You’ve probably seen the Facebook meme that says “Jesus loves you. Odin wants you to grow the hell up.” I think that’s a little harsh. We all have limits, and we all have times when we just can’t handle one more thing. There are times when we hope – and sometimes when we expect – Gods who we know and serve to help us out, to make it better, or at least to reassure us that it will all work out in the end.
Sometimes They do that. And sometimes the Gods just don’t care.
Let me start with two disclaimers. First, there are many Gods, and some of them are Gods of caring and compassion – Quan Yin comes to mind. They always care, and they remind us that we should too. And second, if you think I’m telling people with post-election stress to suck it up, go re-read my last two weeks of posts, especially this one. This post is more general than that, although it can be relevant to dealing with the aftermath of the election for some of us.
This is about what happens when a God or Gods asks or demands that you do something that seems impossible, impractical, or so unpleasant you absolutely do not want to do it. When you say “I really can’t do that” and They respond “just do it.”
Perhaps this is a deity who’s new to you and you’re still negotiating the structure of your relationship. Or perhaps it’s someone with whom you have a long, respectful, reciprocal relationship. You’ve poured offerings and sung hymns to Them. You’ve adopted Their values and you do your best to exemplify Their virtues. You’ve been Their hands and done Their work in this world. Maybe you’ve even experienced the ecstasy of Their intimate presence.
And now They want this? They want an offering that would be a significant sacrifice. They want a commitment that would reorder your life. Or, in my current situation, they have a deadline that while not impossible is extremely tight and is forcing me to move forward before I’m fully prepared.
What do you do when the Gods just don’t care?
We have sovereignty even before the Gods. The answer is not unreflective submission. The Gods are mighty beings, but we are responsible for our own lives. The Gods have agency and will – They do what They do, for Their own reasons. Some times – most times – it’s in our best interests to participate in Their work. But They do not always have our best interests at heart, and we have the right and the ability to say no.
Sometimes this has repercussions, particularly if you’ve already made open-ended promises. Most times, though, They’ll move on and find someone else who will do it… and you may not hear from Them again. But not always…
I desperately wanted to be a priest of the Morrigan, but I could not give what She asked, so I told her no. She was absent from my life for months, then She came back with something else She wanted me to do. I still cannot be her priest, but the relationship has been restarted under terms I am happy to fulfill.
Sometimes I think They ask for what They want even though They know They’re not going to get it. I don’t think Zeus really expects anyone to sacrifice bulls to Him, but He’d still like to have them.
If you cannot do what They ask, then offer what you can do. But once you make a commitment, keep your word, no matter what.Maybe it really is that important. Look at things from Their area of responsibility. Look at things through Their values and virtues. Look at things from a very long-term perspective. There are things more important than your comfort and convenience. There are things more important than your personal safety.
In my own situation, I’m reminded of a quote from General George Patton: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Substitute “aggressively and diligently” for “violently” since I’m not engaging in actual warfare. I trust there’s a good reason why this thing needs to be done now rather than, say, next Spring – even if I can’t see that reason. Sometimes you have to dive in, get started, and figure it out as you go.
I don’t buy the argument “the Gods are testing us.” If They ask for something, then it’s safe to assume They want it, even if They expect us to refuse. The only persons (and the Gods are persons, even though they’re not people) who “test” their friends and allies are the insecure, and the Gods do not suffer from insecurity.
Now, there are plenty of stories of Gods who walked among mortals to test their hospitality, as Zeus and Odin were (and perhaps, still are) known to do. But seeing if people are living virtuously is a very different thing from tempting them to do something they shouldn’t. Tempters are a feature of a different religion…
They’re not sending us on impossible missions. If They ask you to do something, They think you can do it or They’d find someone else to ask. Now, maybe They’re wrong – They’re not infallible. But it’s far more likely They understand your situation and capabilities more clearly than you do. What you call impossible would often better be described as difficult and improbable, but doable with wisdom and determination.
Except when They do. Commanding an army means putting people in harm’s way. Attack a fortified position and you know some of your soldiers are going to die. Hopefully not many of them, or you’ll lose the war from attrition. But if you have to storm the beaches of Normandy in order to retake France from the Nazis, then that’s what you do.
What will you die for, figuratively if not literally? If this isn’t worth dying for, then re-read the first point, exercise your sovereignty, and say no.
But perhaps this is too important to yield. Perhaps it means the world to you, or to someone who is dear to you. Perhaps the price of peace is your soul.
And perhaps, even though the situation seems impossible, the wind’s on our side and that’s all we need.
Courage is not having no fear. Courage is recognizing your fears and then doing the right thing anyway. Or the hard thing. Or the thing that takes more time than I’ve got to do it right now.
The Gods are not our servants, but neither are They our masters. Sometimes They care deeply about us and sometimes They don’t… or at least, that’s how it appears to us. They have many virtues – transparency is rarely one of them. But my experience with the Gods has been overwhelmingly positive. They have shown Themselves to be honorable and trustworthy, so when They seem to not care, I trust there’s something They see that I don’t, and I do my best to do it anyway.