The Metaphysical Nature of Physical Reality

I first became deeply interested in producing Bahá’í scholarship—as opposed to merely reflecting on the scripture for purposes of personal study and reflection—in the summer of 1975. The impetus for this initial foray into an academic approach to the Bahá’í texts and teachings was inspired by a relatively straight-forward question that came to me one evening as I was reading a passage from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh.

The query—obvious as it was enigmatic and perplexing to me—was this: If, as the Bahá’í Writings affirm, we are essentially spiritual beings temporarily associating with a physical body in a physical environment, but destined to dissociate from this bodily device and material reality to live forever in a spiritual realm, why such an indirect journey? After all, if the God could have created us in any condition He chose, why have us begin our eternal journey in an environment that—to outward seeming and for all practical purposes—seems systematically calculated to confound our efforts at becoming detached from material things and to deter our advancement toward become thoroughly spiritual beings. In short, why not create us already in the desired condition?

In this article, I attempt to demonstrate that the logical solution to this problem is found in the essentially metaphorical nature of physical reality. For purpose of educating us, the Creator has cleverly adorned and invested all things material with spiritual attributes. Our educational process, therefore, consists in our attempting to discover the true reality concealed by the sensible dimension or surface attributes of things physical. Therefore, by willfully transcending our attraction to sensual delight and overcoming our attachment to physical pleasures, we must employ our free will and development sufficient judgment to become spiritual by degrees, to develop the tools of judgment and discernment so that our progress is not imposed, but rather a subtle and pervasive educational system whereby we learn about reality and our relationship to reality by degrees.

Thus, among those capacities we develop if we use this system appropriately are autonomy of judgment, the ability to distinguish what has enduring value from that which is ephemeral and transitory, and the ever-increasing ability to employ our free will to devote our lives every more completely to acquiring spiritual attributes and becoming ever more selfless, especially as we learn to choose paths of service to others.

The essay concludes that the physical dimension of our personhood, coupled with our initial experience in a physical environment, serves not as a distraction whereby we are tested and tempted, but an educational classroom where we are gradually trained to understand our true or essential nature (our rational soul) and to prepare for our transition to the spiritual realm upon the demise of our body.

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