When many people consider the suffering and death that seems gratuitous in this world, they find comfort in the idea that the next world will be continual, infinite bliss. In response to problem of evil challenges to the existence of God, theists have often tried to absolve God by pointing out that a completely miserable existence in this life will be vastly outweighed and overshadowed by the unimaginable bliss of heaven that will go on forever. It would seem that they think that the evil in this world really doesn’t matter because there is so much good to come. Tom, a recent commenter, summarized William Lane Craig this way: eternal life with God is so infinitely pleasurable and glorious that the sufferings of this life are not even worthy to be compared with it. If Heaven is +100, then evil on earth is only, say, -5.
Good-Will-Outweigh-Evil theodicies of this sort completely miss the relevant point. Suppose Michael Jackson, after sexually molesting a child, pleads, “but that was just a few minutes of harm I did to him. Compare that to the incredible wealth and happiness I lavished on him and his family with the 10 million dollar out-of-court settlement I gave them. Doesn’t that incredible reward make a difference?”
Or imagine that Donald Trump walks by an alley in Manhattan and witnesses a brutal mugging. All Trump needs to do is dial 911 to get the victim, call him Smith, some help. Trump doesn’t call, and Smith gets brutally beaten nearly to death. Later in a fit of guilt Trump donates 100 million dollars to Smith and his family, and acquires all of the best medical care for Smith to assure him a speedy and complete recovery. Does the award that Trump gives Smith after the gratuitous suffering absolve Trump of moral responsibility? No. Should Trump have done something? Yes. Should we conclude that Trump did the moral and virtuous thing when he ignored Smith’s mugging because of the amends that Trump made later? No. And Trump’s guilt would have been that much worse if he had done the beating, right?
Obviously, committing some horrible atrocity to someone, or standing by idly when you could have done something to stop it is not rectified by any amount of award or “guilt money,” if you will. Even if we have eternal bliss in heaven, that doesn’t change the fact that on that those children were herded into the gas chambers at Auschwitz, or that the tsunami wiped out 240,000 people. Gratuitous suffering is gratuitous suffering, no matter how peachy things are later. The immorality of committing it to someone or allowing to happen when you could have done something isn’t affected in the slightest by the fact that it won’t always be happening.
It is a perversion of morality and indicates a twisted slavishness to the God idea for Good-Will-Outweigh-Evil theodicists to dismiss all of the gratuitous suffering in human history with this wave of the hand. No person with a minimal amount of moral decency would ever accept such a superficial justification for such moral neglect in the face of profound evil. Among other things, espousing this view thoroughly discredits any claim that the theist might have made that morality can only come from God and only by believing. What this justification makes clear is quite the opposite—often it is a belief in God that makes it possible for us to achieve a level of moral insensitivity and moral distortion that we would not have had the imagination to come up with otherwise. The slavish devotion to the God idea drives us to new lows of moral indifference.