trust and hope

Religions and (ancient) philosophies have been very keen on emphasizing a few basic truths, among them the idea that “all will be well”. In the Torah the idea is found in Proverbs 3.5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight.

In the Christian New Testament the apostle Paul says (Romans 8.28):

And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose

The Bhagavad Gita, chapter 18 verse 58 claims likewise (Krishna speaking):

If thou are one in heart and consciousness with Me at all times, then by My grace thou shalt pass safe through all difficult and perilous passages

The Tao Te Ching (ch 16):

Woe to him who wilfully innovates
While ignorant of the constant,
But should one act from knowledge of the constant
One’s action will lead to impartiality,
Impartiality to kingliness,
Kingliness to heaven,
Heaven to the way,
The way to perpetuity,
And to the end of one’s days one will meet with no danger.

The stoic version would itself not be much different: “do not worry because you cannot change the course of events anyway”. This feature even recurs in Kant who posits the incredible idea that we must act morally no matter what and that ‘God’ will see to it that our eternal soul gets repaid with happiness in the end (Critique of Practical Reason, p. 224).

I must admit that i don’t quite know what to make of all this. The idea that a good person needn’t worry could obviously be simply explained away as a simple trick to get people to be good; and therein must indeed lie some amount of truth. However, the comfort of such a thought reaches far beyond any usefulness it might have for social control. If we strip the above ideas of their religious garb – demythologizing them -, we are left with an idea that nevertheless retains much of its power. Even a godless man like myself cannot but find a substantial amount of peace when he (always belatedly) remembers that “i can always structure my life in such a way as to enjoy it”. This is a fundamentally positive outlook, but one that seems necessary, if only to get us to go on living; it is precisely because the link between “positive” and “necessary” (in ethical terms: being good must be good for you, somehow) is so fascinating that it resurfaces in just about all religions and life-philosophies.

(Translations: Net Bible, Aurobindo’s translation of the BG, D.C. Lau’s translation of the TTC)

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