Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Paragraph 61

Behold how contrary are the ways of the Manifestations of God, as ordained by the King of creation, to the ways and desires of men! As thou comest to comprehend the essence of these divine mysteries, thou wilt grasp the purpose of God, the divine Charmer, the Best-Beloved. Thou wilt regard the words and the deeds of that almighty Sovereign as one and the same; in such wise that whatsoever thou dost behold in His deeds, the same wilt thou find in His sayings, and whatsoever thou dost read in His sayings, that wilt thou recognize in His deeds. Thus it is that outwardly such deeds and words are the fire of vengeance unto the wicked, and inwardly the waters of mercy unto the righteous. Were the eye of the heart to open, 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.

As you can see, this idea of testing is a very important one. Baha'u'llah has spent a lot of time already in this Book discussing it, and is still continually reminding us of it. Here, in this paragraph, He reminds us that these tests, the manners in which these Messengers behave, are ordained by God. They are not from the Messengers. They are from God. Jesus did not choose to be regarded as "fatherless", nor did Moses choose to commit murder. These things were done by God. Jesus did not decide that it would be a good thing to get a group of lowly fishermen as His disciples. They were placed there, ready and willing, by God. Even Muhammad turning towards Mecca, instead of Jerusalem, was ordained by God. he did not turn there through His own choice, but was told to do so by the angel. We people, judging things by our own deficient standards would have made different choices, had the choice been ours, but that is our test.

As we come to better understand these ways, we will better understand the purpose of God, according to Baha'u'llah. So what is that purpose? To test the people. And not just to test the followers, but to test all people. It is through these tests that the depth of our belief, our sincerity, can be proven.

But this can be very confusing. After all, many of the tests we face seem to go contrary to what is written in these books. We are told to marry before having sex, and yet Mary was pregnant. We were told to turn to Jerusalem, and yet Muhammad turned away. But if we look past all that, we will see that they were, before all else, obedient to God. Mary was still a virgin, whether or not anyone believed her. She knew, and God knew. Muhammad was told to turn towards Mecca. He knew, and God knew. We can either rely on what we believe we are told, or we can see past the immediate and trust in God. We can look for alternative explanations and trust that we will come to understand. As Baha'u'llah says, these words and deeds are synonymous: they are all there to help us grow.

Looking at these same tests, He says that they are fire to the wicked and a water to the righteous. There is an inherent dichotomy within them. For those who are full of pride, who have succumbed to the temptations of the ego, they will suddenly find themselves being challenged. And if they do not let go of their pride, they will react as if burned. For those who are willing to put their own ideas aside and listen to something different, they will find such new ideas as to make them feel refreshed, reborn, soaring as if on wings. They will see new vistas of knowledge opening before them. If you cling to the past, you will break, but if you bend towards the future you will grow and progress.

In this same sentence, He refers to this fire as "the fire of vengeance". Vengeance is what occurs when you are being punished for something? What are they being punished for? Perhaps for the problem of the ego. And maybe it is like the child with the hot stove. A loving parent tells a child to keep away from a hot stove, for they are aware of the nature of the child's hand and the heat of the element. They know that if the child touches it their hand will burn. Perhaps this is what God is doing. He is warning us that if we cling to the ego, the idea that we somehow "have the answer", this will be like burning us. These trials and tests will be like fire, and like that loving parent, He doesn't want to see us hurt. He would rather see us open up and grow from these same tests.

Then there is another interesting phrase. He refers to the "eye of the heart". We don't often think of the eye as being related to the heart. We usually think of the eye of the head. Now if it is closed, this eye, that can either mean that we are asleep, or just keeping it closed. He's not clear about that, but it doesn't really matter. When the eye is closed, it cannot see. So once again, He is reminding us that what counts is the heart. We need to somehow learn to see with our heart, and allow our heart to respond. Way back in paragraph 2 He said that if we want to "tread the path of faith" we need to cleanse our heart "from worldly affections". "Ponder a while those holy words in your heart," He says in paragraph 5, "and, with utter detachment, strive to grasp their meaning."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Paragraph 60

And now, meditate upon this most great convulsion, this grievous test. Notwithstanding all these things, God conferred upon that essence of the Spirit, Who was known amongst the people as fatherless, the glory of Prophethood, and made Him His testimony unto all that are in heaven and on earth.

Once again, Baha'u'llah is asking us to meditate. And it's interesting; He calls this a "most great convulsion".

Now, do you remember what He is referring to? The Virgin birth. (Yeah, we know. It says it right there.)

It's interesting that He points this out with such exactitude. There are plenty of other convulsions He could have asked us meditate on, but this is the one He chose. Why?

Well, looking at this from the perspective of the time, it was a very major issue. To start, we need to clarify a few things. Being born out of wedlock, while not cool, was no reason for any stigma on the individual in question. Being born from two parents who were not allowed to be married, nor could have been married, was.

The former, known as being an illegitimate child, or a bastard, was not a problem for life. The latter, known as mamzerim, had a huge list of prohibitions that lasted not only in your own lifetime, but was also passed on to your descendants.

Jesus, while born out of wedlock, would not have been considered mamzerim, since it was possible for Mary and Joseph to wed, even though they had not yet been married. Jesus would have had no stigma attached to Him for that reason.

However, a different problem arose. Mary did not appear to disclose who the father was. And since there were many people in the area who she would not have been allowed to marry, for many different reasons, the suspicion of mamzer would have been cast upon Him.

If she told the truth, nobody would have believed her. And yet she couldn't lie about it.

This made it a huge issue for many at the time.

The problem with being mamzer is that you are not allowed in the Temple, amongst other things. And while Mary's recognized moral behaviour was generally considered high enough to prevent this label being cast upon Jesus, there was still the lingering question.

Either way, Jesus would certainly not have been allowed to be ordained as a Rabbi, since He could not prove His lineage. So what gave Him the right to teach as He did? That, dear Reader, is the question.

Now, could God have prevented this? Of course. There would have been nothing preventing Him from giving Mary Jesus after the marriage. But instead, it became a test.

You will note, though, that we don't say much about the birth itself. If you want more information on that, we suggest that you read what 'Abdu'l-Baha says, in Some Answered Questions, sections 17 (The Birth of Christ) and 18 (The Greatness of Christ is Due to His Perfections).