Testation and Divine Plans

I’m not a big fan of the saying “the Gods are testing us”.
Mostly because I don’t think they really do.
I think the gods are wise enough to know that life in itself is test enough. Sure, Loki will play his tricks, and sure, Thor will sometimes call a storm right on top of us at the worst possible moment, but that’s the gods doing what they do in accordance with their own perogative. I don’t really believe they turn their gaze to us at any given moment and go “That one. Let’s screw with THAT ONE, make their lives horrible for a bit, and see how they take it.” Other people’s gods might do that, but I don’t really believe that my gods do. Well, I mean, obviously sometimes they do — if I tried to count the number of stories that depict Odin directly picking someone and testing their character and limits, we’d be here all week. But that’s not a really great example. Odin’s methods tend to be subtler than “your life sucks for an extended period of time.” He will come to you, he’ll question you, dialog with you, and yes, occasionally he’ll challenge you in an area he knows you to be weak at. But Odin’s usual manner is to approach us and give us a very slight and vague heads up that hard times are ahead, and then withdraw to observe — he does not take an active role in the testing or the hardship.
Because Odin knows better than anyone that life is a test. If you’ve ever been in school and just finished a really hard exam and gone “Whew! Glad finals are over! I’m so sick of tests!” well, I’ve got bad news for you. The tests never ended, and they never will.
Sometimes life sucks. We tell ourselves that something bigger than us is picking on us; it can be a very helpful psychological tool to focus our displeasure on some nebulous outside force that we can’t really confront directly.
But the simple fact is that nine times out of ten, you’ve just hit a rough patch. The real test is in how we handle it. And yeah, the gods are watching (when aren’t they?). The good news is that no one is picking on you. Nope, not even Loki. The bad news is that this means that yes, there are in fact trials we may face that present us with a no-win scenario, or the only way through is to cut something we would rather not from ourselves and our lives. This idea that “the gods don’t give us any challenges we cannot overcome” is actually crap. I know, I myself have said it on this very blog. And on a species wide basis, it is true. We’ve never faced a challenge that we couldn’t overcome as a species. However, on an individual level, the assertion loses its power. Individuals are frequently overcome by trials and tribulations that they have no power to succeed against — at least not on their own abilities alone. In those moments, when we are backed into a no-win scenario, we must not lose our composure. Why? Because this too is a test: how we behave in defeat is no less important than how we behave in victory, and someone is always watching your performance.
In a similar vein, people try to console each other in times of tragedy with “God has a plan for us.” I can’t speak for the BIg G, but my gods don’t have any such ridiculously overcomplicated plans. Their plans for us are “watch us be born”, “watch us live” and “watch us die”, while taking notes the whole time. When tragedy strikes, it’s because tragedy struck. It’s nobody’s fault. Bad things happen to good people every day. It’s the opposite of a miracle: a sudden influx of general horribleness into your life for any reason or no reason. Nobody’s gods made that happen — it’s just another one of life’s endless tests. Or at least, we can be sure that’s usually not the case; every god has their capricious qualities, but barring a personal assault on them, they’re often pretty thick-skinned.
With practice, we can ace the tests of life and acquire similar endurance and fortitude.
I think that’s something any reasonable god should want for their people.
Life is a test, and the gods have no plan for us but to see if you face the next trial and then make it to the finish line.
It’s beautifully but tragically simple.

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