Coming to Terms with Faith and God (P.III)

Read part 1, here.
Read part 2, here.

Design must be proven before a designer can be inferred. The matter in controversy is the existence of design in the Universe, and it is not permitted to assume the contested premises and thence infer the matter in dispute. Insidiously to employ the words contrivance, design, and adaptation before these circumstances are made apparent in the Universe, thence justly inferring a contriver, is a popular sophism against which it behoves us to be watchful.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1814

From the perspective of pure logic, some might argue that Shelley won a decisive blow against deism. Even the most sophisticated argument invoked to ‘prove’ the necessity of a Creator (i.e., the cosmological argument and its variations) fails to demonstrate why one must leap from contingent beings to the God of Abraham. Logic cannot prove it, empiricism cannot suggest it. Only in the minds of those who have already assumed “the contested premises” that the Designer exists, can the “existence of design in the Universe” be inferred.

Yet, for me, a problem remains unaddressed. Using logic, or other rational modes of deduction, to resolve this controversy itself seems to rely on assumptions; namely,

  • That man is capable of knowing the reality of God and the nature of God’s Will; and,
  • That logic and rational arguments are the means by which these truths can be known.

If we peruse the verses of Revelation, we find that these assumptions are never permitted. On the contrary, Revelation calls on us to bear witness to the testimony of the Revealer and to believe on Faith alone. Is this not the whole point of the controversy? That is, whether we can take the truth of a claim on its own authority? Yet this is exactly what Revelation asks of us. Consider these passages:

As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory. For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

The Bible, 1 Thessalonians (2:10-13)

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. […] So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. […] I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.

The Bible, Romans 10

For, Believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts, and when they hear His signs rehearsed, find their faith strengthened, and put (all) their trust in their Lord […]

O ye who believe! Obey Allah and His Messenger, and turn not away from him when ye hear (him speak).

The Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Anfal (8:2, 20; Trans. Yusuf Ali)

Perhaps there’s no clearer elucidation of this concept than in the Writings of the Báb, where He clearly states that God’s self-description – as revealed by the Manifestation – is sufficient proof of God’s existence:

Know thou, O Seeker, that, in the books they have penned, the philosophers have brought forth arguments for the existence of a Fashioner even as the mystics have adduced proofs for His unity. But these books are all refuted by the testimony of the very proofs they contain, inasmuch as the latter are all contingent, and it is impossible for the proof of the Divine Essence to be contingent. Nay, rather, should anyone fix his gaze upon the Point of Truth, pierce the veils, and unravel the allusions, he would know of a certainty that to provide any argument for the existence of the Incomparable One or any proof of his unity, other than God’s own description, is a cardinal sin and a most grievous transgression. Verily, I find no proof for His existence and His unity save His own self.

The Bab, Tablet to Mirza Sa’id

One need only peruse the first section of the Kitab-i-Iqan to find repeated references to this theme. For the sake of brevity, this one should suffice:

Immeasurably high are the Prophets of God exalted above the comprehension of men, who can never know them except by their own Selves. Far be it from His glory that His chosen Ones should be magnified by any other than their own persons. Glorified are they above the praise of men; exalted are they above human understanding!

Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Iqan

The mere suggestion that God can be known through rational inquiry is preposterous. The implication of knowledge is an eventual mastery, and mastery suggests a reversal of power. We became aware of force, motion, and lift and then we took to the skies. Natural phenomenon have a certain comprehensibility to them in that they appear to us as mechanical components, concepts with logical or causal relations and such, and by thinking on them continually we can devise sophisticated maps of reality which, although incomplete and imperfect, allow us to navigate the realm of appearances with great precision. If the Divine Essence, God, could be comprehended in such a way then, little-by-little, we would reverse the power dynamic, so that the created would have mastery over the Creator. A transcendent Creator could not be, if you will, “in this world.” It should be the case that a transcendent Creator is far-removed from its creation, and that the “Truth” of this relationship should remain a mystery.

But why should It be a mystery? Why should the Divine Essence conceal Itself in such a way as to befuddle the very hearts It seeks to subdue? Why not make Itself fully known to us in all Its glory, so that we can arise with certainty, one and all, in devotion to It? The idea that an All-Powerful God should be restrained by some metaphysical proviso from direct access to Its creation, seems to be a paradox of sorts – reductio ad absurdum.

Perhaps there are mysteries of the sort that cannot be comprehended or even pondered by our limited minds. However, there is a potential resolution to this mystery that is mentioned repeatedly in scripture: Revelation asserts that God’s self-concealment, both of its Being and of the Word, seeks to separate believers from unbelievers. It is, if you will, a touchstone to prove the faith of Man.

Consider these words of Baha’u’llah from the Kitab-i-Aqdas:

‘Verily Our Word is abstruse, bewilderingly abstruse.’ In another instance, it is said: ‘Our Cause is sorely trying, highly perplexing; none can bear it except a favorite of heaven, or an inspired Prophet, or he whose faith God hath tested.’ […] when the divine Touchstone appeared, they have shown themselves to be naught but dross.

Baha’u’llah explains that “Were the prophecies recorded in the Gospel to be literally fulfilled; were Jesus, Son of Mary, accompanied by angels, to descend from the visible heaven upon the clouds; who would dare to disbelieve, who would dare to reject the truth, and wax disdainful?” Certainly, there would be no need for faith if the full glory of God were to be made manifest before the eyes of mankind. If God had indeed created souls to recognize Him and submit to His Will, then there must be a test of Faith to challenge the worthiness of those who encounter His Word.

Were you to ponder, but for a while, these utterances in your heart, you would surely find the portals of understanding unlocked before your face, and would behold knowledge and the mysteries thereof unveiled before your eyes. Such things take place only that the souls of men may develop and be delivered from the prison-cage of self and desire. Otherwise, that ideal King hath, throughout eternity, been in His Essence independent of the comprehension of beings, and will continue, forever, in His own Being to be exalted above the adoration of every soul. A single breeze of His affluence doth suffice to adorn mankind with the robe of wealth; and one drop out of the ocean of His bountiful grace is enough to confer upon beings the glory of everlasting life. But inasmuch as the divine Purpose hath decreed that the true should be known from the false, and the sun from the shadow, He hath, therefore, in every season sent down upon mankind the showers of tests from His realm of glory.

Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Iqan

To be continued…

One thought on “Coming to Terms with Faith and God (P.III)

  1. Nicely done. It’s a wonderful thing to read philosophy, to share questions, especially for me when the ideas used include the Baha’i Writings. I look forward to your reflections, most lovingly and carefully crafted.

    I also got a literal laugh out loud from you when I read “But why should It be a mystery?” Not that I am going to respond in the words of my people (as portrayed by some stand up comedians) with the words “why not?” Mystery is whenever there are things we don’t understand. And, who among us could ever venture to say that in this extraordinary and vast universe we can know everything? Every time we look farther or deeper, we see new structures of reality. So, were you joking when you asked the question? Accepting mystery is, for me, a relief. Not to make us complacent but to know that the mind has limits, at which point the value of other channels of feeling and perception may open.

    The other point I wanted to respond to is the idea that “an All-Powerful God should be restrained by some metaphysical proviso from direct access to Its creation”. In the first place, wouldn’t “restrained” be contrary to the Creator being All Powerful? More to the point, isn’t it rather the case according to the Baha’i Writings that His creation is restrained from access to God not the other way around? In which case, I like to think that the emanation metaphor explains the difference between His Transcendence and His Creation.

    Clearly, you have done a good job highlighting one strand of explanation for God hiding His Essence behind the billowing veils of reality – in order to test His servants. I am sure there are other explanations given elsewhere.

    I think you would agree, one of the deeper explanation behind all of these philosophical problems are the limits of language itself. All metaphors, all teachings, are ultimately crude attempts to fathom a reality so complex that our minds boggle. We can appreciate how helpful the Revelations are in drawing us closer to the reality, but the Reality itself eludes us. That can cause frustration to some minds – “souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me” — but appreciating the reality of Mystery can also add so much to life. We may understand scientifically the sky, but even as the sky’s ultimate meaning eludes us, the beauty of its changing colors profoundly arouses our feelings and imagination.

    In other words, Revelation is both frustrating and comforting. Frustrating because even as it attracts us, it is here in philosophy written with words that our attempts to understand and master the universe our efforts are revealed as puny. Yet, it is also here that we experience some thing beyond us, and in the figurative language of Revelation we glimpse an awesome order of existence and meaning.

    And, praised be to God, Revelation offers us not just a higher vision of what is and should and can be, not just elevated words and lofty feelings, not just wise laws and the solid foundations for community, but also the encounter with the Holy Ones who teach by credible Example. Souls who our forefathers and foremothers met and were enlightened by. These stories are as important as philosophy, perhaps more so.

    Therefore let us lift the hem of our garments and gather the grace that is continuously flowing. Question we can and should, and dancing and exclaiming also!

    “Behold Baha’s outpouring grace, the bounty of the clouds above
    Which merged into a single song, in God’s own voice is raining down.

    Behold the Palm of Paradise (1), behold the warbling of the Dove
    Behold the glorious hymns that in the purest light are raining down.

    Hear ye the sotted lovers’ sighs, behold the garden blooming fair;
    Behold the bliss that from His presence in your midst is raining down. (2)

    Behold the radiant face of Há, behold the beateous robe of Bá;
    Behold the Lordly grace that from Our Pen is raining down.

    ~ Bahá’u’lláh, from the Rashh-i-Amá, a Persian poem of 19 couplets “widely regarded by Baha’is as the earliest extant example of divine revelation…composed during the time of its Author’s imprisonment in the Siyah-i-Chal”.

    (1) According to Foad Seddigh, this tree can be taken as the Sadratu’l-Muntaha. Wikipedia say the Sidraṫ al-Munṫahā is a large enigmatic lote tree or Sidr tree that marks the end of the seventh heaven, the boundary which no creation can pass, according to Islamic beliefs. The Sidrat al-Muntahā is a metaphor for the Manifestation of God.

    (2) Stephen Lambden’s translation of this couplet is:
    Observe the Intoxicating Lament! Behold the Orchard of Ecstasy!
    See thou that the Rapture of Existence rainethy down from the Court of the Meeting with God!

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