Paragraph 11 – Scripture tailored to the divine purpose and human condition
In this blog post, I continue with my commentary on Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of the Son. In paragraph 11, Baha’u’llah cites an example of how God rearranges words and meaning at the time of a new revelation. He gives a challenging example. He asks the reader to consider a situation where a new Manifestation says “I was born”. Now, this would be a surprise, given that scripture usually thrashes the idea that God does not give birth. The Qur’an says, for example, “He was not born, nor gave birth.”[Qur’an 112:3], which was a response to the Christians, who were very much wedded to the idea that Jesus was God’s son. The verse is a reminder that God transcends notions of birth and is uncreated.
But, says Baha’u’llah, even though the verse contains an important statement about God not having any peers or likeness, nevertheless, it is not an absolute. It is still a statement that has been created for the human condition. Among the people, the verse is highly regarded. However, says Baha’u’llah, the high station of the verse is dependent on God’s good-pleasure. Because – and here’s a crucial idea – the statements that God chooses to make about God are subject to change by subsequent revelations. One revelation might privilege one notion about God and the next revelation privilege something different.
Then Baha’u’llah outlines how this change occurred over the course of the Islamic/Babi/Baha’i dispensations. In the Islamic and Babi dispensations, God privileged ideas about God’s transcendence and sanctification. The result was that these ideas about God became famous among believers. But actually, God is sanctified and purified beyond these words and statements. In effect, these notions are like words and concepts that God created so that human beings can talk about God in a particular way. What does God privilege in the Baha’i dispensation? The answer to that question came in paragraph 8, where Baha’u’llah says “Note that what appeared was virtues, of which all remained ignorant.”
“For instance, what if God were to say, “I was born?” This assertion would recall his saying, “He was not born, nor gave birth.”[Qur’an 112:3]. Although this latter verse on the surface asserts that God is beyond having any likeness, peer or rival, it in fact leads only to the station of insight into humanity. For among the people, as well, this station is the highest and most exalted. However, even this distinction is dependent on God’s acceptance and will. In the dispensations of the Qur’an and the Bayan, the divine will preferred pure transcendence and absolute sanctification. For this reason, the brilliance of these utterances has established itself and become apparent in the hearts of the believers. Otherwise, that sea of pre-existence is sanctified above all these words created in time, and the most holy court is purified above all these statements.”Tablet of the Son, paragraph 11
There is one other place that I am aware of where Baha’u’llah refers to the fact that the Islamic and Babi dispensations privileged the notion that God is transcendent above creation. It comes in the Persian version of the Tablet of the Holy Mariner. In this context, he does not state that he is referring to the two previous revelations, but you wouldn’t expect him to give that detail here because this is a mystical tablet, not a commentary. Here Baha’u’llah simply says:
“We have passed beyond the loftiness of abstraction, the sublimity of divine oneness, the ultimate recognition that God is above all attributes, and the most great sanctification. Now, they must put forth their utmost effort and give their unswerving attention, so that their inward secrets not be contrary to their overt behavior, nor their outward deeds at variance with their inner mysteries. We have traversed the stage of expending the self for others. Arise to expend justice and fairness upon the souls that pertain to you.”Tablet of the Holy Mariner, Persian section
And the exciting thing about this passage is that it gives us a summary of what Baha’u’llah considers to be important about the Baha’i revelation. Here, he emphasises that people should focus on uniting their inner and outer selves. They shouldn’t be hypocrites. He also seems to be saying that the Baha’i revelation has gone beyond the stage where people are required to sacrifice themselves for others; instead, what’s important is becoming a just and fair person. This fits with Baha’u’llah saying in paragraph 8 of Tablet of the Son that “what appeared was virtues.” And it also fits with the summary of the Baha’i revelation found in Words of Wisdom:
“The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.”Words of Wisdom, in Tablets of Baha’u’llah
My commentary on Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of the Son is a work in progress. You can read what I’ve written so far here.