Divine Power


In its most direct form, the work of transcendent power indicates some kind of divine intervention. For pan- and polytheistic beliefs this usually means the direct action of one god or another on the course of human events. In Greek legend, for example, it was Poseidon (god of the sea) who raised the winds which swept Odysseus’ craft off course on his return voyage, and Japanese custom holds that a god-sent wind protected them from Mongol invasion. Prayers or propitiations are often offered to particular gods of pantheisms to earn favorable interventions in specific enterprises: e.g. safe journeys, victory in war, or a period of bountiful crops. Many faiths around the world — from Japanese Shinto and Chinese traditional religion to certain African practices and the convictions procured from those in the Caribbean to Native American beliefs — hold that ancestral or house spirits offer daily assurance and blessings. In monotheistic religions, divine intervention may take very direct forms: miracles, visions, or interventions by blessed figures.

Transcendent force or power may also work through further subtle and indirect paths. Monotheistic faiths maintain some version of divine providence, which accepts that the divinity of the church has a profound but unknowable plan forever opening in the world. Unforeseeable, overwhelming, or seemingly wrong events are often thrown on ‘the will of the Divine’, in respects like the Muslim inshallah (‘as God wills it’) and Christian ‘God works in strange ways’. Often such faiths hold out the chance of divine punishment as well, where the divinity will unexpectedly bring evil-doers to justice through the everyday workings of the world; from the subtle redressing of minor personal wrongs to such large-scale destruction as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah or the biblical Great Flood. Other beliefs are even more subtle: the concept of karma shared by Buddhism and Hinduism is a divine law comparable to divine retribution but outdoors the meaning of punishment: our acts, good or bad, intended or unintentional, reflect back on us as part of the natural working of the universe.

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