Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Although for Baha'is God exists as the Ultimate Reality and this universe came about as a movement of love within that Ultimate Reality, it is beyond the ability of finite human minds to conceptualize the infinite reality that is God. Therefore any concepts that humans form of God are only partial truths that are really just reflections of their own minds, the way that an individual human nature sees reality. Although the essence of God is unknowable for humans, the attributes of God, such as love, justice, and mercy are knowable.

From the Writings of Baha'u'llah on God and the Manifestations of God
To every discerning and illuminated heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is, and hath ever been, veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men . . .

The door of the knowledge of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings, the Source of infinite grace . . . hath caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable Being, and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence.

These sanctified Mirrors, these Day Springs of ancient glory, are, one and all, the Exponents on earth of Him Who is the central Orb of the universe, its Essence and ultimate Purpose. From Him proceed their knowledge and power; from Him is derived their sovereignty. The beauty of their countenance is but a reflection of His image, and their revelation a sign of His deathless glory. (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, Section 19, pp. 46-47.)

Since everything in creation manifests one or more of the attributes of God to some extent, humans can discover something of the attributes of God by reflecting on nature and on some of the saints of the past. A much fuller revelation of God is sent down to humanity from time to time in the form of sacred figures who perfectly embody all of the attributes of God and are therefore called the "Manifestations of God." They are the founders of the world religions -- such figures as the Zoroaster, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and Baha'u'llah.

Words of Baha'u'llah regarding the Unity of the Prophets of God
It is clear and evident to thee that all the Prophets are the Temples of the Cause of God, Who have appeared clothed in divers attire. If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith. Such is the unity of those Essences of being, those Luminaries of infinite and immeasurable splendour. Wherefore, should one of these Manifestations of Holiness proclaim saying:  "I am the return of all the Prophets," He verily speaketh the truth. In like manner, in every subsequent Revelation, the return of the former Revelation is a fact, the truth of which is firmly established. (From the Kitab-i-Iqan.)

These figures all have the same spiritual station; indeed they are all the appearance on earth of the same spiritual reality (the Holy Spirit in Christian and Baha'i terminology). Thus any one of them can be called the "return" of a previous figure and it is on this basis that Baha'u'llah  is said to be the return of Christ or the incarnation of Krishna . These figures are neither merely human nor are they God in essence; they partake of a human nature and of a divine nature. They occupy an intermediate station as the representatives and messengers of God on earth. In the Baha'i scriptures they are likened to perfect mirrors, reflecting to humans a perfect image of God. Thus it is not incorrect to call them "God" (just as one might say that the sun appears in a mirror), nor is it incorrect to call them a human being who is the messenger of God. They bring to earth the message of God. To know these figures is to know God and to obey them is to obey God.

Although Baha'is believe that God is unknowable, paradoxically, the Baha'i scriptures are full of descriptions of God and Baha'is are instructed in their scriptures to come to know and love God. This paradox is explained in the Baha'i scriptures in two ways. First, since the Essence of God is unknowable and unchangeable, descriptions of God and references in the scriptures to God acting in the world in reality relate to the Manifestations of God, the founders of the world religions.

The inmost reality of these holy figures is the Holy Spirit, which is the highest reality in the created world, the first emanation from God; these figures act "as God" for this world. Thus, knowing God is in fact coming to know the Manifestation of God, especially the Manifestation of God for the age in which one lives.

The second explanation is the fact that human beings are themselves capable of manifesting all of the divine names and attributes. Thus the command to come to know God is also explained as individual human beings coming to know the divine attributes within themselves, and thus coming to know their own selves, their spiritual reality.

Other divine beings are frequently mentioned in the Baha'i writings. Some of these figures appear to be rhetorical devices used by Baha'u'llah. Thus he says that one day he saw one of the beauties of the highest paradise calling aloud and saying, "I am Trustworthiness and the revelation thereof . . . I will recompense whosoever will cleave unto Me . . . I am the supreme instrument for the prosperity of the world . . ." This would seem to be a personification to emphasize the importance of trustworthiness.

We will now mention unto thee Trustworthiness and the station thereof in the estimation of God, thy Lord, the Lord of the Mighty Throne. One day of days We repaired unto Our Green Island. Upon Our arrival, We beheld its streams flowing, and its trees luxuriant, and the sunlight playing in their midst. Turning Our face to the right, We beheld what the pen is powerless to describe; nor can it set forth that which the eye of the Lord of Mankind witnessed in that most sanctified, that most sublime, that blest, and most exalted Spot. Turning, then, to the left We gazed on one of the Beauties of the Most Sublime Paradise, standing on a pillar of light, and calling aloud saying:  "O inmates of earth and heaven!  Behold ye My beauty, and My radiance, and My revelation, and My effulgence. By God, the True One! I am Trustworthiness and the revelation thereof, and the beauty thereof. I will recompense whosoever will cleave unto Me, and recognize My rank and station, and hold fast unto My hem. I am the most great ornament of the people of Baha, and the vesture of glory unto all who are in the kingdom of creation. I am the supreme instrument for the prosperity of the world, and the horizon of assurance unto all beings." Thus have We sent down for thee that which will draw men nigh unto the Lord of creation."

This Wronged One hath, at all times, summoned the peoples of the world unto that which will exalt them, and draw them nigh unto God . . .

On the other hand, there are many references in the Baha'i scriptures to figures that are not so clearly metaphorical. One such example is the Maiden of Heaven who appeared to Baha'u'llah in the vision in the Siyah-Chal  in Tehran that marked the start of his ministry in 1852. Passages in the Baha'i writings indicate that this figure can be regarded both as a heavenly figure and as representing the higher spiritual aspect of Baha'u'llah himself. Similarly, there are many references in the Baha'i scriptures to angels and the Concourse on high; some Baha'is believe that these represent actual entities, whereas other Baha'is consider them symbolic, as so much else in Baha'i scripture is. There are some passages in the Baha'i writings that indicate that angels are both symbols for celestial power and that they are human beings who have achieved a high spiritual station.

Study Questions:
     1.     What is the Baha'i concept of God?
     2.     Do Baha’is believe that the founders of the world’s religions are divine or human?
     3.     How do Baha’is explain their claim that Baha’u’llah is the return of Christ?
     4.     If, according to the Baha'i teachings, God is unknowable, what is the meaning of the injunction in the Baha'i scriptures that we should strive to know God?

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