Life is of course unpredictable, but there is something in many of us that craves stability. Some people thrive on challenge and change, but many do not. It’s easy to look at religion and the way in which we appeal for help or try to appease forces of nature, and see the desire for stability playing out. As we’ve become more able to control our environments and create stability for ourselves, we’ve changed from making sacrifices to the most dangerous aspects of nature, and grown religions that are more human-centric.
Religions are full of rules about what we can and can’t do. At some level, those rules are about keeping God happy because if you keep God happy you get stability. You don’t get floods, storms, volcanoes, plagues… The Old Testament is pretty clear that these are the consequences of an unhappy God. Being able to ascribe unpredicted things to the will of an angry God may itself give us more of a feeling of control. Perhaps it is worse to imagine that terrible things happen for no reason at all and that the universe couldn’t give a shit.
We are comforted (some of us) by the idea that the universe gives a shit. The desire to see the world as both kind and meaningful can lead to staggering forms of cognitive dissonance. If the world is good, then terrible things are really good things in disguise. That which ruins our lives and tears us apart – literally and metaphorically, has to be recast as our benevolent teacher. I think choosing to learn can be a good and valid response to difficult things. However, the idea that we have been given the terrible things so that we can learn makes me really uneasy. Sometimes it seems much kinder to say ‘shit happens’ and not to feel taught by it at all.
Change itself is neither automatically good, or bad. It can take us in either direction. However, change is exhausting when it is mostly what you experience. Even a great deal of good change can wipe you out. We need time to process change. We need to be able to make sense of it, and we need to feel we are riding the waves even if we have no say in where they are taking us. The more out of control you feel, the more tempting it may be to attribute the chaos to a will beyond your comprehension. Perhaps sometimes that helps. However, trusting that the chaos is taking you somewhere you need to go can itself be a dangerous choice, and one that encourages us not to think things through or take care of ourselves.
If you find yourself swept away by a river in full spate, do you trust the river’s intentions? Do you trust that the river God has a higher plan for you? Or do you try and get out of the river?