“With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light”1 is among the many statements of Bahá’u’lláh that describe the true nature of the human being. The theme of the nobility of the human being runs continuously through the Bahá’í writings. This is not to deny the existence of a lower nature. Within all of us are traits acquired over millennia of evolution that we share with the animal kingdom. But many patterns of behaviour prevalent among animals are not becoming of a human being. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states: “In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men.”2
Each one of us has the potential to reflect the attributes of God. This is the meaning of man being created in the image of God. “For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God to a degree that no other created being hath excelled or surpassed.”3 We are able to reflect divine attributes to the extent that we cleanse the mirrors of our hearts and minds through prayer, the study and application of the sacred scriptures, the acquisition of knowledge, efforts to improve our conduct and to overcome tests and difficulties, and service to humanity.
Among the forces that assist us to cultivate the spiritual qualities latent within us—such as kindness, justice, truthfulness, and trustworthiness—are the love of God, attraction to beauty, and thirst for knowledge. The operation of these and other edifying forces contribute to strengthening our sense of purpose, impelling us both to transform ourselves and to contribute to the transformation of society.
We all have the capacity to recognise God’s love and reflect it towards His creation. “What a power is love!” said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. “In the world of existence there is indeed no greater power than the power of love. When the heart of man is aglow with the flame of love, he is ready to sacrifice all─even his life.”4
Intimately connected to love is attraction to beauty. At one level, this attraction is manifested in our delight at the natural world, in our engagement with, and appreciation of, the arts and music, and in our response to the elegance of an idea or a scientific theory. At another level, attraction to beauty underlies our search for order, meaning, and transcendence in the universe.
The thirst for knowledge impels each person to seek out a fuller understanding of reality in all its dimensions—of his or her own character, of society, of the operation of spiritual forces, and of the physical universe, to name but a few. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states: “The first teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the duty incumbent upon all to investigate reality. What does it mean to investigate reality? It means that man must forget all hearsay and examine truth himself, for he does not know whether statements he hears are in accordance with reality or not. Wherever he finds truth or reality, he must hold to it, forsaking, discarding all else; for outside of reality there is naught but superstition and imagination.”5 Bahá’u’lláh has written that “man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty”,6 and, elsewhere, that “if we ponder each created thing, we shall witness a myriad perfect wisdoms and learn a myriad new and wondrous truths.”7