Most people I know think the pandemic is awful. But some of my friends are actually happy about it.
These friends are not heartless. They just think that the pandemic is all part of G-d’s plan. If G-d is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, then he would create the best world for us, and this is that world, and the pandemic is a part of it.
Leibnitz famously made this “best of all possible worlds” argument, and some theologians today continue to use it as a response to the problem of evil. One rabbi put the theodicy to me like this: G-d is a doctor performing a life-saving operation on a baby. He picks up the knife and starts cutting. We can only watch through a small hole: all we see is G-d stabbing a baby. And we think: horrible! But we don’t see the whole picture. We don’t see that what G-d is actually doing is good. He’s saving the baby’s life.
Same story with the pandemic. We may think it is bad, but that’s because we don’t know the whole story. We don’t know G-d’s plan; we can’t see the greater good.
Whether this is true or not, I’m beginning to think it’s a useful way to see the world. If you think that everything that happens must be the best thing to happen (because this is the best of all possible worlds) but are struggling to see why, you’re forced to ask, “how could this be the best?” And one way it could be the best is if you make it so.
I call it Stoicism + Optimism. Like the stoics, recognize that some things are out of your control. But think that those things are going the best possible way. Now all you need to worry about is yourself.
Reminds me of one of my favorite poems, “Good Bones,” by Maggie Smith, when she writes: “I am trying / to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, / walking you through a real shithole, chirps on / about good bones: This place could be beautiful, / right? You could make this place beautiful.”
I’m a better person when I ask myself, how can I make the most out of this situation? And thinking that this is the best possible world makes me ask that question more. Why? Probably because it 1) inspires hope that when I act, the consequences will be good and 2) reminds me that we are made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of G-d, and although we alone cannot create the best possible world, we can surely make it better.
Thanks to my friend Kevin Zhang for inspiring this post.