God in the Bahá'í Faith
The Bahá'í view of God is essentially monotheistic. God is the imperishable, uncreated being who is the source of all existence. He is described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty". Though transcendent and inaccessible directly, his image is reflected in his creation. The purpose of creation is for the created to have the capacity to know and love its creator. God communicates his will and purpose to humanity through intermediaries, known as Manifestations of God, who are the prophets and messengers that have founded religions from prehistoric times up to the present day.
The Bahá'í teachings state that there is only one God and that his essence is absolutely inaccessible from the physical realm of existence and that, therefore, his reality is completely unknowable. Thus, all of humanity's conceptions of God which have been derived throughout history are mere manifestations of the human mind and not at all reflective of the nature of God's essence. While God's essence is inaccessible, a subordinate form of knowledge is available by way of mediation by divine messengers, known as Manifestations of God. The Manifestations of God reflect divine attributes, which are creations of God made for the purpose of spiritual enlightenment, onto the physical plane of existence. All physical beings reflect at least one of these attributes, and the human soul can potentially reflect all of them. Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Bahá'í Faith in the first half of the 20th century, described God as inaccessible, omniscient, almighty, personal, and rational, and rejected pantheistic, anthropomorphic and incarnationist beliefs.
Oneness of God
Although human cultures and religions differ on their conceptions of God and his nature, Bahá'ís believe they nevertheless refer to one and the same Being. The differences, instead of being regarded as irreconcilable constructs of mutually exclusive cultures, are seen as purposefully reflective of the varying needs of the societies in which the divine messages were revealed. No single faith, and associated conception of God, is thus considered essentially superior to another from the viewpoint of its original social context; however, more recent religions may teach a more advanced conception of God as called for by the changing needs of local, regional or global civilization. Bahá'ís thus regard the world's religions as chapters in the history of one single faith, revealed by God's Manifestations progressively and in stages. Bahá'u'lláh writes on this subject:
All-praise to the unity of God, and all-honour to Him, the sovereign Lord, the incomparable and all-glorious Ruler of the universe, Who, out of utter nothingness, hath created the reality of all things, Who, from naught, hath brought into being the most refined and subtle elements of His creation, and Who, rescuing His creatures from the abasement of remoteness and the perils of ultimate extinction, hath received them into His kingdom of incorruptible glory. Nothing short of His all-encompassing grace, His all-pervading mercy, could have possibly achieved it.
Knowledge of God
The Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to create an accurate conception of. In the Bahá'í understanding, the attributes attributed to God, such as All-Powerful and All-Loving are derived from limited human experiences of power and love. Bahá'u'lláh taught that the knowledge of God is limited to those attributes and qualities which are perceptible to us, and thus direct knowledge of God is not possible. Furthermore, Bahá'u'lláh states that knowledge of the attributes of God is revealed to humanity through his messengers.
So perfect and comprehensive is His creation that no mind or heart, however keen or pure, can ever grasp the nature of the most insignificant of His creatures; much less fathom the mystery of Him Who is the Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence...
As our knowledge of things, even of created and limited things, is knowledge of their qualities and not of their essence, how is it possible to comprehend in its essence the Divine Reality, which is unlimited? ... Knowing God, therefore, means the comprehension and the knowledge of His attributes, and not of His Reality. This knowledge of the attributes is also proportioned to the capacity and power of man; it is not absolute.
While the Bahá'í writings teach of a personal god who is a being with a personality (including the capacity to reason and to feel love), they clearly state that this does not imply a human or physical form. Shoghi Effendi writes:
What is meant by personal God is a God Who is conscious of His creation, Who has a Mind, a Will, a Purpose, and not, as many scientists and materialists believe, an unconscious and determined force operating in the universe. Such conception of the Divine Being, as the Supreme and ever present Reality in the world, is not anthropomorphic, for it transcends all human limitations and forms, and does by no means attempt to define the essence of Divinity which is obviously beyond any human comprehension. To say that God is a personal Reality does not mean that He has a physical form, or does in any way resemble a human being. To entertain such belief would be sheer blasphemy.
Therefore, we learn that nearness to God is possible through devotion to Him, through entrance into the Kingdom and service to humanity; it is attained by unity with mankind and through loving-kindness to all; it is dependent upon investigation of truth, acquisition of praiseworthy virtues, service in the cause of universal peace and personal sanctification.
Manifestations of God
Bahá'ís believe that God expresses his will at all times and in many ways, and specifically through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators. In revealing God's will, these Manifestations establish religion in the world. Since the Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to ever comprehend or to create more than a limited conception of, the Bahá'í scripture instead focuses on the created divine virtues and attributes which are described in the teachings of the Manifestations. Examples of divine attributes described in Bahá'í scripture include Almighty, All-Powerful, All-loving, All-Merciful, Most-Compassionate, All-Glorious. The Manifestations of God are analogous to divine mirrors which reflect God's created attributes and thus reveal aspects of God without being incarnations of God's essence. It is through these divine educators that humans can approach God, and through them God brings divine revelation and law.
Names of God
The Bahá'í scriptures often refer to God by various titles and attributes, such as Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Wise, Incomparable, Gracious, Helper, All-Glorious, and Omniscient. Baha'is believe the greatest of all the names of God is "All-Glorious" or Bahá in Arabic. Bahá is the root word of the following names and phrases: the greeting Alláh-u-Abhá (God is the All-Glorious), the invocation Yá Bahá'u'l-Abhá (O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious), Bahá'u'lláh (The Glory of God), and Bahá'i (Follower of the All-Glorious). These are expressed in Arabic regardless of the language in use (see Bahá'í symbols). Apart from these names, God is addressed in the local language, for example Ishwar in Hindi, Dieu in French and Dios in Spanish. Bahá'ís believe Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, is the "complete incarnation of the names and attributes of God".
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