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God for a Day

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"Nothing discloses real character like the use of power. It is easy for the weak to be gentle. Most people can bear adversity; but if you wish to know what a man really is; give him power. This is the supreme test."
— Robert G. Ingersoll (Part of this quote is incorrectly attributed to Abraham Lincoln)

A character can be tested and taught to learn their weaknesses and strengths not just by making them suffer burdens and limitations but by giving them all the power and ease in the world. A trope for teaching characters a lesson can be making them God for a day.

The character may love it at first, indulge in several whims, fulfill some wishes but then they may find themselves getting Drunk with Power or finding that Being God Is Hard and they can't handle all the responsibilities associated with the power so well, each well meaning move being a blunder that leads to more to fix. These difficulties may cause a Sudden Humility. If things turn disastrous, expect an Aesop about how Reality Warping Is Not a Toy.

If the character can handle the responsibility but becomes bored with having everything at his beck and call, being a god for a day can become similar to Victory Is Boring in that things are now easy for the character and he wonders how best to use his powers when everything comes so easily to him with his omnipotence. The character's newfound power might also lead to isolation and emptiness resulting in a case of being Lonely at the Top. Sometimes, in such a situation, the character may end up giving half of his/her powers to someone else so that he could have an equal.

The difficulty for the writer lies in figuring out how to make being in charge difficult. The story can fail if the powers given don't match up properly to the original owner in an overcontrived manner that forces a failure or if the character is being too limited by their own Idiot Ball and not something genuinely inherent to the power.

Compare: Subbing for Santa. Also see God Guise and A God Am I.


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    Comic Books 
  • When Green Lantern Kyle Rayner became Ion, a being with all the power of the entire Green Lantern Corps, he tried to use his new might to feed starving children in Africa, heal his friend's back-injury, restore his girlfriend Jade's powers, etc, until Superman advises him to back down because people around the world have started to worship him as a god. Soon after, he sacrifices the power so that the Guardians of the Universe and the Corps can live again.
  • Subverted with Thanos of Titan. Whenever Thanos becomes omnipotent (whether by the Infinity Gauntlet, Cosmic Cube or the Heart of the Universe), he is typically able to handle the responsibility, at least initially. However, this is nearly always bad for everyone else as Thanos as a tendency to try conquering or destroying the universe whenever he can. When he loses the power, Thanos often wonders if he was worthy of it in the first place before going off to find something even stronger.
  • Lex Luthor is granted divine powers in The Black Ring to make the universe a paradise. There's only one catch: the overwhelming positivity of these powers means that he can't use them to fulfill negative desires. He remains a god only so long as he doesn't use his ultimate power to, say, just picking an example at random, screw with Superman. Guess what happens.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The plot of Bruce Almighty: Bruce thinks that God does a rubbish job because...he was passed up for promotion in favour of his jerkass rival, he got fired after a breakdown, a gang of thugs beat him up and vandalised his car and his dog wasn't toilet trained. Rather than smiting him like a mighty smiter, God gives Bruce the job. Bruce gives himself some frivolities, screws over a few people who annoy him, gets laid and has some really good coffee, but alas, God-like powers don't get you love, and answering yes to every prayer just makes things worse.

  • Possibly the Trope Maker is H. G. Wells' "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" (1898), adapted into a film of the same name in 1936.
  • Another wager with godlike entities: Rachel of the Animorphs was given the chance to become the ultimate fighting machine by Crayak. However such things are not much fun for a Blood Knight and it leaves only the satisfaction of sadistically snuffing out your enemies which is a road she doesn't feel comfortably going down when Crayak starts saying she isn't so different. It doesn't help that she would have to kill her cousin in exchange for getting the powers.
  • Joshua Culvert is given this in the The Night's Dawn Trilogy.
  • The Dean Koontz short story "A Darkness in My Soul" ended with the main character gaining God's powers and changing the world, exploring the universe, and granting half his powers to his girlfriend so they might both be gods. The story ends with them returning to Earth and playing war-games against each other with the population out of boredom.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Hide and Q", Q gives such powers to Riker and makes, unknown to Riker, a bet with Picard: Picard thinks that Riker will reject Q's offer and bets the Enterprise herself on him against Q offering to never bother them again. Picard wins after Riker finds that every gift he tries to give to his friends rings hollow:
    Riker: But it's what you've always wanted, Data — to become human.
    Data: Yes, sir. That is true. But I never wanted to compound one... illusion with another. It might be real to Q... perhaps even you, sir. But it would never be so to me. Was it not one of the Captain's favourite authors who wrote, "This above all: to thine own self be true?" Sorry, Commander, I must decline.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Appointment in Samarra", Dean is given the job of being Death for one day. He tries to let a little girl with a heart condition live, only to discover that letting someone live "against the natural order" sets off a cascade of other deaths, and he has to give up before the day is over, admitting that it's harder than it looks.

  • In Classical Mythology, the sun god Helios offered his son Phaeton anything he wanted — and what Phaeton wanted was to fly the solar chariot for a day. Helios tried to warn him how to control the horses, and not to fly too close or too far from the Earth, but Phaeton was too excited to listen. When he took the reins, the horses sensed they had a new, inexperienced rider, and promptly took off, bouncing between too close to the Earth, which burned it, and too far away, which froze it. Eventually Zeus threw a lightning bolt at the chariot to preserve life on Earth.

  • Shel Silverstein toys with this in a poem called "God's Wheel" where God gives someone a chance "to be God awhile and steer the world." After a barrage of questions about the working hours, pay, etc., the offer is withdrawn.
    "Gimme back that wheel," says GOD.
    "I don't think you're quite ready yet."

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    Western Animation 
  • In the cartoon Dungeons & Dragons (1983) episode "Day of the Dungeon Master," Eric the Cavalier is given the practically limitless power of the Dungeon Master. He screws up a lot by being rather pompous but he actually ends up becoming very sagelike himself and even gets the capability to send everyone back to the real world but they stay because it would require him being left behind on his own.
  • Futurama: Happens to Bender in the episode "Godfellas". He first exploits the shrimpkins to make him alcohol, but then tries to be benevolent and when he finds he can't solve all their problems, a faction turn against him and they all eventually destroy themselves. Eventually, he meets a being that may or may not be God himself, and they have a discussion on how divine lords should work, with the entity saying that they should act In Mysterious Ways.