Yesterday I was reading a client’s forthcoming book in pdf. It is about gratitude and abundance and expecting miracles and stuff like that, and really quite a lovely book. Then in class last night we were talking about living in confident hope, knowing that God is in charge.
Our speaker takes the position –which is not the only one available to Christians, but completely defensible — that faith is a gift from God, which is tested by God with difficulties so that we can know its strength. That is, God doesn’t test us for His own information, because what with being omniscient and all he doesn’t have to run experiments. It’s for us. Our faith gives us the assurance that, God being our sovereign Father, we really have nothing to worry about. Therefore, knowing that God has it all planned out, we should make our own plans with confidence, and take appropriate actions, based on that assurance. Faith, the speaker told us, was a combination of assurance and action.
Both these positions, it seems to me, are versions of what Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss used to say: “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”
The alternative is the old Russian saying, “Life is terrible, and then you die.” There is quite a bit of support for this claim, if you look around you in the world.
I’ve been thinking about this viewpoint quite a bit in recent months. As you may know because I haven’t shut up about it for months, I lost my job and found myself more or less propelled into self-employment. While I was unemployed, many people told me that everything would work out for the best. Sometimes they were saying that God was in control and had a special plan for me, and sometimes that things would work out because of some rational set of factors they had observed, and only occasionally because the universe gives you what you draw to yourself with your happy thoughts or something (I mostly don’t move in those circles), but there was just lots of optimistic talk going on.
The exception was the people who said, “Oh, that’s going to be hard at your age” and “In this economy, you should try to hold onto the job you have.” I’m not going to hang out with those people next time I have difficulties.
And now people are saying how good it was that things happened as they did. I even sometimes think about myself in the spring, and the people with whom my life is newly entwined and what they were doing in the previous spring, back when we didn’t have any idea we were due for some entwining. If God or Destiny was at that point — or indeed, at other points back in the past — bustling cheerfully around saying, “Well, well, it looks like it’s time to alert Fibermom to the existence of HTML so she’ll be ready for the future I’ve got planned for her, and that one over there needs to start vaguely thinking about contracting someone if he could find just the right person… oh and the board member had better get some happy news so he’ll agree to the budget, but I guess that can wait till next year… Ah, there’s just the right susceptible computer guy to introduce to #2 daughter so he’ll be on hand to utter the magic word ‘SEO’ and incidentally have a pleasant spring break romance that will cause him to start dressing better in time for the plans I have for him in the future” — well, that’s a striking thought, isn’t it?
Here’s the thing: I kept wondering what difference it would make if these things were true or not.
That is, I mostly just went on ahead this summer and did stuff and everything worked out, and I did fret sometimes and occasionally waste some time on hedging my bets, but after the initial trauma I mostly didn’t allow my actions to be affected by worry. This was the correct thing to do if everything was going to work out. If it was part of a grand plan that I should be successful at self-employment, then going ahead and working toward that goal was the correct action. If I had taken that retail management job because I was scared about failure, or if I had given up in despair and gone to bed for a couple of months, then I would have been slowing down the whole grand plan.
What if there is no grand plan? Then what would have been the right thing to do? Would spending the money it cost to get prepared for self-employment then have been stupid, and the right thing would have been to save all those funds and live very frugally and worry a lot more?
I don’t know. Considering that things appear to be working out well, it seems as though I must have mostly made the right choices.
But there were certainly times when I felt like, “What if God doesn’t have any plan here, and I’m entirely on my own, and it isn’t the best of all possible worlds? Then what should I do?” The thing is, I couldn’t come up with any useful plans based on that assumption. Or at least I couldn’t come up with any different plans from what I was already doing.
If philosophical issues are not to your taste this morning, then consider instead that it is fall, and time for Readers Imbibing Peril. This is the third year of the challenge, and the third year in which I’ve participated in it, though all that I do is read the books. There are others who have contests and stuff, but fall is always a busy time for me, so I just read the books.
The challenge this year is to read 5, or 3, or even just one spooky, creepy, gothic book.
I am currently reading The Body in the Ivy, an homage to Agatha Christie’s immortal And Then There Were None. It might get creepy enough to be included. However, I am also partway through Twilight, a YA vampire romance novel that my students were all excited about. I think vampire novels are goth enough by definition to be included in RIP. So I’m well started on the imbibing of peril. We do all know that “imbibe” means “drink,” and so I guess we’re drinking in these creepy books.
Let me know if you have a favorite creepy book that I ought to read.