What is the Bahá’í Doctrine of the Manifestation of God?

A central doctrine of the Bahá’í religion is the Manifestation of God. 

According to this belief, although God is wholly transcendent, he freely decided to manifest himself in the physical world of existence in the form of a select mortal human being of his choosing. According to Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the founder of the Bahá’í religion, God being in his essence is unknowable to all human beings, including to the Prophets and Messengers, underscores the importance of him providing revelation to humanity via the Manifestations.

Manifestation is not the only term used in the Bahá’í literature to refer to these divinely commissioned individuals. Since the religion emerged in the Muslim nation Iran in which the Qur’an features prominently, Bahá’u’lláh imbibed its socio-cultural influences and therefore also refers to this figure as a “Prophet” or “Messenger”, both being labels frequently mentioned in the Qur’an and broader Islamic literature. Bahá’u’lláh viewed the Qur’an, as well as various other sacred scriptures of different religions, as divine revelation imparted by God to humanity.

Bahá’u’lláh maintained that there had been Manifestations before him in the form of various religious figures such as Krishna, Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, and the Báb who, he taught, “have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth” (1). Bahá’u’lláh also considered himself a Manifestation of God and believed his divine mission was to teach that all religions ultimately derive from the same source.

Despite variance in character and socio-historical context, these Manifestations all shared the divinely-ordained mission to “educate the souls of men, and refine the character of every living man…” (2). They reflect God in a manner understandable to finite human beings in a way not unlike how a mirror perfectly reflects the light of the sun. 

Bahá’u’lláh maintained that the Manifestations communicated the same message as they were “all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith” (4).

‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-921), the oldest of Bahá’u’lláh’s sons, used the metaphor of the Manifestations being the “ideal gardeners of human souls, the divine cultivators of human hearts” who enter the world of existence to solve “disorder and confusion” (3). 

The divine objective of the Manifestation was to pursue and establish a morally superior human existence and world. Bahá’u’lláh believed that this is possible when he wrote that “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization” (5). The Manifestations propagated the Unity or Oneness of God and humanity to their respective audiences. 

‘Abdu’l-Bahá maintained that his father had “uplifted the standard of the oneness of faith and the honour of humanity in the centre of the world. Today we must gather round it, and try with heart and soul to bring about the union of mankind” (6). Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation, alongside many others, pursued and encouraged a morality that would lead to the absence of animosity, prejudice, and division within the world.

References

1. Bahá’u’lláh. 2005. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Project Gutenberg. p. 210.

2. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. 2010. Selections from the Writings of ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. Baha’i Publishing Trust. p. 19.

3. Abdu’l-Bahá. 1922. The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Executive board of Bahai temple unity. p. 462. 

4. Bahá’u’lláh. P. 2005. Ibid. p. 62.

5. Bahá’u’lláh. P. 2005. Ibid. p. 281.

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