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

See part 1, here.
See part 2, here.
See part 3, here.

If I still have your attention, dear patron, I am grateful. You are under no obligation to be my audience and, as such, I recognize that you have chosen to entertain my nebulous blathering because you: pity me; are hoping that I will eventually unearth something shocking and novel; feel that you must out of friendship/kinship; are concerned about my mental sanity and are seeking to understand my unresolved subconscious; or actually find this interesting. Perhaps someone out there actually finds these posts agreeable, or sees in them potential for an enriched discourse. Doubtful, but please do feel free to reach out.

I ended my last post with the suggestion that the Truths of Revelation, i.e., Divine Truths, must necessarily be concealed from any standard of proof except itself. In other words, the only standard of proof that can verify the Truth of Revelation is the fact of its own testimony. This seems to be so for a number of reasons:

  1. If the testimony of Revelation could be verified by human standards then belief in the Manifestation would no longer be a matter of faith, but the result of reason. If reason could conclusively demonstrate the Truth of Revelation, then the purity of our motives would not be tested. The self-concealment of revelation acts as a touchstone, if you will, to test the purity of one’s faith.

  2. If the Truths of Revelation were intelligible to the same rational mind that knows and subdues the realm of appearances (i.e., physical reality as perceived by the senses, and material reality as is intelligible to the rational mind), then it would also be subject to human subjugation. If God is transcendent and far-removed from All Things, then God necessarily cannot be subjugated by any contingent thing – including the mind of Man.

  3. God is necessarily unconstrained, which is made evident by the revelatory axiom: “He Doeth as He Willeth.” Therefore, God can conceal Itself from its creation if It wills it so, and God can test the purity of one’s faith if It wills it so, and God can grace some with recognition and harden the hearts of others if It wills it so.

The spirit that animateth the human heart is the knowledge of God, and its truest adorning is the recognition of the truth that “He doeth whatsoever He willeth, and ordaineth that which He pleaseth.” Its raiment is the fear of God, and its perfection steadfastness in His Faith. Thus God instructeth whosoever seeketh Him. He, verily, loveth the one that turneth towards Him. There is none other God but Him, the Forgiving, the Most Bountiful. All praise be to God, the Lord of all worlds.


Baha’u’llah, Gleanings.

To summarize thus far my thoughts, I think I have reason to believe that I could not fathom the Truths of Revelation through any mode of rational inquiry devised by Man. To be able to do so would contradict the very claims of Revelation, and would threaten the ontology of a transcendent God. To believe is to respond to the testimony of revelation through the spirit of faith alone.

For he who loves God without faith reflects on himself, while the person who loves God in faith reflects on God.


Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling.

One might now ask, and it would be ever so reasonable to do so, “what is the nature of the sort of ‘knowledge’ that is experienced when ‘believing’ in the Truth of Revelation?” Certainly, one cannot believe or have faith unless there is an object toward which to direct said belief? And if there is an object of faith, then there must be a sort of knowledge that can witness said object? It seems, from the perspective of Revelation, that the sort of knowledge that is attained by the subject when bearing witness to the Truth of Revelation is better described as “recognition.” Recognition in this sense is an inner-eye, if you will; a knowing through the heart; a higher state of conscious awareness of the essential identity of a thing.

[…] because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.


Jesus Christ, Book of John, The Bible.  

In Some Answered Questions, ‘Abdu’l-Baha describes four criteria of comprehension. The first three of these: the senses, the intellect, and tradition, He critiques as follows:

Know, therefore, that what the people possess and believe to be true is liable to error. For if in proving or disproving a thing a proof drawn from the evidence of the senses is advanced, this criterion is clearly imperfect; if a rational proof is adduced, the same holds true; and likewise if a traditional proof is given. Thus it is clear that man does not possess any criterion of knowledge that can be relied upon.

In my own way, I think I had come to a similar conclusion through my previous posts. I had resolved that “Revelation calls on us to bear witness to the testimony of the Revealer and to believe on Faith alone.” Although peculiar and perhaps even offensive to the modern mind, the Master goes on to describe the fourth criterion as follows:

But the grace of the Holy Spirit is the true criterion regarding which there is no doubt or uncertainty. That grace consists in the confirmations of the Holy Spirit which are vouchsafed to man and through which certitude is attained.

We might find it peculiar to say that there is no doubt or uncertainty when our comprehension is born from the “grace of the Holy Spirit.” However, this is consistent with the idea that knowledge born of experience and the rational faculty is always subject to doubt and error. It is for this reason that an ethic of humility and “ease in ambiguity” is encouraged amongst scientists. The most rigorous methods of inquiry devised by Man can still only hope to reveal approximations of what is True in reality. Faith dares to promote certainty (and therein lies the point of contemporary opposition towards religion).

The key to this peculiarity might lie within the Baha’i concept of True Knowledge. The Baha’i writings often glorify “Knowledge” in such ways:

Knowledge (Ilm) is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent on everyone. […] In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him.

Baha’u’llah

In the Writings, the same Farsi word, Ilm, is used for both Knowledge and Science. The word Ilm seems to be referring here to a higher standard or state of knowing. One aspect of this type of knowing is what we commonly understand to be Science – or the process by which justified true belief is generated through the use of human intellect. Science is highly regarded in the Baha’i Writings. In an illuminating passage, the Master describes science as: a virtue that distinguishes Man from animal; a divine bestowal of God; a supernatural superpower by which Man can discover all things and penetrate the mysteries of the future; the first emanation of God to man; an everlasting possession; the supreme gift of God to man.

The virtues of humanity are many, but science is the most noble of them all. The distinction which man enjoys above and beyond the station of the animal is due to this paramount virtue. It is a bestowal of God; it is not material; it is divine. Science is an effulgence of the Sun of Reality, the power of investigating and discovering the verities of the universe, the means by which man finds a pathway to God.

A scientific man is a true index and representative of humanity, for through processes of inductive reasoning and research he is informed of all that appertains to humanity, its status, conditions and happenings. He studies the human body politic, understands social problems and weaves the web and texture of civilization. In fact, science may be likened to a mirror wherein the infinite forms and images of existing things are revealed and reflected. It is the very foundation of all individual and national development. Without this basis of investigation, development is impossible. Therefore, seek with diligent endeavor the knowledge and attainment of all that lies within the power of this wonderful bestowal.

It’s clear from this passage that the whole process of acquiring knowledge (Ilm) through intellectual powers is a Divine Bestowal bequeathed unto Man for his own perfection. However, this is only one type of knowledge. There is yet another word for knowledge in Farsi, Irfan, which is translated in the English Baha’i writings as both “Knowledge” and “Recognition,” as can be inferred from the following passages:

We have decreed, O people, that the highest and last end of all learning be the recognition (irfán) of Him Who is the Object of all knowledge; and yet, behold how ye have allowed your learning to shut you out, as by a veil, from Him Who is the Dayspring of this Light, through Whom every hidden thing hath been revealed.

Baha’u’llah,Epistle to the Son of the Wolf.

The source of all learning is the knowledge (irfán) of God, exalted be His Glory, and this cannot be attained save through the knowledge of His Divine Manifestation.

Baha’u’llah

This Irfán seems to embody a distinct sort of knowledge that is an order above “acquired learning” through the human intellect. Irfán essentially marries the concepts of “knowledge” and “recognition” into a third concept: True Knowledge.

Consider, how can he that faileth in the day of God’s Revelation to attain unto the grace of the “Divine Presence” and to recognize His Manifestation, be justly called learned, though he may have spent aeons in the pursuit of knowledge, and acquired all the limited and material learning of men? It is surely evident that he can in no wise be regarded as possessed of true knowledge. Whereas, the most unlettered of all men, if he be honored with this supreme distinction, he verily is accounted as one of those divinely learned men whose knowledge is of God; for such a man hath attained the acme of knowledge, and hath reached the furthermost summit of learning.

Baha’u’llah,Kitab-i-Iqan.

Indeed, from the perspective of revelation, the “end of all learning” is True Knowledge (or recognition) of God’s Will embodied by the Manifestation.

We have decreed, O people, that the highest and last end of all learning be the recognition of Him Who is the Object of all knowledge.

Baha’u’llah

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “Coming to Terms with Faith and God (P.IV)

  1. Yes, you very much have my attention, without any sense of obligation although I must admit friendship plays a role. Also, I feel more like a dance partner than merely a passive audience. What you are sharing with us is, as you must surely know, a very far cry from nebulous blathering. Rather, you are plumbing the depths of philosophy, religion and the Baha’i Faith. What a joy! So, I give you respect rather than pity. Unearthing something novel redounds to our glory. Shock may be positive if it succeeds in breaking down anachronistic and false conceptions. I have no concerns for your mental sanity; well, no more than the insanity all of us partake in, being ignorant even as we strive to overcome our various pathologies. I haven’t felt the need to try and link what you write to your subconscious although it’s also true that our life experiences help shape our interests and the materials we use to express ourselves. Yes, finally, you come to the point: I find what you write very interesting, and thank you for the journey you are taking us on to understand things more deeply. Your posts are agreeable to my state of mind and offer great possibilities for enriched discourse. You are not obliged, but if you have some comment on what I write, it would be helpful to hear it. Still, you may want to only express yourself through your own musings, and that is fine too. I can also accept that what I write does not merit a response. Just please confirm that you do read what I write so I know I am not talking to myself. Thanks.

    On the specifics of your thoughts written above, surely the “Truths of Revelation” have many dimensions which engage different facets and powers of the human being. Perhaps cognizing the elephant is a good metaphor for this. Faith generates assurance, hope, trust and humility. The Intellect perceives patterns, order, laws and logic. The senses experience the beauty, music, fragrance and sensations of nature. Greater and more mysterious than the Elephant is this Reality which is both within and without. These avenues of access are multiple and not in conflict. Moreover, we have to live in the knowledge that while we can make progress in “knowing” the Elephant, we never fully cognize or understand it. I should add that, in my opinion, the Manifestations of God are another Truth of Revelation, cognition of whom via faith, intellect and senses can inspire and widen our understanding.

    Also re faith requiring an object. I am not sure about that, although Kierkegaard seems to say so. In my deepest meditations, I experience faith as an inner state without an object, at least without an object which can be quantified. It is more like a state of openness and non attachment which are attributes of faith. Or I could say, a trust in ‘nature’ has come about, a trust which is. So deep is this trust that there is no need to think about it. It alone is. Yet, I do give credit to the Manifestations of God for teaching me the path of arriving at trust, i.e. a degree of certitude which goes beyond words and concepts.

    I appreciate your explanation of the difference between Ilm and Irfan. That is helpful. The sense of faith seems more akin to Irfan than Ilm. While I credit Ilm with being a ladder or stepping stone to Irfan, we know that some can leap over all of these stages with a single breath.

    Regarding the criterion of truth, I believe that the Master found acceptable those determinations which all four criterion agree on, e.g. tradition, logic, the senses and inspiration. So, let’s bring together in consultation the various seekers attempting to discover the reality of the elephant, and let them broaden each others’ understanding about what it is they perceive. In this day, we know that each word has seventy and one meanings, so discussion of reality can not be exhausted.

    What you have quoted as the “end of all learning”, namely the recognition of the Manifestation of God, must really means only an end to certain limited thinking and the beginning of more and deeper thinking. Perhaps we can say recognition of the Manifestation is the end of that learning which was aimed at discovering the deeper order of existence and eternal happiness where it could not be discovered. Now that we have found the hidden path, a deeper learning must begin. As you are doing!

    Have you read the UHJ’s letter of January 18, 2019. What do you think?

    Thanks!
    m

    1. I am indeed reading every word of your comments, Maury – and lovingly so! But your comments arouse so many thoughts and potentially interesting conversations that I feel they demand a more fulsome response than I’ve lately have time to provide. Soon though! I will respond soon 🙂

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