The coming of new Messengers from God represent pivotal points in history. They release a fresh spiritual impulse, stimulating personal renewal and social advancement. Bahá'u'lláh's revelation, and the spiritual impulse accompanying it, is especially significant because it coincides with the maturation of humanity.
There is only one God, the Creator of the Universe. Throughout history, God has revealed Himself to humanity through a series of divine Messengers--each of whom has founded a great religion. The Messengers have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. This succession of divine Teachers reflects a single historic "plan of God" for educating humanity about the Creator and for cultivating the spiritual, intellectual and moral capacities of the race. The goal has been to prepare the way for a single, global and ever-advancing civilization. Knowledge of God's will for humanity in the modern age was revealed just over 100 years ago by Bahá'u'lláh, who is the latest of these divine Messengers.
That is the essence of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings about God, religion and humanity. Bahá'ís often express these beliefs simply by speaking of the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of humankind. Unity is at all times the overarching theme of Bahá'í belief; in theological terms, it manifests itself in the understanding that the sole Creator has a single plan for the one humanity.
Coupled with these ideas is an understanding that human nature is fundamentally spiritual. Although human beings exist on earth in physical bodies, the essential identity of each person is defined by an invisible, rational, and everlasting soul.
"Know thou assuredly that the essence of all the Prophets of God is one and the same..." -- Bahá'u'lláh
The soul animates the body and distinguishes human beings from the animals. It grows and develops only through the individual's relationship with God, as mediated by His Messengers. The relationship is fostered through prayer, knowledge of the scriptures revealed by these Teachers, love for God, moral self-discipline, and service to humanity. This process is what gives meaning to life.
Cultivation of life's spiritual side has several benefits. First, the individual increasingly develops those innate qualities that lie at the foundation of human happiness and social progress. Such qualities include faith, courage, love, compassion, trustworthiness and humility. As these qualities are increasingly manifest, society as a whole advances.
Another effect of spiritual development is alignment with God's will. This growing closer prepares the individual for the afterlife. The soul lives on after the body's death, embarking on a spiritual journey towards God through many "worlds" or planes of existence. Progress on this journey, in traditional terms, is likened to "heaven." If the soul fails to develop, one remains distant from God. This, in traditional Christian or Muslim terms,is "hell."
The coming of new Messengers from God represent pivotal points in history. Each releases a fresh spiritual impulse, stimulating personal renewal and social advancement. Bahá'u'lláh's revelation, and the spiritual impulse accompanying it, is especially significant because it coincides with the maturation of humanity.
Bahá'u'lláh teaches that humanity, as a whole, has today entered a new stage in its collective existence. Like an adolescent entering adulthood, new levels of accomplishment are now possible. Global undertakings, once considered impossible, can now be achieved. Such undertakings include the realization of world peace, the attainment of universal social justice, and the furtherance of a harmonious balance between technology, development, human values and protection of the natural environment.
In elaborating how Bahá'ís view the relationship between God, religion and humanity, the best place to start is with the Bahá'í concept of God. And that concept begins with the realization that God is unknowable.
Bahá'u'lláh taught that God is the Creator of the universe and its absolute ruler. His nature is limitless, infinite and all-powerful. It is therefore impossible for mortal men and women, with limited intellect and finite capacities, to directly comprehend or understand the Divine reality, Its motives or the way It operates.
While unknowable in His essence, God has chosen to make Himself known to humanity through a series of divine Messengers.
These Messengers have been the only way to knowledge of God, and their number includes the Founders of the world's great religions: Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, and Muhammad--to name those Messengers who are best known.
Bahá'ís also include other prophets in this group, such as Noah and Abraham.
"A new life is, in this age, stirring within all the peoples of the earth..." -- Bahá'u'lláh
The Messengers, in Bahá'u'lláh's words, are "Manifestations of God." The Manifestations are perfect mirrors of God's attributes and perfection, providing a pure channel for the communication of God's will for humanity.
This idea--that God has sent a succession of Messengers to educate humanity--is called "progressive revelation." An analogy is the process of schooling. Just as children start with simple ideas in the primary grades, and are given increasingly complex knowledge as they move on through secondary school and college, so humanity has been "educated" by a series of Manifestations. In each age, the teachings of the Messensgers of God have conformed not to Their knowledge but to the level of our collective maturity.
The Manifestations of God have a two-fold station. On the one hand, they are Divine beings, reflecting perfectly God's will. On the other hand, they are humans, subject to birth, disease, suffering and death. They have different physical identities and they address humanity at different stages in history. These differences give rise to cultural distinctions between religions that sometimes conceal their inherent unity.
"The Word of God hath set the heart of the world afire; how regrettable if ye fail to be enkindled with its flame!" --Bahá'u'lláh
"Every Prophet Whom the Almighty and Peerless Creator hath purposed to send to the peoples of the earth hath been entrusted with a Message, and charged to act in a manner that would best meet the requirements of the age in which He appeared," Bahá'u'lláh said.
Fundamentally, however, the spiritual message of God's Messengers has been universally the same. Each has stressed the importance of love for God, obedience to His will, and love for humanity. Although the words have varied, each has taught the "Golden Rule"--that individuals should treat others as they would like to be treated themselves.
"Know thou assuredly that the essence of all the Prophets of God is one and the same." Bahá'u'lláh wrote. "Their unity is absolute. God, the Creator, saith: There is no distinction whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message..."
The Manifestations of God communicate God's will to humanity through the process of divine revelation. This process of revelation has been recorded in the world's great holy books--books that range from the Torah to the Qur'an, and which include Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Zoroastrian scriptures. These writings represent humanity's record of God's revealed Word.
Bahá'u'lláh says that the Word of God is the "master key" for the whole world. Only it can unlock the spiritual potential latent within every individual; only it can help us develop to our fullest potential. Without the Word of God, humans would remain captives of instinct and cultural conditioning, dwelling only on qualities that are associated with physical survival. Greed, selfishness, dishonesty, corruption and the like inevitably flourish if there is no divine guidance.
"The door of the knowledge of the Ancient Being hath ever been, and will continue for ever to be, closed in the face of men. No man's understanding shall ever gain access unto His holy court. As a token of His mercy, however, and as a proof of His loving-kindness, He hath manifested unto men the Day Stars of His divine guidance, the Symbols of His divine unity, and hath ordained the knowledge of these sanctified Beings to be identical with the knowledge of His own Self.... Every one of them is the Way of God that connecteth this world with the realms above..." --Bahá'u'lláh
For Bahá'ís, the books, tablets and letters penned by Bahá'u'lláh represent today the Word of God renewed. Although they are consistent with past religious revelations, and represent "the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future," the writings of Bahá'u'lláh also contain fresh truths about God's will for humanity today
"Excerpted from The Bahá'ís Magazine, a publication of the Bahá'í International Community."