Stephen A. Fuqua (SAF) is a Bahá'í, programmer, and conservation and interfaith advocate in the DFW area of Texas.

January 2, 2011

'Abdu'l-Baha on the Fallibility of Human Conceptions of God

In responding to a friend about the nature of the "god concept" in the Bahá'í Faith, I began to collect a number of passages and add a few comments as to why I chose them. And then I found this hitherto unknown (to me) statement from 'Abdu'l-Bahá. It could not be more plain, and completely justifies what a fellow Bahá'í once said to an atheistically-inclined friend: "I don't believe in the same God you don't believe in."

This people, all of them, have pictured a god in the realm of the mind, and worship that image which they have made for themselves. And yet that image is comprehended, the human mind being the comprehender thereof, and certainly the comprehender is greater than that which lieth within its grasp; for imagination is but the branch, while mind is the root; and certainly the root is greater than the branch. Consider then, how all the peoples of the world are bowing the knee to a fancy of their own contriving, how they have created a creator within their own minds, and they call it the Fashioner of all that is—whereas in truth it is but an illusion. Thus are the people worshiping only an error of perception.

But that Essence of Essences, that Invisible of Invisibles, is sanctified above all human speculation, and never to be overtaken by the mind of man. Never shall that immemorial Reality lodge within the compass of a contingent being. His is another realm, and of that realm no understanding can be won. No access can be gained thereto; all entry is forbidden there. The utmost one can say is that Its existence can be proved, but the conditions of Its existence are unknown.

That such an Essence doth exist, the philosophers and learned doctors one and all have understood; but whenever they tried to learn something of Its being, they were left bewildered and dismayed, and at the end, despairing, their hopes in ruins, they went their way, out of this life. For to comprehend the state and the inner mystery of that Essence of Essences, that Most Secret of Secrets, one needs must have another power and other faculties; and such a power, such faculties would be more than humankind can bear, wherefore no word of Him can come to them.

Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, number 24

The futility of trying to understand God – leaving one "despairing, ... hopes in ruin" – reminds me of the Buddha's parable of the poisoned arrow, which I first encountered in Huston Smith's World Religions. In it He describes a man who dies of an arrow wound because he is insistent on learning everything about the arrow and the person who shot it. Rather, he should focus on his actions and suffering in the here and now, not on the essence of metaphysics.