According the soul-building defense against the problem of evil, God has an interest in presenting us with a challenging world that rigidly conforms to natural laws. If the world bends to protect us from the consequences of our bad decisions, then we will learn nothing, we will not develop morally, we won’t grown in knowledge and power. Those that would argue that suffering is evidence against the existence of God have a mistaken assumption that a good and loving God would want to put us into a hedonistic paradise where no one would ever endure any pain. If God put us in that world, there would be no challenges, and no opportunities to develop moral virtue. But a world that has natural disasters, disease, violence, pestilence, war, and strife provides opportunities for us to acquire generosity, love, compassion, and moral responsibility.
There are a number of interesting objections to this view, but here’s what I take to be a devastating problem. What the soul-building theodicist is saying is that we are supposed to develop moral virtue in a world where the paragon of moral virtue, God himself, responds to widespread, horrific, and pointless suffering by refusing to do anything about it at all. So in effect, we are supposed to develop our capacities to take responsibility for suffering and prevent it wherever possible while we acknowledging that the most loving and morally virtuous thing that can be done for those that suffer is to ignore their plight completely. That’s what God, in his infinite moral wisdom, has seen fit to do, after all. So I must either deliberately defy God’s own wisdom and his example and try to develop some behaviors that he lacks, or I must emulate his example and leave sentient beings to endure whatever befalls them. Clearly, neither answer makes any sense. And no one is going to develop moral virtue either way.
One response that we might anticipate is someone who offers this sort of justification for God: “It’s the morally appropriate and loving thing for God to leave us in the challenging soul-building arena, but that doesn’t justify us in being complacent nor does it absolve us of our moral responsibilities to help those in need.” But this double-speak didn’t work when your father said “Do as I say, not as I do” and it doesn’t here either. God, or God’s representatives, cannot legitimately claim that it is both the pinnacle of love and care for humanity to neglect them when they face horrible suffering and claim that it is morally virtuous and loving to reach out wherever possible and to help them in their needs. On their view, God, the ultimate example of moral virtue, does nothing to alleviate or prevent pointless suffering in the world.
As with many cases we’ve seen, believing in God actually creates more of an impediment to being moral with these sorts of conflicting messages, rationalized conundrums, and double-standard justifications. Once again, it would appear that only the nonbeliever can acknowledge and pursue real moral virtue.