The Best Possible World
Now we know a little more about evil than we did before. Evil can be divided into two categories: moral evil and natural evil. We talked about the moral face of evil. Moral evil makes sense only if we have free-will. If we are not able to choose, then moral evil is not our fault. If every action is determined beforehand, morality is only a game. God would play this game with human puppets.
However, this is not the case. We do have free-will. We are to blame for moral evil. When we make bad choices, we suffer the consequences.
But what about natural evil? Bad weather such as hurricanes, floods, and tornados fall into this category. So do volcanoes and earthquakes. Don’t forget plagues, famines, and cancer. Genetic diseases and malformed babies round out this category.
Many of these events are called “acts of God” by lawyers and insurance companies. An atheist points out, “God must be held responsible for such ‘acts of God.’ Why doesn’t He stop them? Why does He allow them to occur?”
Atheists’ Mistaken Knowledge of God
Atheists love to talk trash about God. “God’s world is not perfect,” they shout. “He gave us a world that is broken! Why would God do that?” They answer their own question, saying, “A good God does not act like that. Therefore, God does not exist.”
For example, Stephen Law, an atheist philosopher at the University of London proclaims:
If it turned out that not only is there no good evidence of an all-powerful, all-good God, there’s also overwhelming evidence against (from . . . pointless animal suffering . . . to thousands of children being . . . buried alive in Pakistan earthquake, etc. etc. etc.) then it could be empirically confirmed that there’s no God.
Would this constitute a ‘proof’ that there’s no God? Depends what you mean by ‘proof’. Personally I think these sorts of consideration do establish beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no all-powerful all-good God. So we can, in this sense, prove there’s no God.
Atheists claim they know all about God being good or evil. But how could they? If you ask an atheist for an example of good or evil, they have a standard answer. “There is no set definition of good or evil. Each person decides what is good or evil for themselves.”
In other words, atheists preach there is no set definition of good or evil. But in the next breath they claim God does not exist. Why? Because He does not conform to their set definition of good or evil. They invent a standard of good that must be followed by God. They reject any definition of good or evil that applies to themselves.
Atheists have a confused and befuddled idea of good and evil. They say God has to be good but they have no definition of what is good. If God does not conform to their standard, He does not exist. Wow! I never imagined atheists were so powerful (they aren’t). They preach that God does not exist. At the same time they fix the parameters of His existence. Is this rational thought?
However, atheists have a point. Our world is filled with beauty and ugliness. Peace and quiet mix with screams of pain. Innocent people face heartrending situations. According to atheist Sam Harris:
“The perverse wonder of evolution is this: the very mechanisms that create the incredible beauty and diversity of the living world [also] guarantee monstrosity and death. The child born without limbs, the sightless fly, the vanished species . . . No perfect God could maintain such incongruities. It is worth remembering that if God created the world and all things in it, he created smallpox, plague, and filariasis. Any person who intentionally loosed such horrors upon the earth would be ground to dust for his crimes.” From “The End of Faith”
Bertrand Russell paints the picture of a small, pitiful, dying planet. Is this the best possible universe? Certainly an all-powerful God could do better than this.
“I cannot but think that Omnipotence operating through all eternity might have produced something better. . . . So far as scientific evidence goes, the universe has crawled by slow stages to a somewhat pitiful result on this earth and is going to crawl by still more pitiful stages to a conclusion of universal death. . . . I see no reason, therefore, to believe in any sort of God.” From “Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?”
Does this argument destroy the possible existence of the Christian God? Atheists think so. But there are major flaws in their boasting.
First, the God targeted by atheists is not the God of the Bible. According to a statement from the cover of “God According to God” by physicist Gerald Schroeder,
How can there be such a(n) [all-powerful and all-loving] God when the world is filled with tragedy? . . . this troubling juxtaposition is really smoke and mirrors. The God revealed in the Bible is 100 percent compatible with the world as we know it today. It is our misconception of God that causes the disparity. In fact, the concept of God that atheists rail against and that believers defend is inaccurate.
Second, we must understand that God does not think the way we do. He is eternal and infinite. God has a different point of view. That makes sense, doesn’t it? According to the Bible:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55: 8-9 (NAS)
Sir Isaac Newton, a Christian and one of the greatest scientists of all time, agrees.
As a blind man has no idea of colors, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things.
Yes, the atheists have a point. But their point, at best, is based on incomplete evidence. They also have limited understanding and perspective. But God’s knowledge and perspective is unlimited. This they do not understand or accept. A more thoughtful, more complete understanding of God is revealed through the Bible.
The Bible and Natural Evil
To begin, the category of natural evil is not recognized by the Bible. Nor does the Bible promise a perfect world. The Bible says God created a good world. For example, Genesis 1:31 proclaims when God finished creating the world:
God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.(NAS)
The Bible also says in I Timothy 4: 4-5 (this is toward the back of the Bible):
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (NAS)
Natural evil is not a biblical concept. Natural events just happen. There is no morality involved. God may use these events to reveal His glory or to declare His will. For example, thunderstorms are not evil. They are part of God’s world. The power and majesty of natural events, like thunderstorms, reveal the glory of God.
“Listen closely to the thunder of His voice,
And the rumbling that goes out from His mouth.
Under the whole heaven He lets it loose,
And His lightning to the ends of the earth.
After it, a voice roars;
He thunders with His majestic voice,
And He does not restrain the lightnings when His voice is heard.
God thunders with His voice wondrously,
Doing great things which we cannot comprehend.
. . .
Whether for correction, or for His world,
Or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.
Listen to this, O Job,
Stand and consider the wonders of God.”
Job 37: 2-5, 13-14 (NAS)
God is able to use natural events to discipline people or to reveal His will. For example, God spoke to Job out of a whirlwind. He also destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah as an act of judgment.
But natural events usually are not signs of divine displeasure. In Amos 1: 1, the Bible tells of a great earthquake that took place during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah. Zechariah 14: 5 also mentions this earthquake. Neither prophet indicates that God caused this earthquake. It was not judgment. Divine will was not revealed. As far as we know, it was just an earthquake.
Usually natural events are part of the course of nature. They are neither good nor evil. They have equal impact on the unrighteous and on the just. Jesus said in Matthew 5: 44-45:
“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (NAS)
When natural events cause death and destruction we interpret them as evil. But that does not make it so. God created a world that is good.
God already lives in a perfect world. It’s a world of God’s infinite glory. Our universe has to be a place that is less than perfect. Anything less than God is also less than perfect. At times we forget the transcendent glory and greatness of God.
The Awesome Greatness of Our God
“Our God is great!” Or “Our God is great?” How would you say that sentence? Would it have an exclamation point punctuating your belief in God’s awe and wonder? Or would you phrase it in the form of a question?
Our society lost its sense of a transcendent God. What about you? Do you think God is a super-powerful, super-big, really old man who can do anything He wants? Do you think heaven is place where someday we will live lazy lives, going fishing and visiting with old friends? If so, you fall into this trap. Your God is not big enough.
God is not a really big, really strong, really smart man. He is not any kind of man (or woman). I imagine God as an endless expanse of perfect light. The light is so bright that it appears physical. The light appears as some kind of cloud or fog or smoke. This perfected light is the glory of God.
God does not appear in this brightness. He is the brightness. That’s not all that He is. A Presence fills that glory – a Presence of love. This Presence—this Being—is God. God’s presence overwhelms me with unspeakable joy and peace.
People can criticize this understanding of God. They could ask, “Why is there nothing more? This expanse of light doesn’t answer any of my questions.” I agree. I feel their frustration. I really do. But this is the best my imagination can provide for me.
In other words, God is beyond our ability to understand. We cannot grasp the person of God. But we are able to feel His love and kindness and peace. He is beyond our ability to imagine. But He wants to build a relationship with you and with me. Life here on earth teaches us to trust Him.
This glorious infinity contains a tiny, dark dot. It’s like a little gnat or a grain of dirty sand. I think it must be a mistake. Why is it here? I stare at this apparent blemish. Miniscule galaxies come into view. Startled, I take a step back. That dark point is our universe! It’s a totally incongruous spot of ugly space-time within this glorious expanse.
This spot of space-time is totally different from God’s eternity-infinity.
Why did God create it? I don’t know. I am unable to imagine God’s motives. But if God is love (see I John 4:8), His desire to create must be motivated by love.
How did God create it? And why does it contain evil? Some philosophers and theologians have theories. The following two theories are somewhat consistent with the Bible and the Bible’s revelation of God.
Please understand the following theories are only that. They are theories. They are not doctrine. They are not revelation. They are products of human imagination. But these theories are not mere daydreams. They are the result of studious minds that are Bible based and focused on God. They are based on years of worship and study. But these two explanations are human inventions, not divine revelation.
Why do I present them if they are not from the Bible?
It’s important for us to understand that atheists do not have the only solutions to the problem of evil. Their godless solutions feature a godless universe.
Atheists envision creation myths. They say these myths are “scientific.” But their theories are not supported by science. These myths include multiple universe theories, universes that emerge from “quantum foam,” universes that “pop” into existence by other quantum events, and universes emerging from black holes. Of course these universe contain evil. These universes have no God.
Believers have not been silent. Here are two solutions—one from a Christian philosopher, the other from the Jewish Kabbalah.
The Best of All Possible Worlds
All good things come from God. The Bible says,
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1: 16-17, NAS
God did not give us a perfect world. Any world found in space and time is less perfect than God’s perfect infinity. But He certainly can give us the best of all possible worlds. In fact, He would be bound to give us the best possible world, wouldn’t He?
According to a philosopher named Gottfried Leibniz, God gives us the best of all possible worlds. Then He lets the world runs its course. He rarely interferes with the processes of nature:
Since . . . God’s decree consists solely in the resolution he forms, after having compared all possible worlds, to choose that one which is the best, and bring it into existence together with all that this world contains . . . it is plain to see that this decree changes nothing in the constitution of things.
But what about God being all-powerful and all-good? God’s goodness and power produced a world. Although it’s not perfect, it is the best possible world. According to Leibniz, “Now this supreme wisdom, united to a goodness that is no less infinite, cannot but have chosen the best.”
Leibniz is not concerned with finding evil in this world. God, in His wisdom, considered the presence of evil in His best possible world.
. . . wherein already I laid it down that God, having chosen the most perfect of all possible worlds, had been prompted by his wisdom to permit the evil which was bound up with it, but which still did not prevent this world from being, all things considered, the best that could be chosen.
Leibniz concludes, “And as for evil, God wills moral evil not at all, and physical evil or suffering he does not will absolutely.”
The second theory goes further back beyond the beginning. What did the infinite God do to create a place for space and time?
The Divine Contraction—Tzimtzum
Understand first that the existence of our universe is beyond logic. How can anyone carve a pocket of space and time out of infinity? But if time and space were not produced separate from eternity and infinity, how did we get here? It’s impossible.
The Bible has an answer: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37, NAS) God specializes in doing the impossible.
The Kabbalah—the mystery tradition in Jewish thought—developed a theory of divine contraction. This theory, called tzimtzum, was first developed by Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), AKA Arizal. In no way am I an expert in the Kabbalah. Most of this information was gleaned from the web site http://www.chabad.org. (Please understand this is a strict, orthodox Jewish web site and may not agree with some of your beliefs.)
The word Tzimtzum literally means “contraction.” It is “the process of Divine self-contraction and self-limitation which makes possible the concept of limited, worldly existence.” ( http://www.chabad.org). Another definition from this site defines tzimtzum as “a narrative explanation of how an infinite God ‘made room’ for the emanation of finite forms and created beings.”
It’s difficult to understand this concept fully. On the surface it looks simple but whenever one looks into the Kabbalah, nothing is simple. Rabbi Eli Rubin attempts to explain the concept in simple terms.
Phase one: “Before” the tzimtzum, “there was a celestial and simple light that filled all existence, and there was no empty room… Rather all was filled with simple infinite light, which did not have either beginning or end, but all was one simple light, all the same and equal… this is called infinite light.”
Phase two: “Then… this light was contracted (tzimtzum is the Hebrew word for contraction)… and drawn aside… leaving empty room, a hollow space (chalal)… After this tzimtzum there was now space where emanations and creations could [potentially] be formed and made.”
Phase three: “Then was drawn forth from the infinite light a single straight line (kav), [drawn] from the surrounding light… successively descending into the hollow. The top of this line is drawn from the infinite light itself and touches it… and through this line the infinite light is drawn and spread out below. Thus, in that hollow space, all the realms were emanated, created and made.”
In order to prepare for Creation, God contracted His infinite power and glory and perfection. He made an empty space—a place for finite time and space. According to Rabbi Luria, there was a quantum leap from infinite to finite. This was possible because of Tzimtzum (contraction).
Does this make sense? To me it makes more sense than “scientific” theories such as an infinite number of universes or our universe arising from quantum flux. Tzimtzum takes into consideration the awesome power needed to create a finite world from infinity. Tzimtzum also has greater explanatory power. It provides answers for theological problems such as free-will and the existence of evil in God’s good world.
Time and Space for Us?
According to tzimtzum, God contracted His infinite Being and created a space for us. Or as said on the web site http://www.chabad.org, the Tzimtzum results in the “empty space” in which spiritual and physical worlds and, ultimately, free-will can exist.
Within this space we have freedom. We can experiment with the false freedom of sin—the freedom that enslaves (see John 8: 34). Or we can experience true freedom through Jesus Christ (John 8: 36). If God were to exert His true omnipotence, free-will would vanish. Because this finite place of space-time is created, human free-will is possible.
Not only did God give us free-will, He also gave us a special place in His creation. According to Gerald Schroeder in his book “God According to God”,
“God created our universe with its inherent ability to diverge from God’s Divine Plan. In the opening chapter of Genesis we are explicitly instructed by God to have dominion over the world (1:28). By giving us such authority, God has placed with us the responsibility to repair errors brought about by the vicissitudes of nature.”
Does God want us to explore the world using science? Could science be part of God’s command for us to have dominion over the world? I think so.
Second, evil is an unfortunate by-product of divine contraction. According to physicist Gerald Schroeder:
“To have evil, discord, in a world constructed of peace, some of that peace must be withdrawn. . . . In essence, God hides God’s face. . . . Tzimtzum provides spiritual space for all aspects of existence as we know it.”
How else can a perfect, eternal, infinite being create time and space? This world must be less than the infinite being. It is this lessening of eternity, this lessening of God’s perfection and absolute power that permits the possibility for evil in our world.
What an Awesome God! What a Wonderful World!
What a wonderful world! Think of the stunning beauty in our universe. God created this place both incredibly complex and amazingly simple. Our universe is governed by laws. These laws are ingenious and simple.
According to Deborah and Loren Haarsma in their book “Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design”
The universe itself testifies to God’s amazing craftsmanship; God made a system that is deceptively simple and yet amazingly productive. It takes only a few numbers and equations on a single sheet of paper to write down the fundamental properties of the universe, the fundamental laws of physics, and the list of elementary particles (electrons, quarks, and so on). This simple but amazing system allows stars and molecules not merely to exist but to assemble naturally over time.
God permits human moral freedom as part of this universe. Moral freedom comes with the possibility of evil. Every day we make moral choices. We can hoard God’s blessings to us or we can help others. We can act with kindness or brutality. We can humbly draw near to God. We also have freedom to spit in His face!
Day by day we make moral decisions. Day by day evil abounds. Mankind is notorious for its ability to sin.
What an amazing world! Both in its beauty and in its depravity.
What is God’s response to our sinfulness? Eventually God must punish sin. But today is God’s day of redemption. We sin. God is ready to forgive. We must be willing to turn from our sin. Then we can ask for God’s forgiveness.
When we do this, God forgives us. He wants to have a loving relationship with us. This relationship comes through Jesus Christ. Pray. Ask God to forgive you. Ask Jesus Christ to establish a relationship between you and God.
We sin. God forgives us through Jesus Christ.
What an awesome, amazing God!