Checkers and the Problem of Evil

Imagine for a moment that you sit down at a standard checker board to play your friend. However, this checkerboard comes with slightly different rules. While the movements remain the same, the goal is very different. Instead of trying to take your opponent’s pieces, the goal is to reach a stalemate with the largest number of pieces remaining on the board. The game has now become cooperative.

How do you think the two of you would fare? Assuming you had to move if a move were available, do you think you would accidentally end up in a spot at least once or twice where your only move required taking your friend’s piece? Do you think your friend might make similar errors?

Now, I ask that you further imagine that while playing the pieces occasionally move on their own, disappear, or reappear. When these events occur, would you be able to recognize whether or not the change to the board was good (advantageous to the end goal of maximizing the number of pieces left on the board in a stalemate)? Or would you more often than not assume that when a piece went missing, it was harmful to the outcome, when a piece was added, it was positive toward the outcome, and when a piece moved, it could go either way? Would you know?

Multi-Player Checkers

Examples of multi-player checker boards.

I now ask you to imagine, as best as you can, a multi-player checkers board. This board is large enough to give every person on the planet a seat at the table. It seems incomprehensible yet, at the same time, possible. There doesn’t appear to be any reason, in principle, that such a game could not be constructed.

Of course, this new version with billions of players would be far more complex that we could fathom. We would have difficulty determining the “goodness” of any move outside of its local impact, and would have very little insight as to whether the random pieces disappearing, moving, and reappearing have a positive or negative impact on the end-game.

The Invisible Hand

Finally, imagine now that the pieces are not randomly disappearing, moving or reappearing. Rather, there is an invisible hand which is playing the game as well. However, the owner of this invisible hand can see the whole board and can make changes that maximize the outcome of the game.

We can imagine that that such an omniscient, omnipotent player not only could, but would choose to make major changes to the board. It may be advantageous to the end-game that the entire set of a player’s pieces be removed from the board, or even hundreds. It may be advantageous to add more players, or to give players extra pieces while removing some from others. And it would be unfathomable to any single player to judge the goodness of that action.

Playing Checkers with Life

Replace, in your mind, the pieces on the board with years of our life (or tokens of pleasure). Replace the board with the Earth and replace the movements of the Invisible Hand with the natural order and providential intercession of God.

Why would we have any confidence that our current local perspective can judge the actions of the one who can see the whole board? Would you declare the unfairness of it all without the perspective required to do so?

Job 38:4-7

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

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