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Easter, perfect play, and the best of all possible histories

I play a good amount of tabletop games. My interests range from chess and go, to games like magic, monopoly, or dominion. I like winning, and I like improving.

What does it mean to be good at such games? Better yet, what does it mean to be perfect at playing such a game?

In the abstract, any game consists of a set of moves you may make during a sequence of opportunities. These moves affect, and are affected by, the "game state" in some way. The "perfect play" then is the correct move given your game state, which best guides that state to your desired outcome. "Perfect play" always exists; it exists in chess as surely as it exists in tic-tac-toe, which are basically the same game with different degrees of complexity. It even exists in games like poker, or politics, whose game states involve random chance and other players' mental states. The game state in such games is not easily quantized, and the outcome is not deterministic, but these complications changes nothing about the fundamental definition of a "game" or of "perfect play". Thus, it may be said that games are like life - an observation that's been made many times before.

So, how does this apply to life, universe, and everything?

Some have said that if a perfect God exists, then we must live in the best of all possible worlds. Others have said that since this is clearly not the case, God cannot exist. Others still have said that we must actually live in the worst of all possible worlds, since if it were any worse it could not continue to exist. What should we make of these observations, and how are they related to games?

Let's be careful in what we mean by "the best of all possible worlds". For some, such a world would be a place of flowers and rainbows, where nothing ever goes wrong and nobody is allowed to be sad - basically a forcibly happy place, like a universal Disneyland. But even Disney knows that this is not true happiness, as viewing any of their movies will tell you. This is akin to thinking that a perfect God should have "played the perfect game" with the universe - that everything should have started out and remained as paradise.

Here, let's again be careful what we mean by a "perfect God", and his "perfect play". In game theory, a game can be "solved" at different levels. One level of solving a game is to make the perfect play at every point in the game, from its beginning to the end. In a game like chess, a player in possession of such a solution can always force a win or a draw, when starting from a neutral position. This is analogous to the "best of all possible worlds" described above, where nothing ever goes wrong, and everything stays in the set of "perfect" game states.

But this is not yet true perfection. This level of mastery is only said to be a "weak solution". The "strong solution" is to make the perfect play in ANY game state - even in those where mistakes have already been made. The player's skill is demonstrated in not only being able to go from perfection to perfection, but in making the perfect plays even in an imperfect game state. That is the highest level of play.

If God were playing at this level, what would that look like? Why, it would look like our world. There would be many parts of it that correspond to "imperfect game states", some of which are so catastrophically bad that it might look like the worst of all possible worlds. But God would be at work through it all, and his ultimate plan to bring about his victory would be operating with all subtlety and foresight at every level of reality.

So no, we don't live in the "best of all possible worlds", or the "worst of all possible worlds". Such concepts come from a limited understanding of perfection. We rather live in something far bigger and better - something more like the "best of all possible histories" - corresponding to the highest level of perfection in God's strategy. Such a history will have parts of it that look like the best or worst of all possible worlds, and everything in between - but it will end in God's victory. And on that day, God's glory will not be that he merely played a perfect game, or created a perfect world. Rather, it will be that he brought about that perfection even through imperfect game states - that he saved sinners like us, and made us like his perfect Son.

God's plan here is not a secret. It's reflected in countless myths and stories throughout the world. Our best heroes are not ones who are born perfect and remain perfect. Their greatest achievements are not merely to stay at the top, but to rise. And not only to rise, but to do so after going down into the depths. And not only to come back up, but to do so while carrying others. Not merely to be "good" or "perfect", but to SAVE.

In the Gospel itself, this idea is encoded into its very heart. For if games are like life, what is the worst possible "game state"? When do we reach "game over"? The story of Easter is that, even in death - the worst of all possible game states - God is still mighty to save. So God makes this "perfect play" to the praise of his glory, by raising Christ from the dead.

If you are in Christ, you are thus covered in this game called life. As part of God's great game, you have his perfect play backing up all your imperfections. Happy Easter to you all - for the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work within you, in life and in death. Those who believe in him will live, even though they die, and whoever lives and believes in him will never die.

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