Theodicies are, by and large, based on the view that because of a variety of constraints on logical possibility, omnipotence, omniscience, freewill, soul building, etc., this world is the world that God must make to accomplish his ends. People argue that God allows or inflicts evil in order to build moral virtue, to permit the exercise of freewill, or to punish. In some form or another, many of these justifications of the presence of evil presume that this is in fact the best of all possible worlds from God’s perspective. The reason that God permits the evils that he does is that to remove or prevent them would be to make things worse, on the whole, than they would be.
Heaven, as it is typically portrayed, is a better place than here. We are reunited with God, God does away with sin, all suffering is eliminated, God’s love is fully manifested to us, knowledge is complete, and so on. The particular details of the ways in which heaven is better than here are not important for my argument.
The paradox for the believer, as it should now be clear, is that they cannot both insist that God is constrained to allow evils in this world AND that he has the power to establish a better existence for us in heaven. If he can do it there, then he can do it here. And if he doesn’t do it here, then he’s not doing a good and loving thing that he should.
If heaven is a better existence than our current existence, then it is within God’s power to create a better existence for us than our current one. But God has not created a better existence for us than this one, so something is amiss in these two articles of believer doctrine.
The believer is caught between a rock and a hard place here. She either has to give up the notion of heaven, or give up the claim that the evils suffered in this world are tolerated by God because they are necessary for God to achieve his overall goals.
Neither of these options is going to be appealing. To give up either one is, more or less, to give up belief. Some justification for God’s tolerating evil is necessary for the believer if they are going to salvage the notion that God is an omni-being from the problem of evil. Heaven is what it is all about for most believers. The promise of a better life, reunification with God, and eternal bliss is a cornerstone of Christian metaphysics and doctrine. Without heaven, it’s not recognizably Christian.
Critics of this argument may miss the point. They will insist that suffering is beyond our puny powers to understand, or that it is deserved because of our depravity, or it is the result of our own exercises of power. We can provisionally accept any or all of these attempts to resolve the problem of evil. The gist of them all is that for one reason or another the suffering that ensues in this existence is the best way for things to happen, even though it doesn’t look like it. They are all attempts to reduce or eliminate the appearance that suffering is incompatible with God’s existence. None of these explanations will succeed unless we also accept the implicit premise that this world is, in fact, the best way that God could have set things up. If God could have set up a world where we could achieve moral virtue or exercise freewill without so much suffering, then he’s back on the hook for the problem of evil. Now the point of the argument is that if this existence is the best way that things can go from God’s perspective, then where is there room for heaven to be a better place? Any explanation of evil in terms of constraints that God operates under are going to apply ceteris paribus to heaven.
If God can grant us freedom without moral evil in heaven, then he can create it here. If God can endow us with moral virtue in heaven without genocides and tsunamis, then he can do it here. If God can reveal himself and his existence to us in heaven, then he can do it here. If God can create unsurpassable joy and love in heaven, then he can do it here. The believer can’t argue for restraints on God’s capabilities to explain away evil and then conveniently dismiss all of those same constraints in their characterization of heaven.
The goal of this argument is not that the problem of evil shows there is no God, or that there is no heaven, although those are both correct. The point here is to see that there is a profound and deep conflict in two of the most important pillars of the believer’s story about the world. If heaven is a better existence than this one, and it is within God’s power to bring that existence about, then all attempts to render God’s existence compatible with suffering are wrecked. These two views, held by billions of believers, are irreconcilable:
1) Heaven is a better place than this one.
2) The existence of suffering is consistent with God's being all powerful, all knowing, and all good.