new wine into old wineskins

I think the more we get translated from the legendary vastness of Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings, the more we’re going to find that they really do encompass everything. I was shocked and, frankly, pleased to see this semi-obscene metaphor in the Summons of the Lord of Hosts (Lawh-i-Ra’ís, para. 22):

Alas, most of the people are fast asleep. They are even as the man who, in his drunkenness, became attracted to a dog, took it in his embrace, and made it his plaything, and who, when the morn of discernment dawned and the light of the sun enveloped the horizon, realized that the object of his affection was but a dog. Then, filled with shame and remorse, he repaired to his abode.

And now, in Tabernacle of Unity (available here in a somewhat disjointed series of scanned chunks), there’s this, found in the Tablet to Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl:

Consider for example the question of immediate compliance or postponement [with regard to laws]…. Once one of the distinguished divines of Najaf set out to visit the Shrine of Imám Husayn, peace be upon Him, accompanied by a number of his pupils. In the course of their journey they were waylaid by a group of Bedouin. The aforementioned divine immediately handed over all his possessions. Whereupon his pupils exclaimed: “Your eminence hath always favoured postponement in such matters. What prompteth you now to act with such haste?” Pointing to the spears of the Bedouin, he replied: “The force of external circumstances, my friends!”

Bahá’u’lláh, you see… is telling a joke!

Here’s another startling passage from the same tablet:

For upon no thing hath it been inscribed “this is lawful” or “this is unlawful”; nay rather, whatsoever hath been or will be revealed is by virtue of the Word of God, exalted be His glory.

These matters are sufficiently clear and require no further elaboration. Even so, certain groups believe that all the ordinances current amongst them are unalterable, that they have ever been valid, and that they will forever remain so…. For instance, some believe that wine hath ever been and shall remain forbidden. Now, were one to inform them that it might one day be made lawful, they would arise in protest and opposition. In truth, the people of the world have yet not grasped the meaning of “He doeth whatsoever He willeth”, nor have they comprehended the significance of Supreme Infallibility.

It’s interesting that He chooses wine as His example. Alcohol is forbidden in Islam as well as the Bahá’i Faith, and I think most Bahá’is have come to believe that this prohibition is an indication of maturity; as Paul says, “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” We believe, somewhat smugly if we are not careful, that because our Revelation is newer, that its laws are more “modern,” more “mature.”

To some extent, this is undoubtedly true. Bahá’u’lláh anticipated, among other things, the modern telecommunications system, modern environmental pollution, and the rapidly developing field of international law. His laws are intended for the next nine centuries, at least, and they are the unerring source of wisdom and happiness today. In this sense, He is “modern.”

But we should never be complacent, never believe that we have achieved an absolute mastery over religious truth, or that we can say for certain what God, the Divine Physician, will prescribe for us next.

Can one imagine, indeed, if the Bahá’i Faith becomes, as we Bahá’is believe it will, the dominant religion on the planet? What then would be the effect on billions of devout Bahá’is if a future Manifestation of God were to declare that alcohol was now no longer forbidden? Impossible? But it is not written on alcohol, or on any other thing, “this is unlawful.” Indeed, the Holy Quran says:

They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: “In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.”

But if the Manifestation said that there was now more profit in wine than in water, would we believe Him?

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