Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Paragraph 104

To every discerning and illumined 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. “No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision; He is the Subtile, the All-Perceiving.” No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures. He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. No sign can indicate His presence or His absence; inasmuch as by a word of His command all that are in heaven and on earth have come to exist, and by His wish, which is the Primal Will itself, all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being, the world of the visible.

Thus begins our incredible journey into Part 2 of this remarkable Book. For nine paragraphs Baha'u'llah will talk about the concept of how we are unable to know God directly, and can only begin to know Him through His Manifestations. Two paragraphs earlier, the introductory paragraph to Part 2 begins, as you recall, "Verily He Who is the Day-star of Truth and Revealer of the Supreme Being...", and here He begins showing us that aspect of His station as the "Revealer of the Supreme Being".

But what is He saying, exactly?

He begins by recognizing that if our heart is able to distinguish subtle and hard-to-recognize differences, which is the definition of "discerning", as well as illumined, which we like to think of as radiant through various attributes such as humility and detachment, then we understand that God is so much more than ourselves. Remember, detachment was such an important quality in Part 1, and here it seems to play an equally strong part, too. Many people like to think of God as just a big person. Somehow this seems to make them think that we, as a species, are somehow bigger or more important, but all it really does is shrink their perception of God. Here Baha'u'llah is really telling us that any human attributes that we want to try to place upon our understanding of God are bound to fall far, far short. Not only do these attributes fall short, God is "immensely exalted beyond" all of them. In Prayers and Meditations LXXV, He goes on to explain this further, saying, "I know not how to sing Thy praise, how to describe Thy glory, how to call upon Thy Name. If I call upon Thee by Thy Name, the All-Possessing, I am compelled to recognize that He Who holdeth in His hand the immediate destinies of all created things is but a vassal dependent upon Thee, and is the creation of but a word proceeding from Thy mouth. And if I proclaim Thee by the name of Him Who is the All-Compelling, I readily discover that He is but a suppliant fallen upon the dust, awe-stricken by Thy dreadful might, Thy sovereignty and power." However we attempt to describe God, our description must fall short.

We should not think, however, that this means we cannot praise God, for as anyone who has prayed knows, we can. But rather we should be aware of His caveat: we cannot "adequately recount His praise". Any praise we attempt to use to try to praise God will, also, fall short.

This whole paragraph seems to drive this point home: God is so much more than we think.

Although we can have indirect contact with God, through His Manifestations, we cannot know God directly.

To be clear, though, this does not mean that we, as a species, are any less worthy or smaller than we thought, but rather that God is so much greater than we had previously believed.

Saying it, though, doesn't really do it justice. Let's use an example instead.

Imagine yourself, for a moment, sitting in your room, where you are right now. Picture yourself, from above, looking down on yourself, sitting there. It's easy, right? Now try to imagine yourself sitting there, in that room, inside the building in which you are, whether it is a house, or an apartment block, or even a local coffee shop. Imagine yourself sitting there, in that building. Picture the building around you, with you sitting there comfortably reading these words.

Again, not too difficult.

Now try to see yourself, from further above, still sitting there in the room in the building in your city or town. Visualize the whole town, and try to see yourself sitting there in your room.

Not as easy, is it?

Now move further away. Try to visualize yourself, where you are, in your whole country. Look down at the entire country. Can you still see yourself?

How about from the perspective of the entire planet? Or solar system? Or galaxy? Or galactic cluster? And remember, this is just one of many millions of galactic clusters in the universe.

None of this, however, means that you are any smaller or less than when you first imagined yourself sitting in your room. You are still the same. Unchanged. It's just that now we have a far grander vision of the reality of the universe than we did, say, a hundred years ago.

Remember, in almost every sacred Book there is a line somewhere that says that the "fear of God is the beginning of wisdom". "Fear", you may recall, is actually "a mild discomfort", not the terror that we often associate with the term. "Terror" is a "paralyzing fear", but fear itself is just a mild discomfort. And this exercise of seeing where we actually are in the immensity of the universe often makes us a little bit uncomfortable as we begin to contemplate just how minuscule we are in the immensity of the universe around us.

We have not gotten any smaller. We have just allowed ourselves to begin to understand how incredibly big this universe actually is.

Here, in this paragraph, Baha'u'llah is beginning to do the same thing with our understanding of God.

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