart to open," Baha'u'llah informs us, "it would surely perceive that the words revealed from the heaven of the will of God are at one with, and the same as, the deeds that have emanated from the Kingdom of divine power."

This is where we must turn, we read time and again, if we want to begin to discover the inner meaning of the Word, and come to a better understanding of the nature of the Manifestations.

It brings us right back to paragraph 2. We "must cleanse (ourselves) of all that is earthly". We have to cleanse our ears from idle talk, our minds from vain imaginings, our hearts from worldly affections, and our eyes from that which perishes. If we do, then haply, with luck, we might attain that station which God has destined for us, as Baha'u'llah says in paragraph 1. But if we don't cleanse ourselves, then we won't even have that chance. And who can judge our decision? Well, that is the role of the Manifestation. After all, He is the Sovereign.

But here we must be cautious. We are not the judge. We cannot judge another's decision. That is not our role. As Jesus so famously said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Here, in this paragraph, Baha'u'llah makes reference to those who "warred against each other, and sought one another's property", those fathers who "turned away from their sons", those lovers who "shunned their beloved". These examples are a very active stance. They are not the passive acceptance of another's decision, but the condemnation of someone for believing differently. Sure, those who don't follow the new Message may not be "arrayed with the new robe of divine Unity", but that doesn't mean that they are actively against the new Faith.

It seems as if Baha'u'llah is, in actuality, giving us three examples. There are those who are "so fused and blended through their allegiance" that they become a new creation. There are those who rebel to such an extent that they create this state of war. And then there are those, not mentioned, who sit by and do nothing.

We want to strive to be in that first category. But we also want to be careful not to slip inadvertently into that second category, condemning those who believe differently.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Paragraph 117

Consider, how great is the change today! Behold, how many are the Sovereigns who bow the knee before His name! How numerous the nations and kingdoms who have sought the shelter of His shadow, who bear allegiance to His Faith, and pride themselves therein! From the pulpit-top there ascendeth today the words of praise which, in utter lowliness, glorify His blessed name; and from the heights of minarets there resoundeth the call that summoneth the concourse of His people to adore Him. Even those Kings of the earth who have refused to embrace His Faith and to put off the garment of unbelief, none the less confess and acknowledge the greatness and overpowering majesty of that Day-star of loving kindness. Such is His earthly sovereignty, the evidences of which thou dost on every side behold. This sovereignty must needs be revealed and established either in the lifetime of every Manifestation of God or after His ascension unto His true habitation in the realms above. What thou dost witness today is but a confirmation of this truth. That spiritual ascendency, however, which is primarily intended, resideth within, and revolveth around Them from eternity even unto eternity. It can never for a moment be divorced from Them. Its dominion hath encompassed all that is in heaven and on earth.

"Consider". Ponder, reflect: how often has Baha'u'llah asked us to do this throughout the book? Previously He asked us to "Consider the past", but now He is asking us to consider today.

Although He is asking this of the uncle of the Bab, He is also asking it of us. Rather than look at the "today" of the 1860's, we have decided to look at the today of... well, today.

Right now, leading up to the year of 2020, there is a lot of discussion about religion. Many people are atheist, deriding religion at every turn, presuming that you have to be some sort of blithering idiot to even consider the possibility of a God. On the other hand there is a huge rise in religious fanaticism, where people presume that you must be some sort of evil incarnate if you dare to believe anything differently than they do. Triumphalism, no matter one's belief, has taken hold of our civilization like we haven't seen since the Protestant wars in Europe those many years ago.

Baha'u'llah, here, has asked us to consider the change today, the difference between how people regarded Muhammad during His life, and how they regard Him now. The change is quite remarkable. And He is alluding to the truth that the people of the world will regard the Bab quite differently in the future from how they do today.

When we consider today, we discover fanaticism and atheism, with very little in the middle. The Bab, however, called us to unity and a new understanding of God. This really comes into play when we look at those two extremes. But as the Universal House of Justice said, "The scriptures have not changed; the moral principles they contain have lost none of their validity." We can see that people truly do find solace in their sacred scriptures, but need a new definition of God to be able to move forward. This is, perhaps, the truth that the atheists are unconsciously recognizing.

This is something that every Manifestation of God does; They give us new definitions to work with. They raise our vision and give us a greater awareness of the world around us, and a more effective way to make a difference. They truly infuse in each word a new meaning, and through this, allow us to climb to undreamt of heights in the spiritual realms.

Their "spiritual ascendancy... resideth within" Them, and is eternal. It takes a while, though, for the world to catch up to that. It takes years, generations, and sometimes centuries, for us to recognize this. But recognize it we will.

For now, we have the advantage of knowing these new definitions that Baha'u'llah, as well as the Bab, has given us. We can work with them and see new truths in the scriptures, both our own and those of old, which allow us to conceive of ideas that had previously been unthinkable and unbelievable.

And this leads us back to the uncle of the Bab. Why didn't he recognize his Nephew? In short, it's because one of the things he was looking for was an earthly sovereignty. He had his own fixed ideas, based on the teachings of the culture at the time, of what the Promised One would look like, and the Bab didn't meet that criteria. Slowly, over the length of this Book, Baha'u'llah has helped him reassess his perspective, and re-examine his belief about the sovereignty of the Promised One. He has helped him come to a new understanding of what sovereignty truly is.

It's all about detachment. Remember detachment? That was a major theme in Part 1, and is now the necessary ingredient to begin to see the truths that Baha'u'llah is offering here.

When considering new definitions, you have to be able to move beyond the old ones. You have to be detached from the old in order to see the benefit of the new.

And here it is worth noting that Baha'u'llah is not trying to convince anyone of anything, but is, instead, sharing a perspective for consideration. He is systematically going through these ideas, moving from one concept to the next, and allowing the reader to try and keep up. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why the Guardian considered this a how-to book for teaching. Baha'u'llah is showing us how to recognize a Messenger of God, and, beyond that, how to share that realization with others.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Paragraph 116

We shall cite in this connection only one verse of that Book. Shouldst thou observe it with a discerning eye, thou wilt, all the remaining days of thy life, lament and bewail the injury of Muḥammad, that wronged and oppressed Messenger of God. That verse was revealed at a time when Muḥammad languished weary and sorrowful beneath the weight of the opposition of the people, and of their unceasing torture. In the midst of His agony, the Voice of Gabriel, calling from the Sadratu’l-Muntahá, was heard saying: “But if their opposition be grievous to Thee—if Thou canst, seek out an opening into the earth or a ladder into heaven.". The implication of this utterance is that His case had no remedy, that they would not withhold their hands from Him unless He should hide Himself beneath the depths of the earth, or take His flight unto heaven.

"This connection". Which connection? Well, in the previous paragraph Baha'u'llah mentioned the sufferings of Muhammad. And remember, this is in relation to the sovereignty of the Bab. How could the Bab have the sovereignty of the Qa'im when He suffered so much, and was even executed? This was, basically, the question of His uncle to Baha'u'llah. Here He is reminding us of the very same type of persecutions that Muhammad suffered. And just in case we forget, it is also a study of these sufferings that leads us to certitude of faith, so it's a good thing for us to look at them here.

And "one verse"? Do you remember the last time Baha'u'llah quoted a single verse in this book? It was way back in paragraph 24. Baha'u'llah quoted Jesus in Matthew 24, and that led to so much in Part 1.

But let's look here again. Baha'u'llah is quoting a single verse, “But if their opposition be grievous to Thee—if Thou canst, seek out an opening into the earth or a ladder into heaven.". And if we recall His example from Part 1, there are myriads of meanings contained within this single verse.

The first thing that comes to mind is a saying of Muhammad, Himself: "Prayer is a ladder by which everyone may ascend to Heaven." Following through on the metaphor of the ladder, Baha'u'llah says that music is "a ladder by which souls may ascend to the realm on high." He also said, "Knowledge is as wings to man's life, and a ladder for his ascent." "Obligatory prayer", He said elsewhere, "is a ladder of ascent for the believer." So we have a few different ladders that could also be alluded to here. This ladder to heaven could be a retreat into prayer, the uplifting joy of music, or even knowledge, presumably of the divine.

As for an "opening into the earth", if we look in the Writings, we often see reference to "the earth of men's hearts", or some variation thereof. Perhaps this could also be a reference to His, Muhammad, finding His way into men's hearts, which is, as we know, the seat of God. "Thy heart is My home;", Baha'u'llah writes in the Hidden Words, "sanctify it for My descent."

The question, though, is what does this have to do with us? How can we apply this in our own life? To start, perhaps we can remember these "ladders" when we are faced with sufferings in our own life. We can recall the sufferings of the Manifestations of God, Whose sufferings are outlined so simply and beautifully in the very beginning paragraphs of this book. We can meditate on what it means to find "an opening into the earth", whether that means that there is no escape and we need to face this with radiant acquiescence, or whether we need to find that opening into their heart.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Paragraph 115

For this reason did Muḥammad cry out: “No Prophet of God hath suffered such harm as I have suffered.” And in the Qur’án are recorded all the calumnies and reproaches uttered against Him, as well as all the afflictions which He suffered. Refer ye thereunto, that haply ye may be informed of that which hath befallen His Revelation. So grievous was His plight, that for a time all ceased to hold intercourse with Him and His companions. Whoever associated with Him fell a victim to the relentless cruelty of His enemies.

This paragraph continues the discussion of sovereignty, a most fascinating discussion that covers a large section of the book, and was one of the pivotal questions asked by the uncle of the Bab.

Looking at the beginning, though, we are faced with the immediate question of "For what reason?" Well, this brings us back to the previous paragraph in which Baha'u'llah has described the fierce torment that was instigated by the divines of the age against Muhammad, and also, in His day, against the Bab.

Now something that we see here, which we haven't really commented on for a while, is the word "haply", as well as the phrase "Refer ye thereunto". This reminds us very strongly of Part 1, in which we are regularly encouraged to "reflect", "consider the past", "meditate profoundly", and other phrases used to help us remember to consider what we have already learned through religious history.

Do we think this request that we refer to the past Books is a coincidence? Of course not. Baha'u'llah seems to have carefully prepared us for this. He began this whole book by teaching us how to recognize a Manifestation of God, giving plenty of examples from the stories from history that we already knew.. He reminded us to continually look to the past and consider what we are seeing today. He then took a single verse from Jesus, found in Matthew 24, and dissected it phrase by phrase for many paragraphs, showing us just a little of the incredible depths that can be found in that one verse.

Are these not the very tools that we are being encouraged to use here, now?

Beyond that, we also want to remember that this book is supposed a template on how to teach. So if that's the case, then doesn't this mean that we need to help people, not to mention ourselves, become more familiar with the sufferings and trials suffered by both the Bab and Baha'u'llah, not to mention 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian? have we actually done this? Do we know anyone who actually became a recognize Baha'i by studying these denials and tests? Honestly, we don't.

Many times we see this sort of appeal as just a means of playing on people's emotions. But we need to be clear that this is not the case here. Far from it. Instead, it seems to be a fundamental aspect of strengthening one's faith. Way back in paragraph 6, a couple of sentence we love to quote over and over again: "Should you acquaint yourself with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God, and apprehend the true causes of the objections voiced by their oppressors, you will surely appreciate the significance of their position. Moreover, the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God."

We are amazed, even flabbergasted (love that word), at just how important these first few paragraphs are so important to the rest of the text. We never dreamed that so far into this study we would still be constantly referring back to these same ideas. It just gives us a greater appreciation of this book, and just how tightly knit this entire book really is.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Paragraph 114

Furthermore, by sovereignty is meant the all-encompassing, all-pervading power which is inherently exercised by the Qá’im whether or not He appear to the world clothed in the majesty of earthly dominion. This is solely dependent upon the will and pleasure of the Qá’im Himself. You will readily recognize that the terms sovereignty, wealth, life, death, judgment and resurrection, spoken of by the scriptures of old, are not what this generation hath conceived and vainly imagined. Nay, by sovereignty is meant that sovereignty which in every dispensation resideth within, and is exercised by, the person of the Manifestation, the Day-star of Truth. That sovereignty is the spiritual ascendancy which He exerciseth to the fullest degree over all that is in heaven and on earth, and which in due time revealeth itself to the world in direct proportion to its capacity and spiritual receptiveness, even as the sovereignty of Muḥammad, the Messenger of God, is today apparent and manifest amongst the people. You are well aware of what befell His Faith in the early days of His dispensation. What woeful sufferings did the hand of the infidel and erring, the divines of that age and their associates, inflict upon that spiritual Essence, that most pure and holy Being! How abundant the thorns and briars which they have strewn over His path! It is evident that wretched generation, in their wicked and satanic fancy, regarded every injury to that immortal Being as a means to the attainment of an abiding felicity; inasmuch as the recognized divines of that age, such as ‘Abdu’lláh-i-Ubayy, Abú-‘Amír, the hermit, Ka’b-Ibn-i-Ashraf, and Nadr-Ibn-i-Hárith, all treated Him as an impostor, and pronounced Him a lunatic and a calumniator. Such sore accusations they brought against Him that in recounting them God forbiddeth the ink to flow, Our pen to move, or the page to bear them. These malicious imputations provoked the people to arise and torment Him. And how fierce that torment if the divines of the age be its chief instigators, if they denounce Him to their followers, cast Him out from their midst, and declare Him a miscreant! Hath not the same befallen this Servant, and been witnessed by all?

The uncle of the Bab has asked a very good question. Where, he wonders, is the sovereignty of the Bab seen? If He is the Promised One, why haven't we witnessed this sovereignty that is supposed to be His?

It's a great question, and one that Baha'u'llah spends considerable time answering.

To do this, He has us reflect on the past, once again. You may remember from Part One that He regularly has us "consider the past", "reflect", "ponder". This is now the foundation upon which He can answer this very important question.

Throughout this response, He will remind us of the sufferings of the Messengers of the Past, hearkening back to paragraph 6. Remember paragraph 6? That is where He said "the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God." As the whole point of this book, indeed, it's very name, is about enhancing our certitude, this is a very important point.

He will also demonstrate how Their sovereignty has always manifested itself over time.

Here, though, He is looking at Muhammad, and how some of the people of His day treated Him. It's a rare example of His use of actual names. Why? Why the names? Because they are remembered for having denied Muhammad. Perhaps He is reminding the uncle, and by extension us, that we don't want to be remembered for such lamentable behaviour.

It is also worth noting that at the beginning of this paragraph He says "that the terms sovereignty, wealth, life, death, judgment and resurrection, spoken of by the scriptures of old, are not what this generation hath conceived and vainly imagined". He spent a good deal of Part 1 of this book offering us many definitions of the terms used by Jesus in Matthew 24. It seems as if this was all in preparation for His response to this very question. His redefining of terms is exactly what He prepared us for.

When we consider the past, we can readily see that the Jewish people expected the Messiah to come riding on a horse and wielding a flaming sword, conquering the Romans as He went. Today, many Christians expect Jesus to come down on a cloud and take over the planet. This has always been the expectation, the literal conquering of the oppressors of the day, and the people have always failed to see Their true sovereignty until much time has passed.

Also, His use of the examples of what befell Muhammad would have been strikingly familiar to the uncle of the Bab. The mullahs and religious leaders of that day called the Bab an impostor. They had doctors sent in to interview Him to see if they could have pronounced a lunatic. They labelled Him a calumniator. Each and every one of these accusations which was thrown against Muhammad was similarly hurled against the Bab. And it was the divines of that day who did this. They were the ones who denounced Him and cast Him out from their midst. And then, to top it all off, they also had Baha'u'llah imprisoned and exiled.

The parallels must have been very obvious to the uncle, and this paragraph must have just driven it all home.

Finally, there is a final thing that catches our attention, and that is Baha'u'llah's mention of "the thorns and briars which they have strewn over His path". This reminds us of the crown of thorns that Jesus wore. it is as if those very thorns that were thrown in His path, which must have caused Him untold sufferings, became that very crown that symbolized His sovereignty. And this just goes right back to paragraph 6, and helps us become even firmer in our faith.