I believe this may well be my best study of the Bahá’í teachings regarding the nature, purpose, and powers of the Manifestations. It is well-organized, not nearly as rambling as I sometimes tend to be, and focuses on what have been for me some of the critical questions I have had regarding the ontology of the Manifestations and the methodology They employ to accomplish the incredibly difficult task of teaching beings like ourselves, who, by all rights, should immediately recognize Them, welcome Them with open arms and loving hearts, and instantly and joyfully obey whatsoever They ordain, exhort, or even hint to be the correct course of action.
Of course, such is not the case, and because every Manifestation until now has been made to endure immense suffering, particularly at the hands of those learned followers of the previous Manifestation—the clerics and divines who have every reason to know better—each Manifestation has had to devise all manner of subtlety and misdirection to demonstrate the purity of His motive, the complete lack of desire He has for any personal aggrandizement, and the ultimate wisdom of His teachings, many of which seem to fly in the face of all that the believers of the previous Prophet hold sacred.
The greatest joy for me in putting this work together was in sharing passages I had discovered or re-discovered that answer crucial questions about these other-worldly beings. After rehearsing why the Creator thinks it a good idea to bring forth such ornery beings such as ourselves by alluding to my understanding of the infinitely complete ḥadíth of the Hidden Treasure, I first discuss how the Manifestations are the sole means by which we are enabled to love an essentially unknowable Being—that in all Their words and actions, the Manifestations are the most complete expressions of Godliness as we will every encounter, whether in this life or the next.
Then in Part 2 of the book, I discuss the ontology of the Prophets. In particular, I note Their pre-existence in the realm of the spirit, the fact that their “epiphany”—or first intimation of Their Revelation—denotes no change in their nature (They do not suddenly become Manifestations) nor does it represent Their first awareness of Their station or Their mission.
In Part 3 I discuss some of the special powers of the Manifestations. Among these are some critical discoveries. For example, I discuss how Their capacity to receive a revelation direct from God does not mean that the Manifestations are merely God’s amanuensis. Rather, by citing passages from Bahá’u’lláh on this matter, I attempt to demonstrate that They fashion the words Themselves to accord with the capacities and limitations of the people to whom They appear. I also discuss Their omniscience and even those passages that also imply Their omnipotence.
In the final section, Part 4, I discuss the methodology of the Prophets—Their teaching techniques. I discuss why They test us by challenging us with indirection and subtlety, whether in the concealment of Their true powers, or in the poetic indirection of the language They use. Why do They choose to appear among as ordinary citizens, as neighbors, as shepherds, carpenters, merchants, prisoners, and exiles? I also discuss the underlying logic of both the laws They bring and the laws of the previous revelation that They abolish, each category of which challenges and tests the believers and non-believers alike.
This work concludes with a discussion about the suffering of the Manifestations. In particular, I examine what we are meant to learn from this great irony—that the One sent by God to help us must needs endure rejection and persecution, even death. At the heart of this irony is the question put to Christ while on the cross—if They are indeed sufficiently powerful to do whatsoever They choose, why do They not extricate Themselves from these conditions that They might demonstrate Their power, go about fulfilling Their mission rather than allowing themselves to be subjected to such cruelty by the rank and file. How does this decision to withhold Their power assist and reinforce the purpose of Their mission?
But the reason I think this book may be the most important contribution I have made to the study of the Bahá’í Faith and its teachings has little to do with my own powers of organizing the discourse, or any innovative questions I may have thought to pose. Rather the joy in assembling this work—and frankly in reading it over myself no and then—is the compilation of passages that, at every turn, support any observations I make or conclusions I infer. In that sense, the framework of this study may well serve as a useful point of beginning for someone wishing to study what is at the heart of Bahá’í belief—the fact that God has sent Beings who are not ordinary humans, but pre-existent and omniscient Vicegerents from the realm of the spirit to visit us here on Earth that we may live our lives to fullest and promulgate as best we are able the advancement of ourselves individually and of civilization as a whole.