Tuesday, September 27, 2011

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This servant will now share with thee a dewdrop out of the fathomless ocean of the truths treasured in these holy words, that haply discerning hearts may comprehend all the allusions and the implications of the utterances of the Manifestations of Holiness, so that the overpowering majesty of the Word of God may not prevent them from attaining unto the ocean of His names and attributes, nor deprive them of recognizing the Lamp of God which is the seat of the revelation of His glorified Essence.

Here is the last of three paragraphs of introduction to Matthew 24.

Baha'u'llah immediately identifies Himself as a servant thus positioning Himself in a humble state of mind. He sets the example of how we should teach by using Himself as an example.

He reminds us that these holy words are truly fathomless. There is always more and more that we can discover within them. "And if all the trees in the earth", it says in the Qur'an, "were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it, (were ink), the words of Allah could not be exhausted."

He also reminds us that understanding them is not a foregone conclusion. It is only with luck, or by the Will of God ("haply", remember), that we will come to a deeper understanding. Over and over again throughout this Book, He reminds us that it is always by the grace of God that we understand. Our job, as He says so well in the first few paragraphs, is to purify our heart, to sanctify our soul, and then we can begin to approach His threshold. It is important to note that it is our heart that does the comprehending, not our mind. This is so contrary to our modern "scientific" understanding in which everything can be understood from a logical and straightforward literal reading. Here we are learning about the sacred, an effort which defies the literal and straightforward and causes us to face the incomprehensible. This is a challenge for us; it involves a little spiritual labour, as well as humility.

Here, once again, He likens the sacred texts to an ocean, which can be overwhelming. This is like information overload. When a submarine goes under the water in the ocean to explore, they are only able to see a few feet in front of them. It is only by making thousands and thousands of dives, all over the ocean, and combining what we know from each one's experience that we can begin to get a bit of an understanding of the what is contained within the depths of the ocean. This is further multiplied when we consider the Holy Words.

He also points out something very interesting here, namely that this can be overpowering and can even become a barrier for some. Imagine if someone discovered a profound truth latent within a sacred verse. Now imagine someone else has discovered another very profound truth within the same verse. Can you not see how they could come to odds with each other over which interpretation, or understanding, is "correct"? It is often very difficult to recognize that both may be "correct", for there are many truths that are contained within each verse.

Even here, with all that Baha'u'llah shares about this single verse from Matthew 24, He doesn't claim that He is telling us everything that is contained within it. In fact, He is expressly telling us that there is more, far more, contained there. Although He is hoping that we will be able to "comprehend all the allusions and the implications", He is only sharing a dewdrop with us.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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Beside this passage, there is yet another verse in the Gospel wherein He saith: "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away."[1] Thus it is that the adherents of Jesus maintained that the law of the Gospel shall never be annulled, and that whensoever the promised Beauty is made manifest and all the signs are revealed, He must needs re-affirm and establish the law proclaimed in the Gospel, so that there may remain in the world no faith but His faith. This is their fundamental belief. And their conviction is such that were a person to be made manifest with all the promised signs and to promulgate that which is contrary to the letter of the law of the Gospel, they must assuredly renounce him, refuse to submit to his law, declare him an infidel, and laugh him to scorn. This is proved by that which came to pass when the sun of the Muhammadan Revelation was revealed. Had they sought with a humble mind from the Manifestations of God in every Dispensation the true meaning of these words revealed in the sacred books -- words the misapprehension of which hath caused men to be deprived of the recognition of the Sadratu'l-Muntaha, the ultimate Purpose -- they surely would have been guided to the light of the Sun of Truth, and would have discovered the mysteries of divine knowledge and wisdom.[1 Luke 21:33.]

Here is a second warning from Baha'u'llah about how we are to approach this paragraph from Matthew, and, indeed, all the Sacred Texts: We should recognize that the laws are regenerated and renewed as needed in each Age. We will also need to submit to these new laws, and that might be difficult for us, as it is not easy to move from our old set of traditions to a new one. It is good to remember that Jesus changed some laws from the dispensation of Moses, the law of the Sabbath being one example, and we can see the effect it had at the time.

Later, at the time of Muhammad, the adherents of Jesus clung to the letter of the Law and forgot the spirit of it. They took the Words of Jesus literally and presumed that this was the only valid way to read them.

We see this as another caution. While it is acceptable, and sometimes preferable, to read the words literally, we should be cautious not to do so to an extreme. Baha'u'llah does not seem to be condemning the people of that day for using a literal interpretation, but instead for trying to impose it upon others. By doing so, they were moving beyond the bounds of moderation and humility, forgetting that they could still learn more.

This pattern, which we see here between the followers of Jesus and those of Muhammad, continues that which we had seen earlier in this Book.

Baha'u'llah, indeed all the Messengers of God, has told us repeatedly that God is exalted above the Manifestations and They do His bidding; They are all His servants. They are, as the Bab says, but a ring upon His finger. It is to God that we must become attached, and not the Words. This is the true meaning of detachment. "Forget all save Me, and commune with my Spirit".

Many Jews denied Jesus because He taught something other than what was in the Tanakh. Many Christians denied Muhammad because He taught something other than what was in the Gospels. Baha'u'llah is cautioning us not to fall into the same pattern. He specifically tells us to approach with a humble mind the true meaning of these words from every Manifestation, not just the Messenger of God we adhere to. Looking back on this pattern we should be able to identify this lack of humility in the mind.

This is a very important point to us, for it encourages us to keep an open mind about how we read things. There are some who are, of course, against this, as they see it as somehow weakening their faith. But what they fail to realize is that exploring the Writings from many points of view allows us to see where our faith, or reasoning, is weak. This type of exposure allows us to see how to strengthen our faith by reinforcing those areas of doubt. This whole Book, after all, is called the Book of Certitude, so it should not come as a surprise that we find this in here.