The judgement process
"The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed." -- Baha’u’llah: Kitab-i Aqdas (Most Holy Book), paragraph 1
We saw in the meta-story that Baha'u'llah views religion as a progression of prophets and religions through time. Within this context, the task for each person is to figure out where this never-ending meta-story is at, at the point they find themselves alive on earth. In other words, they need to investigate who is the latest prophet in the series, whose teachings and laws govern their little piece of history. This is what Baha'u'llah means in the first sentence of the quote above in which he says that God's first duty to each person is to recognise the "Dayspring of His revelation and the Fountain of His Laws". It is always the latest prophet in the series whose message and laws apply to the world. This duty of recognising the latest prophet in the series is the primary duty of each person and the principal task people are judged on.
But this task is not an easy one. We saw in the meta-story that the prophet displays no supernatural powers and is always oppressed by enemies. During the time the prophet lives on earth, the prophet is usually obscure and assumed to be extreme and a threat to society. We also saw in The need to see with one's own eyes that it is very difficult for a person to view religion as Baha'u'llah does, as a meta-narrative, because we are socialised and influenced by the teachings and worldview of the religion we are raised in. How does a person go about finding the latest prophet? We saw that a person must look at the issue themselves. This principle that we must see the matter for ourselves is commonly referred to as 'the independent investigation of truth'. It is fundamental to Baha'u'llah's teachings. A person is judged on whether they look at the prophet’s claim for themselves or whether they rely, instead, on the opinion of their religious leaders or some other influence.
This interpretation of divine judgement is a far cry from the one we get from a literal reading of the imagery in the scriptures; for example: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." (Matthew 25:31-32) Contrary to this grand view of divine judgement, the judgement process is an internal one, in that it takes place within the self of each person. Baha'u'llah argues that if it literally took place as the scriptures depict, no person would deny. However, it does have global effect. As news of the message of the new prophet spreads, increasing numbers of people are exposed to it, as are upcoming generations, and given the opportunity to make a proper investigation of it.
Baha’u’llah sets down a principle that makes it clear a person cannot blame others for their own rejection of the prophet. If a person rejects the message simply because everyone else rejected it, this position is deemed to be a considered, personal decision to deny. In the following scenario, a person is asked why they rejected the prophet. The person replies: “Inasmuch as all men have erred, and none hath been found willing to turn his face to the Truth, I, too, following their example, have grievously failed to recognize the Beauty of the Eternal.” Baha’u’llah says that this response would be rejected, citing the principle that “The faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself”. This means that, for the purposes of this most crucial of decisions, no person can act on behalf of another; no person can decide for another. Each person is personally responsible for the response they make.
Baha’u’llah maintains that every human being is capable of recognising the truth of a prophet’s claim by themselves. They do not need to rely on others because everyone is created with an innate capacity to recognise prophetic truth:
“every man hath been, and will continue to be, able of himself to appreciate the Beauty of God, the Glorified.” (Gleanings LXXV)
He has no time for the view that people are too simpleminded to understand verses of scripture themselves and therefore need to rely on their religious leaders to help them.
“Heed not the idle contention of those who maintain that the Book and verses thereof can never be a testimony unto the common people, inasmuch as they neither grasp their meaning nor appreciate their value.” (Iqan, para 232)
He says that those who hold this view are motivated by arrogance and pride and the desire to increase their power over the people.
Furthermore, He argues that God would not be just if each person did not have this innate capacity. If each person is required to apply the principle of independent investigation of truth to determine if a prophetic claim is true, everyone needs to be able to carry out the task themselves.
“Had [humankind] not been endowed with such a capacity, how could he be called to account for his failure? ….” (Gleanings LXXV)