Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Paragraph 130

Thou dost witness today how, notwithstanding the radiant splendour of the Sun of divine knowledge, all the people, whether high or low, have clung to the ways of those abject manifestations of the Prince of Darkness. They continually appeal to them for aid in unraveling the intricacies of their Faith, and, owing to lack of knowledge, they make such replies as can in no wise damage their fame and fortune. It is evident that these souls, vile and miserable as the beetle itself, have had no portion of the musk-laden breeze of eternity, and have never entered the Ridván of heavenly delight. How, therefore, can they impart unto others the imperishable fragrance of holiness? Such is their way, and such will it remain for ever. Only those will attain to the knowledge of the Word of God that have turned unto Him, and repudiated the manifestations of Satan. Thus God hath reaffirmed the law of the day of His Revelation, and inscribed it with the pen of power upon the mystic Tablet hidden beneath the veil of celestial glory. Wert thou to heed these words, wert thou to ponder their outward and inner meaning in thy heart, thou wouldst seize the significance of all the abstruse problems which, in this day, have become insuperable barriers between men and the knowledge of the Day of Judgment. Then wilt thou have no more questions to perplex thee. We fain would hope that, God willing, thou wilt not return, deprived and still athirst, from the shores of the ocean of divine mercy, nor come back destitute from the imperishable Sanctuary of thy heart’s desire. Let it now be seen what thy search and endeavours will achieve.

This paragraph still falls under the section in which Baha'u'llah is describing true sovereignty, and how it applies to the Bab. It is the last paragraph in the sub-section in which He describes the meaning of the terms "life", "death", "resurrection", and the like. Therefore this paragraph can be seen, in a sense, as a summary of the preceding paragraphs.

Like we have seen in Part 1, there are clues that lead us to this conclusion. You may recall how often Baha'u'llah used the words "ponder", "reflect", and "meditate" in Part 1, usually after He had given us a particularly difficult or new concept to consider. Here He encourages us, again, to "ponder" these words, paying careful attention to "their outward and inner meaning in (our) heart".

He also brings us back to the very beginning of this book, with the mention of "the shores of the ocean".

So, to us, He seems to be indicating that this new understanding of the Day of Judgment is deep and can be troubling for some, and therefore He gives us ample time to reflect on it. Once we understand what He is saying, though, then we will "have no more questions" to perplex us. We will have attained the "shores of the ocean of true understanding", and even the "Sanctuary of our heart's desire", that tabernacle which has "been raised in the firmament of the Bayan". But that's not the end of it. Now, He says, let's see what we're going to do about it. He is projecting us forward. Up until this point, it has all been about the search, but now He is helping us see past this and asking what we will achieve once we recognize.

But going back to the beginning of this paragraph, let's look at His warning. He is reminding us that so many are clinging to the clergy, "those abject manifestations of the Prince of Darkness". They ask these "learned" people to explain things to them, but they cannot. They don't have the knowledge, and are too concerned about their reputation or wealth. How, He wonders, can such people teach others about God? In fact, He goes further and points out that only those people who repudiate such teachers will be able to understand the Word of God. It is as if we have to recognize this false station of knowledge and deny it if we hope to understand the truth. We have to, in a sense, be able to tell the difference between the stench of egotism and the beauty of humility.

In fact, when we look back at paragraph 6, "the more closely we observe the denials... the firmer will be (our) faith in the Cause of God." Here, in paragraph 130, we are told to closely examine the denials of today.

Now, what does all this have to do with sovereignty? Well, if we consider what He has said in the past few paragraphs, we will see that the uncle of the Bab was trying to see how sovereignty, as defined by the Mullas of his day, applied to his Nephew. Quite simply, it didn't, because the definition was a false one. To demonstrate this, Baha'u'llah has shown, using the Qu'ran, how we have misunderstood other terms relating to the Day of Judgment, such as "life", "death", "resurrection" and the like. He has shown how even the people of Muhammad's time misunderstood these terms. We can therefore conclude that we have likely misunderstood the term "sovereignty", as He will demonstrate over the next few paragraphs.

Finally, one last little thing caught our attention: Baha'u'llah does not use the word "haply" in describing the results of our search. Previously, He had often stressed the "luck factor", if you will. So much was dependent on the Will of God. If we go back to paragraph 1 again, we will see that if we sanctify our soul, then, with luck, we might attain this shore. Why? Perhaps because there are good people in all faiths. It is only with luck that we will find the Messenger of God for today by sanctifying our soul. Here, though, Baha'u'llah is pointing out the extreme egotism of the Mullas of His day, and if we merely look for it, we cannot help but see it. There is no luck involved, just unbiased observation. And if we carefully consider His words, we will clearly see that they are acting exactly as the religious leaders of the past did when they denied the other Messengers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Paragraph 129

Similarly, the records of all the scriptures bear witness to this lofty truth and this most exalted word. Moreover, this verse of the Qur’án, revealed concerning Hamzih, the “Prince of Martyrs,” and Abú-Jahl, is a luminous evidence and sure testimony of the truth of Our saying: “Shall the dead, whom We have quickened, and for whom We have ordained a light whereby he may walk among men, be like him, whose likeness is in the darkness, whence he will not come forth?” This verse descended from the heaven of the Primal Will at a time when Hamzih had already been invested with the sacred mantle of faith, and Abú-Jahl had waxed relentless in his opposition and unbelief. From the Wellspring of omnipotence and the Source of eternal holiness, there came the judgment that conferred everlasting life upon Hamzih, and condemned Abú-Jahl to eternal damnation. This was the signal that caused the fires of unbelief to glow with the hottest flame in the heart of the infidels, and provoked them openly to repudiate His truth. They loudly clamoured: “When did Hamzih die? When was he risen? At what hour was such a life conferred upon him?” As they understood not the significance of these noble sayings, nor sought enlightenment from the recognized expounders of the Faith, that these might confer a sprinkling of the Kawthar of divine knowledge upon them, therefore such fires of mischief were kindled amongst men.

Baha'u'llah is the exponent of unity. It seems to us that He has corrected our mis-understanding of these previous two stories, the one from Jesus and the one from Ali. As we have pointed out in the past few articles, we believe these other stories were not meant to condemn those that believe differently, but rather to remind us of the choice we all face. Let the dead bury the dead, Jesus said, but go and teach them so that they will become alive. We will all face this bridge, is the harsh reminder from Ali, at the end of our days, and we have the choice as to whether we go to heaven or hell. In both cases, there is the reminder of the importance of our choices while we live.

Here Baha'u'llah seems to be reminding us that there is a difference, though, in the aftereffect of our choice. But the important thing is that it is not for us to judge. That is God's job. Our job is to teach.

In all three cases, we are reminded of the importance of teaching. Jesus tells His disciple to go to the funeral and teach. Ali reminds the two people involved in the contract of the choice before them. And here, Muhammad is clearly showing us that these stories are spiritual in meaning, but no less important for that. After all, he who chooses darkness will not be accounted the same as he who chooses light. It's not we who make that distinction, but they themselves.

Despite the rich discussion that can arise form all this, though, we want to look at a few specific things in this paragraph: the fire and the Kawthar.

To remind us, these stories all fall under the discussion Baha'u'llah is having regarding the spiritual nature of the sovereignty of the Promised One. Remember, this is one of the primary questions that the uncle of the Bab had regarding His Station. How did the Bab fulfill the various prophecies regarding the sovereignty of the Qa'im? All this is part of that answer.

We know that the eternal life that was talked about is a spiritual life. And Baha'u'llah is linking that spiritual understanding with our understanding of the nature of sovereignty of the Qa'im.

Now, as we said, we would like to look at some of the phrases Baha'u'llah uses here. He talks of "the Wellspring of omnipotence" and "the fires of unbelief", "the Kawthar of divine knowledge" and the "fires of mischief". These metaphors speak of water and fire, fire and water. Kawthar, you will recall, is one of the rivers in paradise. And this going back and forth between these primal elements reminds us of that passage from the Tablet of Ahmad, "Be thou as a flame of fire to My enemies and a river of life eternal to My loved ones, and be not of those who doubt."

It has long intrigued us that the same thing can be a burning fire to one person and a refreshing draught of water to another. It is like what we saw way back in part one of this very book. In paragraph 58, Baha'u'llah points out that God could have stayed the hand of Moses from murder, but chose not to do so. In paragraphs 59 and 60, He asks the question why He "Who was known amongst the people as fatherless", Jesus, was given the mantle of Prophethood. All this leads to the quote "outwardly such deeds and words are the fire of vengeance unto the wicked, and inwardly the waters of mercy unto the righteous". As was pointed out back in those paragraphs, the virgin birth was seen as a barrier for some, acting as a repelling fire keeping them away, but as a compelling proof for others, acting like the water of life.

Here, once again, Baha'u'llah is brining up this duality of fire and water here, while discussing the spiritual nature of the terms "life", "death", "resurrection", "judgment", and so forth. And by extension, He is also applying it to the theme of the spiritual nature of the sovereignty of the Promised One.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Paragraph 128

In every age and century, the purpose of the Prophets of God and their chosen ones hath been no other but to affirm the spiritual significance of the terms “life,” “resurrection,” and “judgment.” If one will ponder but for a while this utterance of ‘Alí in his heart, one will surely discover all mysteries hidden in the terms “grave,” “tomb,” “ṣiraṭ,” “paradise” and “hell.” But oh! how strange and pitiful! Behold, all the people are imprisoned within the tomb of self, and lie buried beneath the nethermost depths of worldly desire! Wert thou to attain to but a dewdrop of the crystal waters of divine knowledge, thou wouldst readily realize that true life is not the life of the flesh but the life of the spirit. For the life of the flesh is common to both men and animals, whereas the life of the spirit is possessed only by the pure in heart who have quaffed from the ocean of faith and partaken of the fruit of certitude. This life knoweth no death, and this existence is crowned by immortality. Even as it hath been said: “He who is a true believer liveth both in this world and in the world to come.” If by “life” be meant this earthly life, it is evident that death must needs overtake it.

While we could easily say that all these terms are symbolic in nature, and not literal, Baha'u'llah has already done this. And He has done this far better than we could.

Instead, we want to focus on why He is choosing these particular phrases and examples.

When we look back over the previous couple of paragraphs, and the stories of Jesus and Ali, we notice that He is using stories that have been used to set one people over another. These are examples that have been used to demonstrate that one group is somehow superior to another, and this, we feel, is antithetical to the teachings of these great Teachers.

Baha'u'llah is all about unity. He does whatever He can to help us overcome our own egotism and recognize the fundamental oneness of all peoples.

As you may have noticed, it seems to us that these examples, while having been used to divide people and encourage judgment, don't have to be read that way. We see them, instead, as encouraging us to be with others, but seize every opportunity to share this Message. This is a far more coherent understanding, as far as we can tell.

Another point that comes to mind is one that comes from both 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Bab. 'Abdu'l-Baha, as you recall, has said in Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, section 21, that there are various kingdoms in creation. He talks about the mineral kingdom, with the power of unity and attraction, and the vegetable kingdom with the power of growth. He moves on to the animal kingdom with the power of the senses, and on to the human kingdom. Without going into too much detail, He has defined reality in a manner different from many scientists, but far more accurately. Many people see reality as a pie, and cut away one section and call it the mineral kingdom. This other part is the animal kingdom, and this slice over here is the mammals, while that slice within it is the felines, and so forth. They see creation as a giant pie to be sliced into ever smaller pieces.

But with 'Abdu'l-Baha's description, we can see it more like concentric circles. After all, He says that each kingdom comprehends the kingdoms before it. We can see the mineral kingdom in the centre, surrounded by the vegetable kingdom, and and moving out towards the animal kingdom. But if we do this, as concentric circles, then it is just another way of slicing this pie. However, if we subtly shift these circles to being a spiral, then we can see this direct continuity of creation. We can see how if we move outwards from the mineral kingdom, we can see the crystals, which have a degree of the power of growth. If we move outwards from the vegetable kingdom, then we can see how we will encounter plants like the Venus fly-trap, which has a degree of sensory awareness. We can begin to see how these various kingdoms merge into each other, giving us a far more unified vision of the world.

The Bab, in addition to all this, offers us an interesting point when He says that everything in creation has its own heaven, and by extension its own hell. Heaven, He says, is the fulfillment of potential, while presumably hell would be its denial.

If we combine these two concepts, then we can think of the idea of moving outward on this spiral as a form of heaven. It would be, in a sense, moving closer to God, Who would be at the very outer most edges of this eternal spiral. The further out we move, the closer we are getting to God. But if we are moving inwards, then we are denying our potential. You see, it's not that animals are bad. They are an incredible and wonderful part of creation. But if we are moving towards being more animalistic, then we are moving in the wrong direction, and that is why it seems so bad for us. This is why being like an animal is not a good thing, for us humans.

Now, what does all this have to do with the Kitab-i-Iqan? Well, if we are supremely concerned about the body, and see all these metaphors in terms of physical life, then we are looking at what distinguishes animals, not humans. When we see the spiritual significance of these terms, and move towards the spiritual in our life, then we are moving outwards in that spiral.

At the beginning of this paragraph, Baha'u'llah makes a very powerful statement that we almost overlooked. He says that "the purpose of the Prophets of God and their chosen ones hath been no other but to affirm the spiritual significance of the terms" He has mentioned here. This is Their purpose. No other purpose than this.

Really? That's Their purpose? To affirm some definitions? Surely it can't be just that. What about that famous quote "...is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions?"

Well, if we see these new definitions, this spiritual understanding as turning our attention away from the physical world and towards the spiritual, then He is shifting the direction of our gaze from inward towards the centre of the spiral outwards towards the more highly developed spiritual realms. And this will, necessarily, transform the individual, as well as society.

It will help us better understand how these stories from Jesus and Ali are about transformation, and not condemnation.

At this point we could say so much more, but we feel we have said too much already. Besides, Baha'u'llah continues on with this theme for another two paragraphs.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Paragraph 127

In like manner, two of the people of Kúfih went to ‘Alí, the Commander of the Faithful. One owned a house and wished to sell it; the other was to be the purchaser. They had agreed that this transaction should be effected and the contract be written with the knowledge of ‘Alí. He, the exponent of the law of God, addressing the scribe, said: “Write thou: ‘A dead man hath bought from another dead man a house. That house is bounded by four limits. One extendeth toward the tomb, the other to the vault of the grave, the third to the Ṣiráṭ, the fourth to either Paradise or hell.’” Reflect, had these two souls been quickened by the trumpet-call of ‘Alí, had they risen from the grave of error by the power of his love, the judgment of death would certainly not have been pronounced against them.

"In like manner"? In like manner to what? In like manner to the reference by Jesus in the previous paragraph, calling those who are concerned with a burial dead, even though they still seem to be moving around.

Now, this is another very interesting little story here. As with the previous statement by Jesus, it appears to be condemning those who have not yet recognized Him, but as we saw, it was more likely a command to His disciple to seize the opportunity to teach. "Let the dead bury the dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God."

So what about this story with Ali? On the surface it appears to be a condemnation, but is it? Baha'u'llah seems to imply it, but we don't think it ends here. It appears, to us, to be the moment of choice.

Putting this into a context, it seems strange to us that these two people would appear to be honouring Ali, acknowledging his trustworthiness by asking him to witness a contract. And what does he do? He seems to condemn them, calling them both dead. After all, he is the "Commander of the Faithful", striving to move the entire world towards that destined Kingdom of God on earth. And what do they ask of him? Witness this sale.

On the surface it seems so petty. After all, can you imagine taking up the valuable time of 'Abdul-Baha to ask Him to witness a contract?

And so, in a way, it actually makes some sort of sense that he might be upset, and condemning them for not asking something more meaningful of him.

But, like the previous story, there may be more here than meets the eye.

If we take a look, there seems to be something of a path. While we can presume the limits he mentions are the four walls of the house, he doesn't actually say that they are. They could, instead, be four steps on this path. It begins with the tomb, and continue to the vault of the grave.

Before we continue, let's look at these two steps. What, we wonder, is the difference between the tomb, and the vault of the grave? The tomb, as you know, is the enclosure for burying the dead, usually either a small cave, or a room built for the coffin. The vault, though, is what you see inside the tomb, above you when you are lying there. It seems to us that by mentioning these two, he is moving us from outside the tomb to inside it. We can imagine ourselves dead, approaching this tomb, and then being placed inside of it.

From there, we move to the third step, Sirat, the bridge that spans the chasm of hell and connects this world with paradise. Only the righteous, though, are able to cross it safely. The rest fall off it into the fiery pit.

And this leads us to the fourth step of this path. Will we cross safely to Paradise, or will we fall into the fire? The choice, as we know, is dependent on what we do in this life. And that is where we feel that Ali is taking this opportunity, seizing it firmly, to offer these two people the choice.

It is this choice that seems to be more in line with the teachings of Ali and Islam, as well as what we found from Jesus in the previous paragraph. Neither seem to be condemning the people outright, but instead are offering them a choice, as well as showing what that choice implies. They are not concerned about the things of this world. Their interest lies solely with the spiritual journey, and what lies at the end of it for the person or people involved.

By talking about these two stories here, in the Kitab-i-Iqan, Baha'u'llah seems to be strongly reminding us of the importance of looking at things with a spiritual eye, as well as recognizing the oneness of the teachings between these two faiths.

He also seems to be showing us two marvelous examples of taking mundane things, a funeral and a house sale, and showing how they can be used to teach much more important spiritual lessons. In other words, He is showing us two fine examples of elevated conversations.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Paragraph 126

In another passage of the Gospel it is written: “And it came to pass that on a certain day the father of one of the disciples of Jesus had died. That disciple reporting the death of his father unto Jesus, asked for leave to go and bury him. Whereupon, Jesus, that Essence of Detachment, answered and said: “Let the dead bury their dead.”

Wow. What an interesting quote to put here. As we just saw, the previous paragraph references these two possible paths that we can tread. The first began with our spiritual life, while the second started with our spiritual death. Is Baha'u'llah reminding us of what the ramifications of this second path are?


But before we get into that, let's think about how this passage has been traditionally understood. In many churches, it is defense for a non-compassionate, condemnatory attitude. There is a story of a missionary in one such organization whose father had passed away while they were on mission overseas. They asked for permission to fly home to attend the funeral, but the church fathers said no, citing this reference. They felt that it was not a worthy use of the money. Needless to say, when this missionary did go home later, they left that particular church.

Is this what Jesus would have wanted? Was He so unconcerned about those who did not follow Him that He felt His followers shouldn't care about them either?

This doesn't seem likely.

In fact, it seems quite remote from what we know of Him.

So what else could it be?

To begin to get a better idea, we feel that we need to look back at the original reference in the Bible, Luke 9:60. In fact, we really need to look at all of Luke 9.

This is a chapter in which Jesus sends the disciples out to go teach His Cause. Peter has already recognized Him as the Messiah. Jesus has healed people and cast out demons. He has even predicted His own impending martyrdom. Finally, at the very end of this chapter, He points out to these disciples the full cost of truly following Him. He says that they will have no place to lay their head. Then He offers this line, followed by the idea that they will even have to leave their families behind.

But let's look again. The full statement, of which Baha'u'llah only quotes the first half, is "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

When read in the full context of that chapter, it is not a condemnation of those who may be seen as unworthy, but rather a caution of what it will cost them, the disciples, if they really want to follow Him.

Again, looking at this quote once more, it is even possible to read it as a command to go and attend the funeral. "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go...", He says. And while you are there, raise the dead. "...Proclaim the kingdom of God." Waste no opportunity.

This seems more likely. It feels more congruent with the full teachings of all the Messengers of God.

In fact, this notion of offering a choice, to both the disciples as well as the funeral attendees, makes even more sense when we look at the next paragraph.

Finally, by only quoting the first half of this statement of Jesus, Baha'u'llah has prompted us to go back and look at the entire context of the quote. With the simple method of using only a partial quote, He is helping us go back and review sacred Scripture.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Paragraph 125

Such things have come to pass in the days of every Manifestation of God. Even as Jesus said: “Ye must be born again.” Again He saith: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The purport of these words is that whosoever in every dispensation is born of the Spirit and is quickened by the breath of the Manifestation of Holiness, he verily is of those that have attained unto “life” and “resurrection” and have entered into the “paradise” of the love of God. And whosoever is not of them, is condemned to “death” and “deprivation,” to the “fire” of unbelief, and to the “wrath” of God. In all the scriptures, the books and chronicles, the sentence of death, of fire, of blindness, of want of understanding and hearing, hath been pronounced against those whose lips have tasted not the ethereal cup of true knowledge, and whose hearts have been deprived of the grace of the holy Spirit in their day. Even as it hath been previously recorded: “Hearts have they with which they understand not.”

"Such things have come to pass..." What things? Perhaps those things He has mentioned in paragraph 124. The "people strayed from the way of God". The Day of Resurrection has been ushered in. His light and tokens have encompassed everything. The people have "derided Him, gave themselves up to those idols which the divines of that age... had conceived, and deprived themselves of the light of heavenly grace and of the showers of divine mercy." This is the pattern. We saw it in the very beginning of the book when He described the other Messengers of the past, and we are seeing it again.

We also notice that throughout this book, Baha'u'llah has continually referenced the relation between Jesus' prophecies and the Revelation of Muhammad. Here He is doing the same thing. He is quoting Jesus, but now goes a step further. This isn't just in relation to Muhammad, but occurs "in the days of every Manifestation of God". Presumably, if we are seeing a similar occurrence today in the way people are acting, we might be able to presume the cause. By showing us this pattern, He is opening our awareness to look for it.

Here, in the middle of this paragraph, Baha'u'llah offers us two paths, from which we can choose which one we wish to walk. The first is "life", "resurrection", and "paradise". The second is "death", "deprivation", "fire", and "wrath".

This first one begins with our life. It can be likened to the very beginning of this book, in which it is up to us to sanctify our soul, "that haply (we) may attain that station which God hath destined for" us. If we do this, then, with luck, we can be resurrected and find that paradise of nearness to our Creator. This, obviously, is the path that we all wish to walk.

The second path, though, begins with our death. If we are not living a spiritual life, as those first quotes from Jesus point out, then we can be seen as dead. This lack of spirituality leads to our deprivation. We are deprived of the development of our virtues, of the understanding of these spiritual issues, and of so much that can contribute to both our well-being and our happiness. This, quite naturally, will lead to our misery, both in this life and the next. It can truly be seen as a fire. The very fact that we do not believe in the Manifestation for today leads us to so many questions that only He can answer. And this misery of searching in vain leads us to feel as if our very soul is on fire. We search for something that we know is there, but we adamantly deny it when it is presented to us. This is a true torture. The denial itself becomes the source of that wrath of God.

Of course, this word, "wrath" also reminds us of that Hidden Word, "How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me." We were wondering about this word "accursed", when we read it. It seemed so strong here, yet, when we examined the context, we realized that it was perfectly appropriate. We are not, for example, merely noting someone else's faults, but busying ourselves with them. There is an extremeness to it. When we do this, then they, quite naturally, won't want to be around us. They will avoid us. We will be miserable, by only seeing the faults of others. This, it seems to us, would be a fairly good definition of being under a curse. We are, in fact, the very cause of our own cursing.

When we deny the Manifestation of God in Their Day, and act as the fanatics of old have done, we become the very embodiment of that wrath of God, inflicting all that pain upon ourselves.

This, it seems to us, is our choice. We can choose either of these paths, whichever we prefer.

All this is bracketed by those quotes from Jesus. We are reminded at the beginning that this is all referring to a spiritual state, not a physical one, being of the spirit and not of the flesh. And it ends with the reminder that it is the state of our heart that determines our ability to choose.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Paragraph 124

Gracious God! How far have that people strayed from the way of God! Although the Day of Resurrection was ushered in through the Revelation of Muḥammad, although His light and tokens had encompassed the earth and all that is therein, yet that people derided Him, gave themselves up to those idols which the divines of that age, in their vain and idle fancy, had conceived, and deprived themselves of the light of heavenly grace and of the showers of divine mercy. Yea, the abject beetle can never scent the fragrance of holiness, and the bat of darkness can never face the splendour of the sun.

"Gracious God!" Well, yes, He is, but this is not a reference to the Graciousness of our Lord, obviously. It is really an exclamation of exasperation. He is stunned and dumbfounded at the obtuseness of the people. Which people? Those people at the time of Muhammad, referred to in the previous few paragraphs, who did not see that the Day of Resurrection occurred at the time of the Prophet. This seems to totally mystify Him.

But then He makes an interesting comment that can be seen as a literal statement, as well as an oblique statement on the people of His day. He says they "gave themselves up to those idols which the divines of that age... had conceived". These were the very people who were so blind that they preferred to worship the stone and wooden idols in the Kaaba, as opposed to the living Manifestation in their very midst.

It can also be seen as a condemnation of those similar divines who have made an idol of their interpretation of the prophecies and terms of the past. They are so in love with their understanding of such terms as resurrection, judgment, paradise and hell, that if anyone comes along with a different interpretation, they condemn him as a heretic. They have made an idol of their interpretations.

This is so important a theme that He spent almost all of Part 1 of this book talking about it. Remember, He took a single passage from Matthew and showed the many layers of meaning within it. Any single term had multiple definitions and could be seen in numerous ways, all of which led us to a better understanding of the world around us and prepared us for the coming Manifestation.

But again, Baha'u'llah is referring to those people who would deny this, or any interpretation that is not the exact same as theirs. When we fall prey to this form of egotism, believing that we have the answer and everyone else must be wrong, this is when we will find ourselves "deprived... of the light of heavenly grace and of the showers of divine mercy". We are so rapt in our own vain imaginings that we are unable to see the beautiful teachings that we may have missed. And as we get caught up in this egotistic net, we find that we will become more and more fanatical in our defense of this position, thus depriving ourselves of any mercy that we may so desperately need.

It is so easy to think of those poor souls who began with such a love for the sacred Text, but then became dogmatic in their belief. We can just see them frothing at the mouth, forgetting the initial beauty that attracted them, unaware of all that they have lost.

This is when they become like that "abject beetle", which destroys the agriculture in an area and is so hated by those around them. Of course, we are also reminded of those other beetles that live amidst the dung.

This is also when they become like the bat, virtually blind, flitting around in the darkness hoping to catch a few paltry insects to survive. They miss out on the radiant beauty and warmth of the sun.

As if this wasn't bad enough, they even drag so many of those people around them down to their own level. Gracious God, indeed.