Alice was tortured for weeks, but she remained loyal to the true and the good. Alice’s moral victory over her torturers was of great value. Let’s take it for granted that this situation represents something that is on balance a great good for Alice (and for the world). But suppose that God was choosing between Alice’s moral victory, on the one hand, and Alice doing something else that was virtuous, worthwhile but not painful—perhaps with great singlemindedness throwing herself into producing a great work of art. One might well make the judgment that while Alice’s moral victory was a great good, given the horrendous cost to Alice, it would on balance have been better for God to have steered her life away from the suffering and towards a good that comes without much pain.
I am sceptical of this judgment, but for the sake of the argument let’s grant it. Nonetheless, I think the assessment should change if one adds to the above a story about an infinite heavenly afterlife. Here is why. The judgment was that while there was great value in Alice’s moral victory, it would have been good to substitute a painless but valuable achievement for it.
But what if, instead, the question was this:
- Is it better for Alice to have the painful moral victory plus a hundred painless but valuable achievements, or just the hundred painless but valuable achievements?
If we grant the initial judgment that Alice’s moral victory was of great value, then we need to say that the first option is on balance better. The life with the painful victory and hundred painless achievements not only exhibits the additional good of the painful victory, but also exhibits the higher-order value of a diversity of types of goods.
Now ask this question:
- Is it better for Alice to have the painful moral victory plus an infinite number of painless but valuable achievements, or just the infinite number of painless but valuable achievements?
It sure seems like the first option is the better one. But now when we ask the initial question, whether God shouldn’t have given Alice a painless achievement instead, in the context of a theory of God that includes an infinite happy afterlife, that is in fact what the question comes to. The additional painless achievement would not add much to the infinitely many painless achievements in heaven. But the painful achievement adds something different in kind.
And when we add to the story that in the afterlife Alice (as well as her friends, likely many in number) will be able to enjoy, infinitely many times, the memory of her moral victory, without the memory of her suffering being itself a source of suffering (for, I take it, there is no suffering in heaven), it sure seems worth it.
But what if instead Alice cracked under torture, thereby losing the good? Well, now how well the story works depends on other questions. If we have Molinism, then it doesn’t work very well: given Molinism, God can foresee that Alice would crack, and so the value that there would be in her victory is irrelevant. But given simple foreknowledge (or open theism, but that’s a heretical option) God’s decision whether to put Alice in that situation can only be based on chances. For all we know, the chance of Alice’s cracking under torture, given the grace that God gave her, was not very high, and so the significant chance of the great goods of having a diversity in the types of goods one experiences and of having an infinite number of reminiscences of that diversity was worthwhile. Or, at least, we have little reason to think it wasn’t.