1. God is all powerful
2. God is all knowing–including all possible realities (1 Sam 23:11-12; Matt 11:21)
3. God is perfectly good
∴ We live in the best of all possible worlds
When we take God’s omnipotence and omniscience together, it means that the current version of reality we now inhabit has come about precisely the way in which God has determined (Ps 115:3). But it is the third point–God’s omnibenevolence–which makes the argument unique, which makes us able to claim that it is the best of all possible realities.
And you need all three for conclusion to follow. If God was all knowing and good, but not powerful, He might desire our good, but be incapable. If He is all powerful and good, but not all knowing, then He may intend the best for us, but may make mistakes. And if He is all powerful and all knowing, but not good, then–well, we shudder to think at what life would be like.
The Problem of Pain
But how can this claim stand in light of the abundant amount of Bible verses that indicate that this world is deeply broken?
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD—how long?
– Ps 6:2-3
Is there not something inside every Christian that “groans inwardly” for the brokenness of our world to be healed (Rom 8:18-25)? Are we not commanded to pray specifically for God’s Kingdom to come (Matt 6:10) and for Jesus to return promptly with the New Creation (Rev 22:20)?
Or just take your own experience. Have there not be several instances of deep pain in your life that have led you to think: Lord, why?
Does not all of this imply that this world is manifestly not the best of all possible worlds? Maybe the best world is coming, but how could this be it?
It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times
The answer is fairly straightforward: God has decreed that a world that includes pain with the promise of restoration to be the best possible world–better than a world where pain, sin, and death did not exist. Why that is, we can only guess.
We have a few hints here and there in the Bible that seem to indicate that our suffering in this life has an amplifying effect on our joy in the world to come (2 Cor 4:17) that it serves as a means of purifying and refining us (Ps 119:71; 1 Pet 1:6-7). A trip through the dark tunnel may make the bright meadow all the more beautiful. John Bunyan, reflecting on why we must walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, writes:
“One reason why we must go this way to the House prepared for us, is, that our home might be made the sweeter to us…Why, if ever I get out of here again, I think I shall prize light and good way, better than ever I did in all my life.” (Pilgrim’s Progress, Part II)
God certainly could have created a world free of sin, suffering, and death. But He didn’t. We know that before the foundations of the world–before sin was a reality–God was planning to magnify His grace in forgiving sin (Eph 1:4-6). He determined that a world where He could magnify His grace and compassion towards sinners was better than a world where no sin existed (Rom 9:22-23).
Job’s story is instructive for us. Job laments, weeps, wails, and vents his frustration with God, pleads for Him to intervene, all while worshipping (Job 1:20) and acknowledging God’s sovereign hand in his pain: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). In the end, God restores what has been taken from Job–and then some (Job 42:10-17). But He also exposed sin that was dormant within him; sin that only the fire of affliction revealed (Job 42:1-6). So, this world can paradoxically be broken and painful, while still following precisely under the governance of our all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving God.
But, you may say, I don’t like that–I don’t want God’s plan to look like this! This brings us to the key issue: can we trust Him? Peter exhorts us: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good,” (1 Pet 4:19). Peter’s claim is that because God is faithful, you can trust Him.
Why should you trust God on the winding path that takes you through the dark tunnels? Because this God we are called to trust in our suffering isn’t a stranger to the pain of suffering Himself, to the terror of walking into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Earlier, Peter tells us of Jesus’ own suffering: “…when he suffered, he…continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly,” (1 Pet 2:23). Jesus knows what it is like to have to walk by faith, to trust God even when it feels like you are perishing, when the future looks like a wall of black. He can sympathize with you in your struggle. And He is eager for you to come to Him in your pain and suffering with your cries, and tears, and frustrations.
But He also, by His death, dealt decisively with our problem of pain, sin, and death. His death on the cross and resurrection defeated the powers of Hell, pulling them up by the root, and ushered in the hope of the New Creation. Now, He holds out a Resurrection hope to us that will one day swallow up death and sadness and brokenness forever and He bends down and whispers: Soon. As we groan under the burden of futility, we can do so with hope in that great, final Day where every tear will be wiped away and every wrong shall be righted. So we, with Ivan Karamazov, can say:
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage…that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened. – Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
A world where we can walk through the dark night of the soul and still say, “Joy comes in the morning,” because of Jesus–that is the best of all possible worlds.