A Manifestation of God has two sides: human and divine. The human side performs a special role, veiling the splendours of the divine light that shines within His person. Therefore, a Manifestation of God is bound to regulate His life so as to express all His human characteristics. He has to eat, sleep and carry on His life like any other person. These limitations of human nature can become barriers for people in recognizing Him as the Manifestation of God. One of these is the marriage of the Manifestation—an especially great obstacle for many of Christian background, who have been brought up to believe that celibacy befits a holy person and that marriage is inappropriate for a Manifestation of God. On the other hand, the Manifestations of God are perfect in body as in spirit and attributing a lack of sexual urge to a holy person would amount to physical deficiency rather than a virtue. Perhaps the Christian view stems from the fact that Christ seems not to have been married when He declared His mission. However, Christ did not speak against marriage. That He Himself did not marry may be because His ministry was short and for most of it He was homeless, going from place to place until He was crucified.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 17)
All Divine Manifestations give up all personal conditions, considerations and grades in the Cause of God to such an extent that there is nothing judged of their personality; that is, they sacrifice their personality entirely in the world; their life is only the life of God, their thought is the thought of God and their grades are those chosen by God. They have nothing. They sacrifice everything in the way of God. They suffer every sort of affliction and calamity in the world—that is, the afflictions and calamities in addition to those suffered spiritually—in order to show that the spiritual equals the material in consecration and sacrifice. They sacrifice spiritually in the way of God, and so they sacrifice all apparent and outward conditions in order to show the perfection and completeness of the truth of their manifestation. This is the station of simple radiance which shines forth and makes them separate from all worldly things, and this leads them to such a condition that while they are walking on the earth, they are moving in the supreme Horizon. They have cut themselves off entirely from worldly conditions, and while they are on the earth they never see it, but look to the Horizon. They close their eyes to their material ease and to all else, and hasten with all joy and fragrance to martyrdom in the Cause of God.
(Compilations, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 497-498)
As we suffer these misfortunes we must remember that the Prophets of God Themselves were not immune from these things which men suffer. They knew sorrow, illness and pain too. They rose above these things through Their spirits, and that is what we must try and do too, when afflicted.
(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296)
Bahá’u’lláh compares the interventions of the Divine Revelations to the return of spring. The Messengers of God are not merely teachers, although this is one of their primary functions. Rather, the spirit of their words, together with the example of their lives, has the capacity to tap the roots of human motivation and to induce fundamental and lasting change. Their influence opens new realms of understanding and achievement.
(Bahá’í International Community, 1992 May 29, Statement on Bahá’u’lláh, p. 10)
For example, during the ministry of Jesus two thousand years ago, Christ lived in a manner similar to the Israelites of the time. By following the customs of the people of His own land, the Manifestation of God does not appear conspicuously different from the rest of the people and this is how His glory is hidden behind His human facade. Thus His contemporaries look upon Him as an ordinary man.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 17)
God sent His Prophets into the world to teach and enlighten man, to explain to him the mystery of the Power of the Holy Spirit, to enable him to reflect the light, and so in his turn, to be the source of guidance to others. The Heavenly Books, the Bible, the Qur‘án, and the other Holy Writings have been given by God as guides into the paths of Divine virtue, love, justice and peace. Therefore I say unto you that ye should strive to follow the counsels of these Blessed Books, and so order your lives that ye may, following the examples set before you, become yourselves the saints of the Most High!
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 61-62)
How often the Prophets of God and His supreme Manifestations in Their prayers confess Their sins and faults! This is only to teach other men, to encourage and incite them to humility and meekness, and to induce them to confess their sins and faults. For these Holy Souls are pure from every sin and sanctified from faults.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 170)
If the mountains, hills and plains of the material world are left wild and uncultivated under the rule of nature, they will remain an unbroken wilderness; no fruitful tree to be found anywhere upon them. A true cultivator changes this forest and jungle into a garden, training its trees to bring forth fruit and causing flowers to grow in place of thorns and thistles. The holy Manifestations are the ideal gardeners of human souls, the divine cultivators of human hearts. The world of existence is but a jungle of disorder and confusion, a state of nature producing nothing but fruitless, useless trees. The ideal gardeners train these wild uncultivated human trees, cause them to become fruitful, water and cultivate them day by day so that they adorn the world of existence and continue to flourish in the utmost beauty.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 111)
In fact, when a believer turns to the Manifestation of God with true love, he cannot help but leave aside his personal interests. His attraction to the Manifestation is such that he will offer up everything to his Lord and will seek no benefits for himself.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)
In the beginning the tree was in all its beauty, and full of blossoms and fruits, but at last it became old and entirely fruitless, and it withered and decayed. This is why the True Gardener plants again an incomparable young tree of the same kind and species, which grows and develops day by day, and spreads a wide shadow in the divine garden, and yields admirable fruit. So it is with religions; through the passing of time they change from their original foundation, the truth of the Religion of God entirely departs, and the spirit of it does not stay; heresies appear, and it becomes a body without a soul. That is why it is renewed.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 166)
It is the same with the Manifestation of God and His Chosen Ones, sent to live among men. There is a vast contrast between the world of man and the world of the Chosen Ones of God. The former is limited and full of imperfections while the latter is a realm of perfections far exalted above the comprehension of human beings. Coming from such a realm, possessing all the divine virtues and embodying God’s attributes, these exalted Beings descend into this world and become prisoners among human beings. Man’s ignorance, his cruelty, his ungodliness, his selfishness, his insincerity and all his sins and shortcomings are tools of torture inflicting painful wounds upon the souls of the Chosen Ones of God, who have no alternative but to bear them in silence with resignation and submissiveness, as in the case of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. One act of unfaithfulness—even a glance betraying the insincerity of the individual or an unworthy thought emanating from his mind—is painful torture to them. But they seldom reveal the shortcomings of men or dwell on their own pain and suffering. Like teachers who have to descend to the level of a child and act as if they do not know, the Manifestations of God come as men appearing to be the same as others. They have the sin-covering eye to such an extent that some may think that they do not know.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 226)
Moses was persecuted and driven out into the desert, Abraham was banished, Muhammad took refuge in caves, the Báb was killed and Bahá’u’lláh was exiled and imprisoned forty years. Yet all of Them desired fellowship and love among men. They endured hardships, suffered persecution and death for our sakes that we might be taught to love one another and be united and affiliated instead of discordant and at variance.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 234-235)
Other Prophets, similarly, have been subject to poverty and afflictions, to hunger, and to the ills and chances of this world. As these holy Persons were subject to such needs and wants, the people were, consequently, lost in the wilds of misgivings and doubts, and were afflicted with bewilderment and perplexity. How, they wondered, could such a person be sent down from God, assert His ascendancy over all the peoples and kindreds of the earth, and claim Himself to be the goal of all creation,— even as He hath said: “But for Thee, I would not have created all that are in heaven and on earth,”—and yet be subject to such trivial things? You must undoubtedly have been informed of the tribulations, the poverty, the ills, and the degradation that have befallen every Prophet of God and His companions. You must have heard how the heads of their followers were sent as presents unto different cities, how grievously they were hindered from that whereunto they were commanded. Each and every one of them fell a prey to the hands of the enemies of His Cause, and had to suffer whatsoever they decreed.
(Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 72-73)
Question: How many kinds of Prophets are there?
Answer.—Universally, the Prophets are of two kinds. One are the independent Prophets Who are followed; the other kind are not independent and are themselves followers.
The independent Prophets are the lawgivers and the founders of a new cycle. Through Their appearance the world puts on a new garment, the foundations of religion are established, and a new book is revealed. Without an intermediary They receive bounty from the Reality of the Divinity, and Their illumination is an essential illumination. They are like the sun which is luminous in itself: the light is its essential necessity; it does not receive light from any other star. These Dawning-places of the morn of Unity are the sources of bounty and the mirrors of the Essence of Reality.
The other Prophets are followers and promoters, for they are branches and not independent; they receive the bounty of the independent Prophets, and they profit by the light of the Guidance of the universal Prophets. They are like the moon, which is not luminous and radiant in itself, but receives its light from the sun.
The Manifestations of universal Prophethood Who appeared independently are, for example, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. But the others who are followers and promoters are like Solomon, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. For the independent Prophets are founders; They establish a new religion and make new creatures of men; They change the general morals, promote new customs and rules, renew the cycle and the Law. Their appearance is like the season of spring, which arrays all earthly beings in a new garment, and gives them a new life.
With regard to the second sort of Prophets who are followers, these also promote the Law of God, make known the Religion of God, and proclaim His word. Of themselves they have no power and might, except what they receive from the independent Prophets.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 164-165)
Say: O people, praise ye God, for its Manifestation, for verily it is the most great favor upon you and the most perfect blessing upon you; and through Him every moldering bone is quickened. Whosoever turns to Him hath surely turned unto God, and whosoever turneth away from Him hath turned away from My beauty, denied My proof and is of those who transgress. Verily, He is the remembrance of God amongst you and His trust within you, and His manifestation unto you and His appearance among the servants who are nigh. Thus have I been commanded to convey to you the message of God, your Creator; and I have delivered to you that of which I was commanded. Whereupon, thereunto testifieth God, then His angels, then His messengers, and then His holy servants.
(Bahá’u’lláh, The Tablet of the Branch - from BWF)
Since the Manifestations of God share with the people all characteristics of human nature, it follows that they may live a normal life, engage in a profession, have a home, marry and raise a family. They also possess all human emotions. They are sensitive beings who experience feelings of joy and sadness, of pain and comfort, of likes and dislikes. What distinguishes them from the rest of mankind is that their spiritual side completely dominates their physical nature and they are absolutely detached from the material world. Another feature of the life of a Manifestation of God which is essential for hiding His glory is that He lives in accordance with the laws and conventions of the society to which He belongs. He eats the same type of food, wears the same type of clothes and carries out the same customs as the rest of the people of His culture and background. He does not live in the pattern of the future society that will emerge centuries later as a result of His teachings and about which He has full knowledge.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 18)
The Lord Christ said, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father’—God manifested in man. The sun does not leave his place in the heavens and descend into the mirror, for the actions of ascent and descent, coming and going, do not belong to the Infinite, they are the methods of finite beings. In the Manifestation of God, the perfectly polished mirror, appear the qualities of the Divine in a form that man is capable of comprehending. This is so simple that all can understand it, and that which we are able to understand we must perforce accept.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 25)
The Manifestation of God is the Archetype, and His life is the supreme pattern. His vision, not arrested by time and space, encompasses the future as well as the past. He is the only and the necessary link between one cycle of social evolution and another. Without Him history is meaningless and co-ordination is impossible. Furthermore, the Manifestation of God releases deep reservoirs of spiritual power and quickens the forces latent in Man. By Him, and by Him alone, can Man attain ’second birth‘. Through Him, and Him alone, can Man know God.
(H.M. Balyuzi, Bahá’u’lláh - The King of Glory, p. 7)
The Prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying Their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High. The light which these souls radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its peoples. They are like unto leaven which leaveneth the world of being, and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest. Through them the clouds rain their bounty upon men, and the earth bringeth forth its fruits.
(Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 156-157)
The Prophets and saints were, each and every one, subjected to the bitterest afflictions that the world has to offer, and were targets for all the cruelties and aggressions of mankind. They sacrificed their lives for the welfare of the people, and with all their hearts they hastened to the place of their martyrdom; and with their inward and outward perfections they arrayed humanity in new garments of excellent qualities, both acquired and inborn.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 34-35)
The holy Manifestations Who have been the Sources or Founders of the various religious systems were united and agreed in purpose and teaching. Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh are one in spirit and reality. Moreover, each Prophet fulfilled the promise of the One Who came before Him and, likewise, Each announced the One Who would follow. Consider how Abraham foretold the coming of Moses, and Moses embodied the Abrahamic statement. Moses prophesied the Messianic cycle, and Christ fulfilled the law of Moses. It is evident, therefore, that the Holy Manifestations Who founded the religious systems are united and agreed; there is no differentiation possible in Their mission and teachings; all are reflectors of reality, and all are promulgators of the religion of God. The divine religion is reality, and reality is not multiple; it is one. Therefore, the foundations of the religious systems are one because all proceed from the indivisible reality; but the followers of these systems have disagreed; discord, strife and warfare have arisen among them, for they have forsaken the foundation and held to that which is but imitation and semblance. Inasmuch as imitations differ, enmity and dissension have resulted. For example, Jesus Christ—may my spirit be a sacrifice unto Him!—laid the foundation of eternal reality, but after His departure many sects and divisions appeared in Christianity. What was the cause of this? There is no doubt that they originated in dogmatic imitations, for the foundations of Christ were reality itself, in which no divergence exists. When imitations appeared, sects and denominations were formed.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 197-198)
The holy Manifestations of God come into the world to dispel the darkness of the animal or physical nature of man, to purify him from his imperfections in order that his heavenly and spiritual nature may become quickened, his divine qualities awakened, his perfections visible, his potential powers revealed and all the virtues of the world of humanity latent within him may come to life. These holy Manifestations of God are the educators and trainers of the world of existence, the teachers of the world of humanity. They liberate man from the darkness of the world of nature, deliver him from despair, error, ignorance, imperfections and all evil qualities. They clothe him in the garment of perfections and exalted virtues. Men are ignorant; the Manifestations of God make them wise. They are animalistic; the Manifestations make them human. They are savage and cruel; the Manifestations lead them into kingdoms of light and love. They are unjust; the Manifestations cause them to become just. Man is selfish; they sever him from self and desire. Man is haughty; they make him meek, humble and friendly. He is earthly; they make him heavenly. Men are material; the Manifestations transform them into semblance divine. They are immature children; the Manifestations develop them into maturity. Man is poor; they endow him with wealth. Man is base, treacherous and mean; the Manifestations of God uplift him into dignity, nobility and loftiness.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 110-111)
The mission of the Prophets of God has been to train the souls of humanity and free them from the thralldom of natural instincts and physical tendencies. They are like unto Gardeners, and the world of humanity is the field of Their cultivation, the wilderness and untrained jungle growth wherein They proceed to labor.
( ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 308-312)
The only people who are truly free of the “dross of self” are the Prophets, for to be free of one’s ego is a hall-mark of perfection.
(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
The prophets and Messengers of God have been sent down for the sole purpose of guiding mankind to the straight Path of Truth. The purpose underlying their revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High.
(Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 19)
The purpose of this is to show that the holy Manifestations of God, the divine Prophets, are the first Teachers of the human race. They are universal Educators, and the fundamental principles they have laid down are the causes and factors of the advancement of nations. Forms and imitations which creep in afterward are not conducive to that progress. On the contrary, these are destroyers of human foundations established by the heavenly Educators. These are clouds which obscure the Sun of Reality.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 85)
These holy Manifestations liberate the world of humanity from the imperfections which beset it and cause men to appear in the beauty of heavenly perfections. Were it not for the coming of these holy Manifestations of God all mankind would be found on the plane of the animal. They would remain darkened and ignorant like those who have been denied schooling and who never had a teacher or trainer. Undoubtedly such unfortunates will continue in their condition of need and deprivation.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 111)
Thus there have been many holy Manifestations of God. One thousand years ago, two hundred thousand years ago, one million years ago the bounty of God was flowing, the radiance of God was shining, the dominion of God was existing.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 108)
We cannot know God directly, but only through His Prophets. We can pray to Him, realizing that through His Prophets we know Him, or we can address our prayer in thought to Bahá’u’lláh, not as God but as the Door to our knowing God.
(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 504)