Our Daily Bread: Changing Faces

Bahá’u’lláh’s letter to Mánikchí Ṣáḥib, as we considered recently, is a rather progressive composition, and one can easily detect signs that it was addressed to a Zoroastrian. Without going so far as to recite “good thought, good words, good deeds”, the letter discussed the triad of good thought, expression, and action that is so familiar to Zoroastrians, and exalted the place of wisdom to divinity as we’re told Zoroaster did three millennia ago. It did not touch upon the more obvious theme of fire, which Bahá’u’lláh did in a couple of letters to Zoroastrian Baháís, but gave passing reference to the theme of purity. Like Bahá’u’lláh’s letters to Zoroastrian Baháís, that letter omitted any mention of Muhammad, Islám, or the Qur’án.

Beside all that, the letter was just plain warm and affectionate:

Thy letter hath reached this captive of the world in His prison. It brought joy, strengthened the ties of friendship, and renewed the memory of bygone days. Praise be to the Lord of creation Who granted us the favour of meeting in the Arabian land, 1wherein we visited and held converse. It is Our hope that our encounter may never be forgotten nor effaced from the heart by the passage of time, but rather that, out of the seeds thus sown, the sweet herbs of friendship may spring forth and remain forever fresh and verdant for all to behold. (1.3)

Bahá’u’lláh’s letter to Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, also in the volume Tabernacle of Unity, is conspicuously different, and of evident Islamic content and character.

Make sure the butter’s soft. Today we are nourished by several slices, beginning with this:

Once the validity of a divinely appointed Prophet hath been established, to none is given the right to ask why or wherefore. Rather is it incumbent upon all to accept and obey whatsoever He saith. (2.46)

This is a reponse to the basic question of reason vs. revelation: should we live according to reason, or according to the dictates of revelation? Whereas Bahá’u’lláh’s letter to Mánikchí Ṣáḥib seemed to take the former position, his letter to Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl takes the opposite position, as clearly and concisely as Bahá’u’lláh ever did. That is not to say that he didn’t make similar statements elsewhere, for he certainly did, in the Aqdas, Íqán, and in other places.

The reason given in the present letter is that men do not possess the rational capacity to go it alone:

It is nonetheless indisputably clear and evident that the minds of men have never been, nor shall they ever be, of equal capacity. The Perfect Intellect alone can provide true guidance and direction. (2.22)

Thus it must be that, according to Bahá’u’lláh, human reason is better fitted to understand the words of the prophets than what it might otherwise gather from life.

It is important to note, though, that excessive analysis of scripture can be a hazardous pastime. For, because of the great variance in intellectual capacity, scripture is conceived to be understood by feeble minds as well as Sen McGlinn. It isn’t a matter of reason or evidence; it’s a matter of obedience:

It is incumbent upon all to turn their gaze towards the Cause of God and to observe that which hath dawned above the horizon of His Will, since it is through the potency of His name that the banner of “He doeth what He willeth” hath been unfurled and the standard of “He ordaineth what He pleaseth” hath been raised aloft. For instance, were He to pronounce water itself to be unlawful, it would indeed become unlawful, and the converse holdeth equally true. (2.31)

And finally, we have a fourth slice that echoes the opening passage of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:

The whole duty of man is to recognize Him; once this hath been achieved, then whatsoever He may please to ordain is binding and in full accordance with the requirements of divine wisdom. (2.24)

Sorry: that’s a lot of toast, and the slices aren’t thin. Don’t eat it all at once.

Perhaps the fact that the letter is addressed to a Muslim Baháí has a lot to do with Bahá’u’lláh’s striking change in tone and content in this letter. This leads me to pause and wonder, can the entire repertoire of Bahá’u’lláh be sliced cleanly into mutually distinct revelations, if the blade is sufficiently sharp and serrated?

One comment on “Our Daily Bread: Changing Faces

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *