In the following five points, we will explain five out of the thousands of virtues of belief.
Through the light of belief, we reach the highest degree of perfection and become worthy of Paradise. On the other hand, the darkness of unbelief reduces us to the lowest level so that we become worthy of Hell. Belief connects us to our Majestic Maker, and our value derives from using our belief to demonstrate the Divine art and manifest the Divine Names. Unbelief breaks this relation, thereby veiling the Divine art and reducing our value to that of a mere and almost valueless physical entity, for we are no more than a perishable thing, a transient animal. We will explain this truth through a parable.
The value of the iron (or any other material) from which a work of art is made differs from the value of the art expressed in it. Sometimes they may have the same value, or else the art's worth may be far more valuable than its material or vice versa. An antique may fetch as much as a million dollars, while its material is not even worth a few cents. If taken to the antiques market, it may be sold for its true value because of its art and the brilliant artist's name. If taken to a blacksmith, it would be sold only for the value of its iron.
Similarly, each of us is a unique, priceless work of God Almighty's art. We are His Power's most delicate and graceful miracles, beings created to manifest His Names and inscriptions as miniature specimens of the universe. If we are illuminated with belief, these meaningful inscriptions become visible. Believers manifest them through their connection with their Maker, for the Divine art contained in each individual is revealed through such affirmations as: I am the work of the Majestic Maker, the creature and object of His Mercy and Munificence. As a result, and because we gain value in proportion to how well we reflect this art, we move from insignificance (in material terms) to beings ranked above all creatures. We communicate with God, are His guests on Earth, and are qualified for Paradise.(1)
But if unbelief is ingrained in us, all of the Divine Names' meaningful manifestations are veiled by darkness and therefore non-expressive. If the artist is unknown, how can the aspects expressing the art's worth be identified? Thus, most meaningful instances of that sublime art and elevated inscriptions are concealed. In material terms, unbelievers attribute them to trivial causes, nature, and chance, thereby reducing them to plain glass instead of sparkling diamonds. They are no more significant than any other material entity, self-condemned to a transient and suffocating life. They are no better than a most impotent, needy, and afflicted animal that eventually turns to dust. Unbelief thus spoils our nature by changing our diamond into coal.
Just as belief illuminates us and reveals the messages inscribed in our being by the Eternally-Besought-of-All, so does it illuminate the universe and remove darkness from the past and the future. We will explain this truth through what I experienced regarding the meaning of: God is the Protecting Friend of those who believe. He brings them out of the layers of darkness into the light (2:257).
I saw myself standing on an awe-inspiring bridge set over a deep valley between two mountains. The world was completely covered by a thick darkness. Looking to my right, I imagined I saw a huge tomb. Looking to my left, I felt as if I were seeing violent storms and calamities being prepared amid tremendous waves of darkness. Looking down, I imagined I was seeing a very deep precipice.
In that dreadful darkness, my torch's dim light revealed a horrifying scene. All along the length of the bridge were such horrible dragons, lions, and monsters that I wished I had no torch. Whichever way I directed it, I got the same fright. This torch brings me only trouble, I exclaimed, angrily casting it to the ground and breaking it. All of a sudden, the darkness was replaced by light, as if I had switched on a huge light by breaking my torch. I saw everything in its true nature.
I discovered that the bridge was a highway on a smooth plain. The huge tomb was a green, beautiful garden in which assemblies of worship, prayer, glorification, and discourse were being led by illustrious persons. The turbulent, stormy, frightening precipices now appeared as a banqueting hall, a shaded promenade, a very beautiful resting place behind lovely mountains. The horrible monsters and dragons were, in fact, camels, sheep, and goats. Praise and thanks be to God for the light of belief, I said, and then awoke reciting: God is the Protecting Friend of those who believe. He brings them out of the layers of darkness into the light.
The two mountains are the beginning and end of this life, and the life between death and Resurrection. The bridge is the lifespan, between the two phases of the past (on the right) and the future (on the left). The torch is our conceited ego that, relying on its own achievements, ignores Divine Revelation. The monsters are the world's events and extraordinary creatures.
Those who have fallen into the darkness of misguidance and heedlessness because of their confidence in their egos resemble me in the former state”in the dim light of a torch. With their inadequate and misguided knowledge, they see the past as a huge tomb in the darkness of extinction, and the future as a stormy scene of terror controlled by coincidence or chance.
The torch shows them events and creatures. In reality, these are subjugated to the All-Wise and All-Merciful, fulfill specific functions, and serve good purposes in submission to His Decree. However, they see such things as harmful monsters. These are the people referred to in: As to those who do not believe, their protecting friends are false deities. They bring them out of light into layers of darkness (2:257).
But if people are favored with Divine guidance so that belief enters their hearts and their Pharaoh-like egos are broken, enabling them to listen to the Book of God, they will resemble me in my later state. Suddenly the universe will fill with Divine Light, demonstrating the meaning of: God is the light of the heavens and the Earth (24:35).
Through the eye of their hearts, such people see that the past is not a huge tomb; rather, each past century is the realm of authority of a Prophet or a saint, where the purified souls, having completed the duties of their lives (worship) with: God is the Greatest, flew to higher abodes on the side of the future.
Looking to the left and through the light of belief, they discern, behind the mountain-like revolutions of the intermediate world and the next life, a feasting place set up by the All-Compassionate One at palaces of bliss in gardens of Paradise. They understand that such events as storms, earthquakes, and epidemics serve a specific function, just as the spring rain and winds, despite their apparent violence, serve many agreeable purposes. They even see death as the beginning of eternal life, and the grave as the gateway to eternal happiness.
Adapted from Bediuzzaman's Twenty-third Word, First Chapter.
1 For example, prayer is a form of communication with God, who speaks to us through Prophets, inspiration, or Scriptures.