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

January 8, 2011

Seeing God Through Nature; Pantheism and Panentheism

A friend recently told me about this passage from the collection of Bahá'u'lláh's writings called Prayers and Meditations. In Facebook conversation I've been talking about my limited and impersonal understanding of "God". This passage might seem a bit paradoxical to that viewpoint, at first glance. The paradox is because of my inability to precisely describe the nuance of a belief that lies somewhere between the poles of atheism and personal theism, without recourse to philosophical language (the best "school of thought" to describe my own core belief has always been panentheism).

I am well aware, O my Lord, that I have been so carried away by the clear tokens of Thy loving-kindness, and so completely inebriated with the wine of Thine utterance, that whatever I behold I readily discover that it maketh Thee known unto me, and it remindeth me of Thy signs, and of Thy tokens, and of Thy testimonies. By Thy glory! Every time I lift up mine eyes unto Thy heaven, I call to mind Thy highness and Thy loftiness, and Thine incomparable glory and greatness; and every time I turn my gaze to Thine earth, I am made to recognize the evidences of Thy power and the tokens of Thy bounty. And when I behold the sea, I find that it speaketh to me of Thy majesty, and of the potency of Thy might, and of Thy sovereignty and Thy grandeur. And at whatever time I contemplate the mountains, I am led to discover the ensigns of Thy victory and the standards of Thine omnipotence.

Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p271-2; worth reading more of the "meditation" surrounding this particular paragraph

Now, this particular paragraph could lead one to assume that Bahá'u'lláh is positing a pantheistic viewpoint of God. Other parts of the meditation offer a more personal/anthropomorphic approach. However, elswhere we are warned about literal reliance on anthropomorphism:

However, let none construe these utterances to be anthropomorphism, nor see in them the descent of the worlds of God into the grades of the creatures; nor should they lead thine Eminence to such assumptions. For God is, in His Essence, holy above ascent and descent, entrance and exit; He hath through all eternity been free of the attributes of human creatures, and ever will remain so. No man hath ever known Him; no soul hath ever found the pathway to His Being. Every mystic knower hath wandered far astray in the valley of the knowledge of Him; every saint hath lost his way in seeking to comprehend His Essence. Sanctified is He above the understanding of the wise; exalted is He above the knowledge of the knowing! The way is barred and to seek it is impiety; His proof is His signs; His being is His evidence.

Bahá'u'lláh, The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, p22-3

The reason for the anthropomorphic-seeming statements is not stated; I can only assume that the terminology is used as a metaphorical device that helps us puny humans connect to this inscrutable force-Being. But of pantheism itself, 'Abdu'l-Bahá makes clear that this concept is too limiting of God in His Father's theology (Some Answered Questions, p290-6; the discussion of this concept is too philosophical, and wrapped around particular Súfí beliefs, for quoting any particular part here).

From these passages, and others yet to be quoted, I find space in the Bahá'í Faith for my demi-belief, my panentheism that admits of an impersonal "divinity" that is both immanent and transcendant. It would be arrogant in the extreme to assume my belief is the correct one; rather, it is simply my way of getting by, and helping me to focus on becoming a better person and creating a better civilization. It doesn't matter to me if it is ultimately right or wrong; if it helps anyone else see a way to connect their own souls to the Supreme Being, then I am happy for them.