Believing in a ‘Grand Plan’ to Comfort Oneself

When facing the news of yet another disaster taking place in the world (a devastating earthquake, a genocide, an epidemic, the murder of schoolchildren, wrongdoers escaping justice, and so forth), who hasn’t heard a thought of this sort follow the initial horrified reaction: ‘Well, we must remember that in the end, it’s all a part of the Grand Design / God’s Plan / The Will of God…’ and so on and so forth. It’s pretty much always implied, and often said, that this means we must resign ourselves, on some level at least, to the situation. And everyone who expresses this sort of explanation seems to find it comforting.

I know I’m not the only one who finds this tendency disturbing, I can’t be the only one who’s discomfited at the idea that so many people think there must be some sort of justification, a ‘grand plan’ that makes all the suffering and death that occur in the world okay, just so they can feel better about it and move on. When someone who’s suffered such a blow themselves, the death of friends or family, the loss of their own health, the destruction of their community, I understand needing an immediate source of comfort to get through the worst of it as they try to carry on living, faced with such burdens. But for others who make such comments, I must ask: is it really a good thing to comfort yourself in this way?

I’ve never found this sort of thing helpful or good. Putting aside the weird idea of ‘choosing to believe’ something (this doesn’t square with my notion of belief as a spontaneous reaction to personal observation, or to an argument, or to scientific evidence, not something I can just adopt like a new style of dress), the very idea of trying to comfort myself in this way seems pretty selfish. I don’t want to feel better about the fact that there’s suffering in the world. I don’t want to think that death and disease and pain have some sort of ultimate moral justification. I want to feel awful about suffering because I want to keep that fire lit under me to spur me to do something about it, even if I can only help in small ways. I want to always feel that I and the rest of humanity can and should do as much about relieving suffering and correcting injustices as we can, because we’ve decided those things are bad. Trying to justify the wrongs in the world as a necessary part of ‘something greater’ can end up sabotaging the best in ourselves, the empathy and righteous anger that we need to drive us to make the world a better place.

That ‘Grand Plan / God’s Will’ excuse, in the end, sounds to me like a trite phrase, a Hallmark-card-worthy empty sentiment, a platitude, little more than a thumb to suck.

One thought on “Believing in a ‘Grand Plan’ to Comfort Oneself

  1. Hafta say it again, Amy, I love how you think! The essence of a real morality is to allow the suffering of others to register. You call it out so well.

    If I believe in a grand design, and I believe I do, it is evolution. Everything I see with my eyes and read and feel tells me it is so. It DOES comfort me to know that there is a movement in a particular direction in our species. No need to dim the lights on the suffering, either, which seems ingeniously positioned to motivate change.

    What I see happening in the world is the truths coming out, and hurting many, and being seen. It really hurts to look at it, feel it, but look and feel we must, if there's ever to be a functioning feedback loop within the system.

    Bravo, Amy. Reading you almost always makes me jump around in my seat like popcorn. That is a good thing.


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