Interfaith Learnings from the Book of Isaiah
What does the Book of Isaiah, part of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, have to offer us in the twenty-first century? Some Bahá’ís particularly interested in prophecy will point to verses that foreshadow the coming of Bahá’u’lláh. Others might draw a blank. But there really are things in Isaiah that we should all know about. Just ask Fran Otto, a devoted Kansas City Chiefs fan.
Fran didn’t say why she signed up for the Wilmette Institute course Exploring the Book of Isaiah 2018. But she did share some of what she learned about prophecies relating to Bahá’u’lláh:
One take away was realizing the disobedience of the people of Israel and how God was so patient and understanding of them, warning them again and again. Seemingly, we humans, continue to do that today. We can’t seem to apply the teachings of God through His manifestations to our spiritual self.
The later chapters in the book . . . according to ‘Abdul-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, have a reference to Bahá’u’lláh. In Chapter 40, according to Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá . . . the covenant has been fulfilled, the door of bounty is opened to all, and He describes how the signs are fulfilled. In the last ten chapters, 56–66, reference is made to the suffering servant, the heavenly bride, and the new heavens and the new earth. The opening of Chapter 40 makes reference to the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness and says that the glory of the Lord will be revealed. Chapter 53 describes Bahá’u’lláh’s sufferings and how mankind will be come in recognizing this aspect of God.
In addition, Fran found that learning about a book from another religion affected her approach to the Bahá’í Faith deeply:
I’m just beginning but now able to recognize the Jewish, Christian, and Bahá’í thought regarding the meanings of the prophecies mentioned. I come from a strong anabaptist [a belief that infant baptism should not be practiced], pacifist, theological background which has greatly affected my listening to and understanding of the Bahá’í writings. I would like to further study Jewish perspectives, as well as Christian and Bahá’í perspectives.
After learning and reflecting, how is Fran putting her new knowledge into action? One planned action is a special devotional gathering where she “will incorporate Bahá’í writings along with scripture verses from Isaiah, especially since it is Christmas season, and the oratorio, the Messiah, is well-known, and the scriptures that are reflected in the oratorio where there is reference to Bahá’u’lláh.” She is also using the Book of Isaiah in her discussions with her Christian brother and in her own devotions and meditations:
This past weekend was spent with family and my brother, who is deeply entrenched with “Gideon” doctrine [the belief that Jesus is the only messenger of God and the only access to eternal life], and I had some deep conversations regarding spiritual truths. Also at Sunday school at the church my family attends, I participated in the conversation while studying the book of Proverbs, with many references to Bahá’í principles and truths. In my morning devotions I read the prayer at the beginning of the Bahá’í prayer book, “Intone . . . the verses of God,” and I realized that the angels would scatter the sweet fragrances uttered, knowing that eventually it will have some influence upon their souls. This thought gives me renewed strength and self-confidence in teaching others about spiritual truths and assisting them in their spiritual growth and progress. Hence it becomes less about who I am or how I feel.
The Wilmette Institute makes it easy to study a number of other religions. During 2019, it is offering seven such courses (the date following each course is the date it starts):
Exploring the Qur’an (February 15, 2019)
Exploring the New Testament (May 25, 2019)
Introduction to Islam (June 1, 2019)
Exploring the Book of Revelation (July 25, 2019)
Hinduism for Deepening and Dialogue (September 10, 2019)
Zoroastrianism for Deepening and Dialogue (December 9, 2019)
Christianity for Deepening and Dialogue (December 15, 2019)