A friend of mine from grad school once told me she was a deep admirer of the Baha’i Faith, but there was one aspect of the Faith’s teachings that she took exception to and couldn’t quite get over. Why was it, she asked, that the prayers and other holy writings seemed to attribute everything to God? She herself was a believer in God, she told me, and she understood the concept of God being the originator of all creation and thus the ultimate cause of everything. It wasn’t that that bugged her. Rather, it was the way that Baha’i scripture seemed to see the human being as helpless without God’s assistance. Couldn’t we just give a bit of credit to the power of humanity itself?
For me, a person who grew up in a Baha’i family and who was exposed to Baha’i prayers from an early age, this was an eye opener, because it had never occurred to me that these prayers sounded like this to others. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt I understood where she was coming from.
To give you an idea of what I mean, just take a look at these two passages from the Baha’i “Long Obligatory Prayer”, which is a prayer that many Baha’i recite daily*:
“Thou seest, O my Lord, this stranger hastening to his most exalted home beneath the canopy of Thy majesty and within the precincts of Thy mercy; and this transgressor seeking the ocean of Thy forgiveness; and this lowly one the court of Thy glory; and this poor creature the orient of Thy wealth. Thine is the authority to command whatsoever Thou willest. I bear witness that Thou art to be praised in Thy doings, and to be obeyed in Thy behests, and to remain unconstrained in Thy bidding.”
“I love in this state, O my Lord, to beg of Thee all that is with Thee, that I may demonstrate my poverty, and magnify Thy bounty and Thy riches, and may declare my powerlessness, and manifest Thy power and Thy might.”
Why does this prayer insist on portraying the individual as someone who is powerless and feeble before God? Why does it ask the believer to keep reminding himself of his meagerness?