Baha’u’llah explains that religious laws are of two kinds – the ones that don’t change and the ones that do. From what I can make out, most laws do in fact change. This is in keeping with the law of change in the contingent world, which guarantees that everything changes. It stands to reason, then, that religious law has to change too. Religion needs to be constantly updated so that it continues to be relevant. One of the principal tasks of the prophet, or Manifestation, of God, is to update the divine law. Each time a Manifestation of God comes, humanity has an entirely different worldview and social milieu to what it had when the last Manifestation was here. God has a long-term plan for humanity too, and so the new laws fit with humanity’s new circumstances and unfolding destiny.
All very well, but what does not change? I have found that there isn’t much said on this aspect of the issue. The discussion usually focuses on the need for change, what actually has changed and why, because humanity is reluctant to accept change. I know of two passages from Baha’u’llah that identify laws that do not change, which are closely related in subject matter. The first is the law of love. I recently stumbled on this important passage in Baha’i Scriptures, which is probably the first book of Baha’i scripture to be published. It came out in 1923, and was edited by Horace Holley. Among the book’s 500 pages are a handful of passages that do not appear in more recent publications of scripture. One of these passages has been given the title “The Law of Love”. Here is what it says:
“Say: O friend! Sleep with your face turned to the Friend, and rest in bed in the thought of the loved One. From flowers inhale the fragrance of the beloved One, and in every fire see the light of the desired One. I swear by the life of the Friend, that if thou smellest the garment of Joseph and enterest the Egypt of the love of God, thou wilt become the mother of all the chosen ones! Then exert thyself in love with thy soul and enter the abode of the beloved One with thy heart. Abandon grief for the world to its people and give no heed to the limited days of this world; be seated on the immortal, everlasting throne, be clad in a divine raiment, drink the wine of love from the cup of the beloved One, become ablaze with the light of love, and sew the robe of love! This is that matter which shall never change! Know thou, therefore, that in every age and dispensation all Divine Ordinances are changed and transformed according to the requirements of the time, except the law of love, which, like unto a fountain, flows always and is never overtaken by change. This is of the wonderful mysteries which God has mentioned for His servants! Verily, He is the merciful, the compassionate!”Baha’i Scriptures, edited by Horace Holley, Brentano’s 1923, page 248, no 524. Phelps Inventory: BH02949
The other passage in which Baha’u’llah identifies a law that does not change appears in the tablet “City of Radiant Acquiescence”. It is about one’s love for God and God’s love for each of us, in return. This passage should, perhaps, be seen as an aspect of the law of love – as it plays out in the believer’s relationship with God.
“Then know that your love for God is God’s good-pleasure with you and your good-pleasure with him. This is the religious path that was ordained by the right hand of God’s wisdom, and it shall not change with a change of prophets, nor is it renewed by the advent of a new messenger. Rather, all enjoin this upon the people, and it is a trust of God deposited in the hearts of the sincere. This is what suffices you above all else.”City of Radiant Acquiescence, para 8, trans. Juan Cole
Now, having said that the law of love does not change, I think there is an interesting complexity to this idea. There seems to be a difference between a general law as such, and its significance. In other words, the general law does not change, but its significance, or meaning, does change. For example, you might expect that the law “there is no god but God” does not change. But in Tablet of the Son, Baha’u’llah says that the principle of monotheism does change, in the sense that with each new dispensation it is infused with a new meaning.
“Consider the word, “monotheism,” about which all the manifestations of the Eternal Truth have spoken in each dispensation, and which all the adherents of the various religions have asserted. Nevertheless, in each dispensation it is an innovation, and its novel character can never be withdrawn from it. God breathes into each word he speaks a new spirit, and the breezes of life from that word waft upon all things outwardly and inwardly.”Tablet of the Son, para 9, trans Juan Cole
Therefore, the word “monotheism” does change with the appearance of each Manifestation of God. It is infused with an innovation it did not have previously. Perhaps the same is also true of love. In a general sense, love does not change, but it does become an innovation with each new Manifestation of God. An interesting follow-up question would be: how has the significance of love changed in this dispensation?