Ten Ideas for Divine Noninterference
In a fantasy world with hypothetically meddling gods, there are often questions why those hypothetically meddling gods seem to sit around and let mortals muck about in their affairs. These questions of nonintervention (or at least, inconsistent intervent) are usually answered through some kind of Great Balance™ scheme. For every Good, there must be an Evil, for Law a Chaos. Or perhaps some truce against mutually assured destruction. In any case, it’s usually some vague bargain between the gods, a standard fantasy trope that doesn’t require too much committal to deciding how the cosmology of the game world works.
But what if there were some more substantial reasoning behind the rules of divine noninterference? What might it tell us what it means to serve the gods and the nature of the mortality? To give you some inspiration, here are ten alternate ideas for why the gods don’t save the day all the time.
1) The gods are far away and can't perceive much of individual events or people. The world is hazy to them, or perhaps individuals are like individual ants are to a human. Clerics are different in that they are temporary homing beacons for the god's attentions; they can bring divine awareness into our world enough to manifest some method of divine action. But only the clerics with the strongest connections (as in, high level) can be so fine an antennae to make the god's power manifest directly into our world (working miracles, etc.) Certain quasideities, divine avatars, and demigods may be able to stay in the mortal world, but true godhood means existing in a reality truly out of touch with any known by mortals.
|A cleric acts is a beacon to his deity. (Source)|
2) The gods do manifest in our world. It's called having clerics. The clerics (and other priests) are the special intermediaries between the god and humanity. Perhaps sometime long ago in the primordial past, the would-be priests struck some kind of deal for how gods would interact with humanity/sentient races (and therefore the rest of the world).
|A deity's work is never done. *Sigh* (Source)|
3) The gods are lazy or apathetic, but of such power and awareness that they can "feel" mortals' emotions and pleas. They answer prayers and empower priests in an "Okay, here ya go kid now go away, you bother me!" sort of concession. Evil gods might get off on the strife and pain their actions or in-actions cause, but too much of it makes ‘em go blind doin’ that.
4) The mortal world does not have the importance we think it does, or at least not in the way we think it does. Our prime purpose lies in what we mortals call an "after life", as that is the beginning of our true lives. This mortal world we call "life" is actually merely a boot camp on a truly grand scale- for some ultimate purpose beyond this life. If the gods were to “coddle” humanity, that would prevent many great people from realizing the potential, or at least prevent separating the wheat from the chaff.
|Presumably even Asmodeus had to go to seminary SOMEWHERE! (Source)|
Variant: Deities are all ascended mortals. It is the destiny of every mortal soul to ascend to divine status; it’s only a matter of time (unfathomably long in our mortal perspective, but not so much in a being of the infinite’s sense). Intervening directly would interfere with people reaching their inner divinity and is thus avoided.
Humorous Variant: South Park had it right- the mortal world is actually one great reality TV show. If the gods solve all our problems for us, it means the show becomes boring and thus gets cancelled. (Thus dooming all of mortal existence.)
|Even gods can have bad days. (Source)|
5) The gods once worked more directly in the world, but were long ago eclipsed in power by the churches and other trappings of their faith. As a god’s belief structure evolves, it ossifies and achieves a transcendent existence of its own beyond the god’s (or any one being’s) conscious control. This typically leaves the original deity a husk of its former self (such as the turtle deity in Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods book). This phenomenon might explain the odd iconography and/or taboos within many faiths.
6) The gods exist as manifestations as Jungian archetypes of the collective human (or given fantasy, inhuman) unconsciousness and are therefore intercede only through mortal action. This can take the place through the brute display of the strongest mortals’ faith (i.e. spells like Miracle) but more often comes about through a coordinated show of faith through combined actions (as in, mundane social movements/trends brought about by many normal people working in tandem with each other.)
7) The gods must be crazy. The gods vaguely represent certain portfolios or interests, but the way they pursue their interests is so alien, caricatured, or inconsistent by mortal standards. One might think of them as slightly more human-like than average eldritch abominations. It takes wisdom and experience to tease out and benefit from their cryptic mysteries.
8) The gods are long dead, and any pretense to their continued existence is a falsity. Divine energy is a limited (or even nonrenewable) resource that the clergy doesn’t like to hand out like candy.
9) The gods all have self-confidence issues. It is the role of the cleric to ask as counselor to her deity and build enough confidence to persuade the deity to act. (Of course, this setup makes deities the ultimate atheists, for they truly do not believe in themselves.)
10) Pay no attention to the god behind the curtain! Despite what they might want you to think, the gods are not great and all-powerful in and of themselves. Rather, divine power exists through acting as conduits of belief. The gods’ priests are their circuits, delivering the power of their influence in order to gather more power back from the believers (or whatever interests funnel energy back to their gods). As priests rise in level, they become more attuned with this power and are able to deliver greater and greater manifestations of this power.