“The supreme and most important happening in the human world,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, “is the Manifestation of God and the descent of the law of God.”1 Bahá’u’lláh explains that God has enjoined upon each of us twin duties: to recognize the Manifestation of God, and, for those who have done so, to observe His laws and ordinances “These twin duties,” He writes, “are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other.”2
The Bahá’í Writings describe the existence of two complementary aspects of divine law. The first refers to the universal, unchangeable spiritual laws which are animated by, and reflected in, all of God’s religions. The other concerns the laws which serve to order humanity’s social and spiritual life—laws which change according to the particular conditions and circumstances of the time.
Each Manifestation—as a Divine Educator—upholds the universal law of God, and brings a new set of laws governing the spiritual and social aspects of humanity's life during the next stage of its evolution. The ultimate purpose of the appearance of the Manifestations of God, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, is “to illumine the world of humanity, to render the earthly world celestial, to make the human kingdom a realm of angels, to unite the hearts, to enkindle the light of love in human souls, so that such souls might become independent, attaining complete unity and fellowship, turning to God, entering into the divine Kingdom, receiving the bounties and bestowals of God and partaking of the manna from heaven.”3
Many of the laws of Bahá’u’lláh related to the social and spiritual life of the individual are found in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. This book includes specific provisions related to obligatory prayer, fasting, marriage, inheritance, and the use of alcohol and drugs. In its pages, Bahá’u’lláh also abolishes the institution of priesthood, prohibits slavery, forbids asceticism and monasticism, denounces cruelty to animals, condemns backbiting, sets out the importance of engaging in some trade or profession, emphasizes the necessity of providing the means for the education of children, lays upon every person the duty of obedience to government, exhorts Bahá’ís to consort with the adherents of all religions in a spirit of amity, and underscores the importance of truthfulness, trustworthiness, hospitality, courtesy, forbearance, justice, and fairness.
While the significance of adhering to these and other laws and ordinances is clear, Bahá’ís also try to keep in mind that divine law cannot be reduced to a simple list of do's and don'ts. What is at stake is the transformative power of Revelation to refine the patterns of conduct of the individual, to uplift the hearts and souls of all people, to order humanity's collective life, to shape culture, and to vitalize the structures of society—in the final analysis, to propel the advancement of civilization.
Indeed, in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh Himself counsels His followers not to reduce His commandments to “a mere code of laws”. “Nay, rather,” He states, “We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power.”4 He describes His commandments as “the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures.”5 He avers:
“The Tongue of My power hath, from the heaven of My omnipotent glory, addressed to My creation these words:‘Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.’ Happy is the lover that hath inhaled the divine fragrance of his Best-Beloved from these words, laden with the perfume of a grace which no tongue can describe.”6