Trusting the Gods

Monotheists’ commands to “trust God” are a double-edged sword.  On one edge, they promote wishful thinking and a passive acceptance of the status quo that can easily turn into the spiritual opium Karl Marx ranted against.

But the other edge of that sword can be helpful.  Whether you are a Stone Age hunter-gatherer, a medieval peasant working the land, or a high-tech city dweller, you are dependent on many people and processes that are out of your control.  It can be comforting, even liberating, to “turn it all over” to a Higher Power and trust that things will work out OK one way or another.

This desire for reassurance is, I suspect, one of the main reasons many Pagans’ view of Goddess or even of individual goddesses and gods is simply a kinder, gentler version of the god of the monotheists.  That view does not line up with the way our pre-Christian ancestors understood their gods, nor is it compatible with the experiences of most contemporary polytheists.  I’m sure you’ve seen the Facebook meme:  “Jesus loves you.  Odin wants you to grow up.”

The foundation of trust is not blind faith. The foundation of trust is the evidence of past performance.  Cathy and I keep all our finances jointly.  I trust her to spend wisely and conservatively because from the time we met she exhibited responsible behavior with money.  I have friends I would trust with my life but not with my lunch money because they have exhibited very different behaviors.

As polytheists, we can trust our gods, but we cannot trust them to be divine helicopter parents who will make everything nice and pleasant for us.  Neither can the monotheists, and to their credit, many recognize this.

We can trust the gods to be who and what they are:  beings of great but limited power and wisdom, with their own personalities and priorities, and their own areas of responsibility and interest.

Although I have learned and grown and changed over the course of my life, I am still the same basic person today that I was at 21.  I may respond to a situation differently now than I would then, but I will not respond in a way that is inconsistent with my core being.  Likewise, it is reasonable to expect that our goddesses and gods have learned and grown in the centuries since our ancestors first wrote about them, but it is not reasonable to assume they will act in ways that are inconsistent with their core beings.

We can trust the gods – and our ancestors and the various spirits – to participate in reciprocal relationships.  We can trust them to do what they say they’ll do.  But we cannot assume that serving them means they’ll take care of everything for us.  Some deities call followers and groom them for specific roles and tasks.  Others throw followers through the proverbial wringer for purposes that may never be entirely clear.  Some are patient and long-suffering with our frailties (Cernunnos has certainly been so with me), while others present a take-it-or-leave-it offer and demand an immediate response.  These relationships can be meaningful and helpful, but approach them with your eyes wide open and in full exercise of your sovereignty.

We can trust the gods to be the gods, but some questions and situations go beyond even them.  Finite gods struggle with the infinite much as do we finite humans.  While I am a polytheist, I am also a pantheist and a mystic.  I have experienced ineffable moments of Unity where the boundaries between myself and the rest of the Universe faded and I experienced that All is One.

I can’t tell you what that All is – whether it’s the sum of all the individual consciousnesses in the universe or a prime consciousness of which we are a part or the force of life or – as I suspect – something so far beyond my human intellect I can’t begin to comprehend it, much less relate to it.  But the foundation of trust is the evidence of past performance, and I trust that whatever it is that has brought us this far will see us through the end.  Not without challenges and not without setbacks – suffering and death are realities and progress eventually stops and goes in reverse (ask the dinosaurs, ask the Romans, and before too much longer, ask the Americans).  But this process has shown that in the long run, it can be trusted.

Beyond all of this, you can trust your true will.  You’re here for a reason.  Maybe you have to discover that reason or maybe you have to create it (that’s another one of those questions that are beyond the gods), but there is something in this life you need to accomplish, or learn, or facilitate.  You can do this great work not because the gods will make it easy for you but because your soul screams you must do it, no matter what.  Distractions can be eliminated, obstacles can be overcome, difficulties can be managed and failures can be turned into lessons because to do otherwise is to give up a piece of your soul.

John F. Kennedy made the following words famous in our time, but they were originally said by 19th century Episcopal Bishop Phillips Brooks:

O, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks! Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be a miracle.

That’s a prayer we all can pray, whether we are polytheists, monotheists, or non-theists.

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

    Beautiful! Thanks you :)

  • Andy Furlong

    Two things:
    1. A god who learns and grows is no god at all for God is perfect and does not change but is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

    2. You can NOT “trust your true will” for the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. Rather: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.

    Hebrews 13:8
    Malachi 3:6
    Jeremiah 17:9
    Proverbs 3:5-6

    When you base your reasoning on false premises, you will come to wrong conclusions and go astray. Truth about God and ourselves is revealed from God in the Bible and that is a safe and reliable foundation for life

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Andy,

      Welcome to the Pagan world, where we see things a bit differently than you do in Christianity.

      I look around the Universe and I see beauty, power, majesty and love, but I don’t see perfection. The idea that the gods must be perfect came from the late Greeks. It was not one of their better ideas but it still made its way into Christianity. Your god changed his mind a time or two. From the post I linked to “Do The Gods Change?” ( http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2013/03/do-the-gods-change.html ):

      “Even Yahweh changes. Genesis says ‘the Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled’ and Exodus says ‘then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.’ These books pre-date Greek thought on unchanging deities even if they aren’t as old as the fundamentalists say they are. Conservative Christians perform logical gymnastics to show how their god didn’t really change, but that violates the plain reading of the text they claim to support.”

      I couldn’t relate to a perfect god even if I thought such a being existed. The old gods, though, with their foibles and imperfections, their power and virtues – I can relate to them.

      The Bible is a collection of stories by and for a certain group of people living in a certain place and time. It contains much wisdom and truth (as well as much evil, such as its promotion of slavery and genocide), but as a “foundation for life” it leaves much to be desired.

      The human heart is many things. It can be wicked and deceitful (see slavery and genocide, or in our time and place, homophobia and environmental desecration), but it can also be kind, gentle, loving, courageous and strong. I find that when I focus on my true will – what I really want to do and be, as opposed to what I’ve been told I should do and be – I’m inclined more to the latter and less to the former.

      But that’s me. As a Pagan it’s my job to worship my gods and goddesses in the way they prescribe. How you worship your god is entirely up to you. Religious tolerance is an innate feature of polytheism.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      John