- And does everything happen for the best?
There’s no dearth of misery and misfortune in the world. There’s plenty of joy and happiness too, but as far as most thoughtful individuals are concerned, in the long run the misery far outweighs the joy. Is this all part of God’s Plan? It has been observed that those who are doing well in life find it decidedly less difficult to acquiesce in this so-called God’s Plan than those who have been on the receiving end of major mishaps in life. What, then, is one to make of God’s Plan, if there’s any such thing that is.
A man applies for a job he wants desperately, and for which he is ideally qualified too. Despite doing his best at the interview, he is not offered the job. Is it part of God’s Plan? Is the apparent setback just one minor glitch in a larger scheme where ‘all works out for the best’? What about all the wars, genocides, famines and epidemics of history? Does this concept of God’s Plan dismiss free-will as well as the absurdities of blind luck and tragedy? Is it God’s Will that random people die young of disease, violence or accident? Doesn’t tracing the source of such things to God diminish God?
As is the case when one grapples with any philosophical question, one must first be clear about what precisely one means by ‘God’s Plan’. Everything that ever happens conforms to the laws of the universe, as it must. Now, God is the Creator of the universe (and its laws) so those laws can alternatively be called God’s Will. In this sense, everything undoubtedly happens according to God’s Plan because nothing’s ever going to surprise God. For example, the damage to flesh and bones caused by physical impact is firmly based in the laws of the universe (or God’s Plan, if you like). But a man brings the damage to himself by driving his automobile recklessly or under the influence. Now, driving under those conditions is certainly not the only possible cause of being in a car crash. There are countless others: a heart attack, sudden brake failure, road conditions, worn-out tires, some other driver’s fault, and what not; many of which are outside one’s control. Any crash that happens, happens when certain factors align unfavourably (all of which may not be known at the time); but wisdom on a man’s part amounts to not knowingly contributing to those factors. However, what if after doing everything in one’s power to be safe, one still meets an accident that scars one physically and/or mentally? Wisdom here calls for accepting it as God’s Plan (as it undoubtedly is) and moving on with life. On this point, one is often accused of fatalism. Is it though? Is there any wiser attitude in matters one can’t help or change?
The word ‘perfect’ is an interesting one. It’s often blown up– by the theist and the atheist alike– beyond recognition
The free-will/predestination debate is a lengthy one, and one on which I have written in these pages. Suffice it to say here that God being outside time and space, there’s no logical contradiction between God’s ‘Prescience’ and a man being free to make his choices in the domain where he has free will. For then, the free-will becomes one of the many other factors that influence events.
So much for God’s Plan! We now focus our attention on our second major question: Even accepting God’s Plan, is it correct to say that everything happens for the best? That is, is there anything necessarily good about each development, even if only in the long run? This is a faulty question. It’s like asking, ‘Is it hot in the summer?’ It’s hot as compared to the winter; but is it hot as compared to the inside of your oven or the surface of the sun? That is why for an objective assessment one talks of temperatures and not hot or cold. Similarly, good and bad aren’t absolute concepts; they are relative. When a lion runs down a gazelle, it’s good for the lion; but bad for the gazelle.
Voltaire famously took the mickey out of the Panglossian view of everything ‘happening for the best’, and justifiably so. However, atheists, ever since, have fancied this line of criticism so much that it is now one of their preferred ‘arguments’ against theists. ‘Is this world – with so much death and destruction – the best your God could create? Where is perfection in this scheme that you people never tire of proclaiming’, they ask sarcastically. The word ‘perfect’ is an interesting one. It’s often blown up – by the theist and the atheist alike – beyond recognition. All it means is something having all elements and characteristics for its purpose. It can never be torn loose from its context. A perfect family car is one that has a certain combination of safety, fuel efficiency and reliability for its power output and over its service life. In other words, it does best the job it was made for. (A perfect F1 racing car would have very different demands.) The word ‘perfect’ doesn’t mean the car needs no power source; or is unbreakable no matter how fast you drive it into a wall; or is subject to zero wear and tear. It certainly doesn’t mean that the automobile comes into your room every night and tucks you up in bed. Some food for thought: What would a perfect existence look like, provided its purpose, as far as human beings are concerned, is to test their conduct?