One of the most difficult issues confronting believers is the problem of evil in the world. How can a person possibly believe in a good, wise and powerful God in the face of human suffering. An answer sometimes given is that of all possible worlds, this one, a world where humans have free will, is the best possible world.

The French philosopher Voltaire revolted against this approach. In 1755 an earthquake struck the city of Lisbon. It was All Saints Day when it struck, meaning that the churches were full. In just six minutes 15,000 people were killed and another 15,000 severely wounded. Voltaire could not accept that this was somehow the outworking of the plans of a good God. In Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon he asks why it is if God is free, just and good we suffer under his rule.

Later he wrote a satirical novel titled Candide. It tells the story of a young man Candide, and his teacher, Dr Pangloss. Whatever disaster befalls them Dr Pangloss glibly asserts that “this is the best of all possible worlds.” They are shipwrecked near Lisbon just as the earthquake strikes. Candide is almost killed and Pangloss ends up hanged by the Inquisition. This forces Candide to question. “Candide” writes Voltaire, “terrified, speechless, bleeding, palpitating, said to himself: ‘If this is the best of all possible worlds, what can the rest be?'”

Source: Information found in John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 312