"If none be found to stray . . ."

Ahanu

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Bahá’u’lláh has an interesting description of sin, saying that without humanity's sins God could not be proclaimed "the Concealer" or "the Ever-Forgiving":

If none be found to stray from Thy path, how, then, can the ensign of Thy mercy be unfurled, or the banner of Thy bountiful favour be hoisted? And if iniquity be not committed, what is it that can proclaim Thee to be the Concealer of men’s sins, the Ever-Forgiving, the Omniscient, the All-Wise?

As I read the words above, I immediately thought of a famous symbol:


upload_2019-1-3_12-53-37.jpeg
 

Ahanu

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Similarly, in Islam we learn the following from Jami (1492), a Persian poet:

"Jami speaks for the whole sapiential tradition when he recounts the story of the creation of Adam from the Koran (2:3034), drawing a number of conclusions about the nature of human beings. The passage is from his mathnawi, Silsilat aldhahab. Each poetical section is preceded by a short summary in prose.Explaining that the children of Adam do not know their own perfection and imperfection, since they were not created for themselves. On the contrary, they were created for other than themselves. He who created them created them only for Himself, not for them. He gave them only what would be proper for them in order to belong to Him. Were they to know that they were created for their Lord, they would know that God created the creatures in the most perfect form...

People always believe that they were created for themselves.Whatever appears to them as appropriate, they consider to be good and perfect,But whatever they imagine as inappropriate they put into the category of imperfection.But this belief is error itself, since they were created for God.The goal of their creation, whatever it might be, cannot be surpassed.In reality the human being's perfection is that which is desired from his existence by God.From the existence of the things God only wanted the manifestation of His names or attributes.No matter what appears in the courtyard of the cosmos, the goal is manifesting the property of a name.If we suppose that a thing did not come to exist, how could the property of the name be shown?That is why the Prophet addressed his Companions long ago, saying,"If there were to appear from you no work within which there was the taint of sin,God would create people of error so that they might sin and err,And then ask forgiveness for that sin, making manifest the property of the Forgiver.
Here Jami voices one of the typically Islamic arguments in theodicy: Since God is forgiving, sins must exist, or else there would be nothing to forgive. It is His quality of forgiveness which, in the last analysis, brings about sinfulness. Ahmad Sam'ani (d. 534/1140) gives us a more poetical rendition of the same principle (even though he writes in prose) as follows. He quotes God's hidden command to all things:

"O tree, put up your head next to Adam's throne! O appetite for the fruit, enter into Adam's heart! O accursed one, let loose the reins of your whispering! O Eve, you show the way! O Adam, don't eat the fruit, have selfrestraint! O selfrestraint, don't come near Adam!"O God, God, what is all this? "We want to bring Adam down from the throne of indifference to the earth of need. We want to make manifest the secret of love.""O servant, avoid disobedience and stay away from caprice! O caprice, you take his reins.! O world, you display yourself to him.! O servant, you show selfrestraint! O selfrestraint, don't come near him!"O God, God, what is all this? "We want to make the servant plead with Us. We want to make manifest Our attribute of forgiveness."


Source: Murata, Sachiko. The Tao of Islam : A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought. State University of New York Press, 1992.​
 
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Ahanu

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For what is and what is not beget each other;
Difficult and easy complete each other;
Long and short show each other;
High and low place each other;
Noise and sound harmonize each other;
Before and behind follow each other.
— Dao-te ching, (Maurer) ch. 2​
 

arthra

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Bahá’u’lláh has an interesting description of sin, saying that without humanity's sins God could not be proclaimed "the Concealer" or "the Ever-Forgiving":

If none be found to stray from Thy path, how, then, can the ensign of Thy mercy be unfurled, or the banner of Thy bountiful favour be hoisted? And if iniquity be not committed, what is it that can proclaim Thee to be the Concealer of men’s sins, the Ever-Forgiving, the Omniscient, the All-Wise?

As I read the words above, I immediately thought of a famous symbol:

I noted your quote is in the context of a prayer found in 'Gleanings". It's a prayer commended for an individual who is conscious of their short-comings in life and is calling on the Mercy of God:

"My God, my God! If none be found to stray from Thy path, how, then, can the ensign of Thy mercy be unfurled, or the banner of Thy bountiful favor be hoisted? And if iniquity be not committed, what is it that can proclaim Thee to be the Concealer of men’s sins, the Ever-Forgiving, the Omniscient, the All-Wise? May my soul be a sacrifice to the trespasses of them that trespass against Thee, for upon such trespasses are wafted the sweet savors of the tender mercies of Thy Name, the Compassionate, the All-Merciful. May my life be laid down for the transgressions of such as transgress against Thee, for through them the breath of Thy grace and the fragrance of Thy loving-kindness are made known and diffused amongst men. May my inmost being be offered up for the sins of them that have sinned against Thee, for it is as a result of such sins that the Day Star of Thy manifold favors revealeth itself above the horizon of Thy bounty, and the clouds of Thy never-failing providence rain down their gifts upon the realities of all created things.
I am he, O my Lord, that hath confessed to Thee the multitude of his evil doings, that hath acknowledged what no man hath acknowledged. I have made haste to attain unto the ocean of Thy forgiveness, and have sought shelter beneath the shadow of Thy most gracious favor. Grant, I beseech Thee, O Thou Who art the Everlasting King and the Sovereign Protector of all men, that I may be enabled to manifest that which shall cause the hearts and souls of men to soar in the limitless immensity of Thy love, and to commune with Thy Spirit. Strengthen me through the power of Thy sovereignty, that I may turn all created things towards the Day Spring of Thy Manifestation and the Source of Thy Revelation. Aid me, O my Lord, to surrender myself wholly to Thy Will, and to arise and serve Thee, for I cherish this earthly life for no other purpose than to compass the Tabernacle of Thy Revelation and the Seat of Thy Glory. Thou seest me, O my God, detached from all else but Thee, and humble and subservient to Thy Will. Deal with me as it beseemeth Thee, and as it befitteth Thy highness and great glory."

http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/GWB/gwb-142.html
 
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Thomas

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I rather think this is logically unsound — it suggests that God is in some way deficient without sin to show how wonderful He is. Or that He created sin and temptation to show us how wonderful He is ...

This is the same illogical argument that says there is pain so we can experience pleasure, hate so we can experience love, bad so that we can experience good ... in a discreet way, it's an attempt to present our vices as a virtue.

The logical answer is that in none had strayed from the path, then the knowing of the Infinite Perfection of the Divine would be far deeper and far more profound.
 

Cino

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This is the same illogical argument that says there is pain so we can experience pleasure, hate so we can experience love, bad so that we can experience good ... in a discreet way, it's an attempt to present our vices as a virtue.

Or it is a poetic expression of wholeness, which encompasses pleasure and pain, love and hate, good and evil. Dualism taken to extremes is frowned upon not only in Islam and the Baha'i faith, but also in many Christian denominations, if I am not mistaken. Augustine was a repentant Manichaean...

It gets even messier in Buddhism, where there are "near and far enemies" - take for example the ideal of compassion. It has a "far enemy" (opposite), in qualities like heartlessness, indifference, callousness... but it also has "near enemies" such as pity or despair.
 
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Ahanu

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I rather think this is logically unsound — it suggests that God is in some way deficient without sin to show how wonderful He is. Or that He created sin and temptation to show us how wonderful He is ...

This is the same illogical argument that says there is pain so we can experience pleasure, hate so we can experience love, bad so that we can experience good ... in a discreet way, it's an attempt to present our vices as a virtue.

The logical answer is that in none had strayed from the path, then the knowing of the Infinite Perfection of the Divine would be far deeper and far more profound.

Can God create a creation in which imperfections are not inevitable? It is inevitable that God's creation be less than He is. To expect a perfect creation ("if none had strayed from the path") is a logically false ontological expectation. Things that are a derivative cannot have all the perfections of what they were derived from. If they did, they would be equal to God--which is to say they would be God. Imperfection is an intrinsic attribute of lesser beings.

This reasoning leads me to the principle of plenitude espoused in the Writings:

"Know that the order and the perfection of the whole universe require that existence should appear in numberless forms. For existing beings could not be embodied in only one degree, one station, one kind, one species and one class; undoubtedly, the difference of degrees and distinction of forms, and the variety of genus and species, are necessary (SAQ 129).​

It is inevitable that while each being is perfect in itself, their interactions are not always perfect (SAQ 263). Also, in relation to this, created beings are able to acquire endless perfections, even after leaving this world (SAQ 230; 235).
 

Thomas

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Or it is a poetic expression of wholeness, which encompasses pleasure and pain, love and hate, good and evil. Dualism taken to extremes is frowned upon not only in Islam and the Baha'i faith, but also in many Christian denominations, if I am not mistaken. Augustine was a repentant Manichaean...
Quite, so attributing Good and Evil to God is dualist, and contradictory, in that it would imply God wills what He wills, and wills what He does not will.

The way I see it, the definition of 'evil' is that which is wilfully and knowingly contrary to the Divine. For God to will evil, therefore, is for God to contradict Himself. God allowing evil, for the sake of man, is something else, but God allowing evil as a means of demonstrating His own beneficence is pride and self-aggrandisement, a vice in anyone's book, and I'd steer well clear of a deity that succumbs to that.
 

Thomas

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Can God create a creation in which imperfections are not inevitable?
Well we cannot know, can we? Perhaps He has, although it's beyond our ken.

But the nature of this creation is one of finitude and contingency.

It is inevitable that God's creation be less than He is.
Yes, of course, and God knows that, and God does not expect it to be the same as He is.

To expect a perfect creation ("if none had strayed from the path") is a logically false ontological expectation.
Ah, hang on. This rather depends on definitions. In the Abrahamic Traditions (as far as I am aware), creation is not required to be perfect. Imperfection is not a sin.

To be a sin, in the Abrahamics, requires the free and knowing assent of the will to that which is contrary to the Divine will.
 

arthra

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I generally agree with Thomas...

The Baha'i view is that "evil" is non-existant. as it is more an "absence" of good:

"The epitome of this discourse is that it is possible that one thing in relation to another may be evil, and at the same time within the limits of its proper being it may not be evil. Then it is proved that there is no evil in existence; all that God created He created good. This evil is nothingness; so death is the absence of life. When man no longer receives life, he dies. Darkness is the absence of light: when there is no light, there is darkness. Light is an existing thing, but darkness is nonexistent. Wealth is an existing thing, but poverty is nonexisting.
Then it is evident that all evils return to nonexistence. Good exists; evil is nonexistent."



~ Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 263
 

Cino

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Wealth is an existing thing, but poverty is nonexisting.

Within context or without it, this statement is, to me, very unpleasant, and it speaks of a very callous view of poverty, which is a daily reality for billions of human beings who live and die in misery.

My heart just won't take this kind of attitude. To me, it *is* evil to belittle poverty just for the sake of an argument to prop up a world-view.

Yes, he worked at famine relief during the war. That means he knew about poverty, which makes this quote even more out of place, to me.
 

Ahanu

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Well we cannot know, can we? Perhaps He has, although it's beyond our ken.

Like a square circle.

Imperfection is not a sin.

Okay. I can accept that. I did not mean to substitute the word sin for imperfection: I meant that sin happens in a world of imperfections. Otherwise I would be making the error the disciples made, equating blindness - an imperfection - with sin:

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9.1-3).
". . . this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." I doubt you would interpret that to mean God wills blindness. I think the concept we are discussing emphasizes how perfections enter an imperfect realm, but shifted to the perspective of sin, it means the transformation of sin into what is good.

Shifting back to illness, I would like to note Said Nursi, a Sunni Muslim, said:

"… Just as the name of Healer makes it necessary that illness should exist, so too the name of Provider requires that hunger should exist. And so on. The Lord of All Dominion has disposal over His dominion as He wishes."
I fail to see how this is different from what Jesus said above ("this [that man's blindness] happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him").
 
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Ahanu

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Quite, so attributing Good and Evil to God is dualist, and contradictory, in that it would imply God wills what He wills, and wills what He does not will.

The way I see it, the definition of 'evil' is that which is wilfully and knowingly contrary to the Divine. For God to will evil, therefore, is for God to contradict Himself. God allowing evil, for the sake of man, is something else, but God allowing evil as a means of demonstrating His own beneficence is pride and self-aggrandisement, a vice in anyone's book, and I'd steer well clear of a deity that succumbs to that.

Oh, okay. I understand what you are saying here. Not sure if it must imply God wills evil, but I will keep it in mind as I read more and seek a better understanding. :D
 

Thomas

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I meant that sin happens in a world of imperfections.
Oh, sure.

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9.1-3).
". . . this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." I doubt you would interpret that to mean God wills blindness.
No I wouldn't. But I wasn't surprised to see online exegetes saying just that!

Then what do I make of it?

It does not mean that God causes suffering as a chance to demonstrate His power, or what a good guy He is.

Jesus elsewhere rebukes people for suggesting that God (or by extension karma) was behind people’s suffering.

On his blog Greg Boyd says:
"... In God at War (233) I note that the phrase “this happened so that” is not in the original Greek. The Greek simply has hina (“that” or “let”) with the aorist subjunctive passive of phaneroō (“to manifest”), which often is intended as an imperative (“let x happen”) rather than a purposive clause (“so that x happens”) (e.g., Eph 5:33). (In Greek this is called a “hortatory subjective”). In this case the verse should be translated, “Neither this man or his parents sinned, but let the works of God be displayed.” Jesus is essentially saying to his disciples, “Wrong question. The only thing that matters is that God is glorified by ridding this man of his infirmity.”

Or, put another way, Don't look at everything else — Look at there here in now. The cause of this man's blindness is not the point. The point is, here's an opportunity to do some good —

I think this is quite a profound point, and I haven't unpacked it yet. I think there's more to it than I've got to, but there does seem to be something in the way we look for causes of things, or even for the fault. Here's a man bleeding to death. We can have a discussion on causes, effects, lessons to be learned, but really, the right thing to do now is stop the bleeding

Love thy neighbour. Such a simple command. But we fail. Why? So many reasons, all historical, none of them involve looking our neighbour in the eye, living in the here-and-now, without strings attached.

Anyway ...

"… Just as the name of Healer makes it necessary that illness should exist, so too the name of Provider requires that hunger should exist. And so on. The Lord of All Dominion has disposal over His dominion as He wishes."
I can agree. I think the speaker is making another point. I think it all revolves around the question of Theodicy: why is there suffering?

I fail to see how this is different from what Jesus said above ("this [that man's blindness] happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him").
It depends on whether one attributes the cause of suffering, illness and hunger to God.

And I don't think we are, but it's very discreet.

We lost our first child six months into the pregnancy. Next time round, we had twins.

It's a comfort for some, and I was told, that 'God took our son', I don't believe it for a second. It's also a comfort, and I was told, that twins were some kind of balancing out for the loss of our son. I don't believe that for a second, either ... but it is surprising what people will believe.

My mantra: Shit happens. It's in the nature of a contingent world. God is with us, but He's not there as a fairy godfather, nor magician, nor is He practicing at getting it right and learning by mistake ...
 

Ahanu

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Or, put another way, Don't look at everything else — Look at there here in now. The cause of this man's blindness is not the point. The point is, here's an opportunity to do some good —

Neither do I want to imply the text is about actual blindness either. Baha'is don't interpret blindness in the NT in a literal way. I was just assuming it is literal to see what you'd say about this particular text. So there's some opportunity to do some good. Yeah, I would like to hear more about that, because the distinction you're trying to make here doesn't really sound significantly different from the Baha'i quote above in any way whatsoever.
 
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Ahanu

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This is from a recently published official translation of one of Baha'u'llah's writings:

"But since all do not possess the same degree of spiritual understanding, certain statements will inevitably be made, and there shall arise, as a consequence, as many differing opinions as there are human minds, and as many divergent beliefs as there are created things. This is certain and settled, and can in no wise be averted. Now, it is clear that some are virtuous, others are sinful, and still others are rebellious. One must call the people to love and faithfulness, to zeal and contentment, that the sinful may be admonished and the ranks of the virtuous may swell. Nor is it possible that there be no sinners: So long as the name “the Ever-Forgiving” shineth resplendent above the horizon of existence, there will be sinners in the world of creation, for the latter cannot appear without the former and the former cannot exist without the latter."
Here's a little context:

It is clear and evident that, in this Dispensation wherein the banner of utterance hath been raised aloft and the candle of discernment hath been lit, there is no Lord but the Exalted One.80 He it is Who is one in His essence and one in His attributes, single in the kingdom of names and peerless in the realm of actions. It is by virtue of His blessed name that the seas of Divine Unity have been made to surge; it is through the power of His resistless command that the immutable decrees of destiny have been enforced; it is through the potency of His sovereign might that the dictates of fate have been fixed. Who hath the power to soar in that exalted atmosphere or to cherish another beloved than Him? We all abide beneath His shadow and seek our portion from the ocean of His grace. However far the gnat may fly, it can never traverse the length and breadth of heaven, and however high the sparrow may soar, it can never attain the tree of immortality.

But since all do not possess the same degree of spiritual understanding, certain statements will inevitably be made, and there shall arise, as a consequence, as many differing opinions as there are human minds, and as many divergent beliefs as there are created things. This is certain and settled, and can in no wise be averted. Now, it is clear that some are virtuous, others are sinful, and still others are rebellious. One must call the people to love and faithfulness, to zeal and contentment, that the sinful may be admonished and the ranks of the virtuous may swell. Nor is it possible that there be no sinners: So long as the name “the Ever-Forgiving” shineth resplendent above the horizon of existence, there will be sinners in the world of creation, for the latter cannot appear without the former and the former cannot exist without the latter.

Our aim is that thou shouldst urge all the believers to show forth kindness and mercy and to overlook certain shortcomings among them, that differences may be dispelled; true harmony be established; and the censure and reproach, the hatred and dissension, seen among the peoples of former times may not arise anew. Perchance they may be educated and, in the latter Resurrection,81inflict not upon that cherished Spirit and Essence of existence, that exalted and subtle Reality, the least of that which the Point of the Bayán was made to suffer.

(The Call of the Divine Beloved)
www.bahai.org/r/291291502
Text from NT for comparison:

"And, as he was passing along, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples questioned him, saying, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but rather that the works of God might be made manifest in him.'"​

See one notable Baha'i's interpretation below.

Neither do I want to imply the text is about actual blindness either. Baha'is don't interpret blindness in the NT in a literal way.

Note the writings of Abu'l-Fadl, for example, who wrote the following about the meaning of blindness in John 9:

"Consider the 9th ch. of the Gospel of St. John, where it is recorded that Christ--Glory be upon Him!--restored the blind man, and on account of this there was a division among the Pharisees. It is also recorded in the 39th verse of the said chapter:--"And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be blind." This verse clearly shows that by blindness He has meant ignorance and error, and by sight, knowledge and guidance. This meaning is explicitly proven by the next verses, thus:--"And [page 221] some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin; but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth."

Consequently, how can it be understood that the sight given to the blind man, as recorded in the first part of this chapter, was not of this kind? Especially is this true when we consider the customs of the Jewish writers in those olden times. They made use of enigmas and allegories in their books and writings, and concealed their meanings under subtle and intricate symbols. It is said by the learned historian, John Lawrence Mosheim, of the University of Gottingen, in his {Ecclesiastical History}, translated from the original Latin by James Murdoch, of the U.S.; also translated into Arabic by Henry H. Jessup, of the U.S., and published in 1875 A.D. in Beyrouth (Syria), as follows:--

Part II., Ch.3, Cent. 1, Par.2:--"Those who expounded the Scriptures, studied simplicity and plainness. Yet it is not to be denied that even in this century the perverse Jewish custom of obscuring the plain language of Scripture, by forced and frigid allegories, and of diverting words from their natural and proper meaning in order to extort from them some recondite sense, found some admirers and imitators among Christians. Besides others, Barnabas, whose epistle is still extant, is proof of them."
 
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Ahanu

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We lost our first child six months into the pregnancy. Next time round, we had twins.

I never knew about your personal loss, Thomas. Thanks for sharing. Baha'u'llah also lost a son named Mirza Mihdi. You can read about it here.
 

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On his blog Greg Boyd says:
"... In God at War (233) I note that the phrase “this happened so that” is not in the original Greek. The Greek simply has hina (“that” or “let”) with the aorist subjunctive passive of phaneroō (“to manifest”), which often is intended as an imperative (“let x happen”) rather than a purposive clause (“so that x happens”) (e.g., Eph 5:33). (In Greek this is called a “hortatory subjective”). In this case the verse should be translated, “Neither this man or his parents sinned, but let the works of God be displayed.” Jesus is essentially saying to his disciples, “Wrong question. The only thing that matters is that God is glorified by ridding this man of his infirmity.”

David Bentley Hart's translation reads: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but rather that the works of God might be manifest in him." I do prefer this translation. Thanks for pointing it out.
 
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