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Bahai Faith - Issues - BAHA'IS AND THE NATURE OF GOD



Although Baha'is teach that God is unknowable in his essence, they believe that God does reveal something of himself to man, especially through his "manifestations" (i.e., Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Baha'u'llah, et. al.).4 For those familiar with the conflicting doctrines of the major world religions associated with these "manifestations," however, it is rather apparent that they cannot all be true (see Table). Yet this is exactly what the Baha'is maintain, namely, that each of these religious leaders was a manifestation of God for his own era and therefore spoke some truth about God's nature.

The Doctrine of God Taught by the Alleged Manifestations5

Moses One personal God. The universe is not eternal, but was created by God (Gen. 1-3; Deut. 6:4; etc.).
Krishna Mix of polytheism and impersonal pantheism. The universe is eternal.
Zoroaster One good god and one evil god (religious dualism).
Buddha God not relevant; essentially agnostic.
Confucius Polytheistic.
Muhammad One personal God who cannot have a Son.
Jesus Christ One personal God who does have a Son (Mark 12:29; John 4:24; 5:18-19;etc.)
Baha'u'llah God and the universe, which is an emanation of God, are co-eternal.6

The fact that the various alleged manifestations of God represented God in contradictory ways implies either that manifestations of God can contradict one another or that God's own nature is contradictory. If the manifestations are allowed to contradict one another, then there is no way to separate false manifestations from true ones or to discover if any of them really speaks for the true and living God. Yet the Baha'is obviously do not accept every person who claims to be a manifestation of God (e.g., Jim Jones, founder of Jonestown). If, on the other hand, God's own nature is said to be contradictory, that is, that God is both one God and many gods, that God is both able and not able to have a Son, both personal and impersonal, etc., then the Baha'i concept of God is reduced to meaninglessness.

Can Christian Doctrines Withstand Scrutiny?

As I noted earlier, Steven McConnell has asked whether the Christian concept of God could measure up to this sort of scrutiny. He asserts, "Subjected to the glossy examination you give the Baha'i God, the paradox of Jesus being fully human and fully divine as well as the paradox of the unity and individuality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit would be mere contradictions!" He then asks, "So why are Christianity's paradoxes (contradictions) more virtuous than Baha'i's?"7

Several comments are in order. First, Christian thinkers take an entirely different attitude toward their problematic doctrines than the Baha'is. For example, many Christian philosophers and theologians have spent much time trying to explain these doctrines in a way that is coherent and philosophically sound.8 Christians believe that these problematic doctrines are logically reconcilable because they are in fact ultimately noncontradictory. On the other hand, the Baha'is do not seem particularly concerned about whether their doctrine of God is internally consistent.

Second, the paradoxes inherent in the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity are not comparable to the contradictions inherent in the Baha'i concept of God. When the Bible asserts both the humanity and the deity of Jesus it is not asserting something that is self-contradictory by definition. Christians do not believe that Jesus was both God and not-God, but rather that Jesus was both God and man. In other words, when Christians assert that God became man they are not asserting that God became merely man (although He was fully man), but rather that the Son of God took on a human nature in addition to His divine nature. Although we may not fully comprehend how the divine and human natures interacted in the person of Jesus, this is not the same thing as saying that the concept of a God-man is self-contradictory.

Likewise, the doctrine of the Trinity, although paradoxical, is not self-contradictory. The doctrine of the Trinity asserts that three divine persons share the same substance or essence (i.e., the three persons are one and the same God). It does not assert that there are three individual substances which are one substance or that there are three gods which are also one god, either of which would be contradictory. That is, Christians are not saying that God is both one substance and not-one-substance, but rather that God is both one substance and three persons. Even if God's triunity cannot be fully comprehended by man, at least the Christian is not involved in a contradiction when he asserts that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God.

On the other hand, the Baha'i is required to accept that blatantly contradictory concepts of God were all infallibly revealed by God through his "manifestations." For instance, monotheism (what Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad taught) and polytheism (what Confucius and Zoroaster taught) cannot both be true, since it is contradictory to say both that there is only one god and that there is more than one god. Therefore, unlike the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity, the Baha'i view of God implies mutually exclusive concepts of God.

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