Wednesday, May 6, 2015

God's Casino

“If God is good, he is not God. If God is God, he is not good.” This line in Archibald MacLeish’s play J.B., a parable based on the Bible’s Book of Job, states the dilemma of theodicy, the existence of evil if God is both good and all-powerful.

The great mathematician Gottfried Leibniz maintained “this is the best of all possible worlds,” parodied by Voltaire in his novel Candide. But Leibniz must be right: if God is good and all-powerful, this must be the best of all possible worlds. The correct definitions of “best” and “possible” only God can know.

Those of us who believe in God need to understand and explain the existence of pain and evil in this world. Obviously, He has not prevented terrible atrocities from being committed. A deeply pessimistic French poet, Paul Vallery, wrote "the universe is a defect in the purity of non-being." That's ultimate pessimism, or perhaps penultimate pessimism; viewing this world as Hell, and some do, would be even more pessimistic.

Newton had a clockwork view: once set in motion, the universe was allowed to proceed according to its laws. God did not intervene, at least almost never, the exceptions being miracles.

I think God has made the best universe possible, but He does not interfere in the laws that govern it, although he can reach our minds, often as a result of our prayers and perhaps sometimes in dreams.

I see the Earth as God's casino. We gamblers start with a wide range of chips and then do our best to grow our pile; that is, we try to be happy. We start with very different stakes. Some then get lucky, some not, and skillful play does not guarantee going home a winner. Prayer may help us play more skillfully, probably does not get us better cards, may console us when we lose and keep us more level-headed when we win.

People born in America in the 20th century already were given a lot of chips to start with, and some much more than others. Our task is to make the best of it, enjoy what we can, recognize that we could have been put in much worse starting positions.

Shakespeare wrote, "Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so,” an over-statement with more than a grain of truth. We can feel relieved we are not in the bottom x% or disappointed we are not in the top y%. That choice is ours.

My friend, novelist Roy A. Teel, Jr., reminds me that Einstein rejected quantum mechanics, a probabilistic theory, by saying that God does not play dice with the universe. I think that while He does not gamble, perhaps He does have humans “play dice“ in His universe.

Eventually, we all die, and God will judge “how we played the game.” Presumably, He will reward some and punish others. We’ll see.


Dr. Cooper ( is a retired scientist, now a writer, editor, and writing coach. His first book, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion, was published by Outskirts Press in 2011 and is available from Outskirts Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, in paperback and ebook formats, also available are two memoirs he subsequently co-authored, The Shield of Gold and Kidnapped Twice, and two memoirs he edited, High Shoes and Bloomers and But…at What Cost. On Twitter, he’s @douglaswcooper. His editing and coaching site is

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