In the thread to “A Martian’s perspective on the problem of evil” Ray Ingles posed a problem with the greater goods response to evil. Why, for example, would God subject people to evils to cultivate in them the greater good of courage if courage will not be required in eternity? As he put it,
“Why are traits like courage – which are so completely unnecessary to life in heaven – supposed to be the hallmarks of those going there? How important are these ‘goods’ – how much of a justification for evil do they provide – if they are ultimately irrelevant to life in eternity?”
The problem with Ray’s question is that he thinks of the end product of endurance of suffering as being persons who have a range of discrete attributes such as love, kindness, generosity and courage. And so he asks, if some of these attributes (e.g. generosity and courage) are not necessary in eternity, then why bother cultivating them? Why not simply subject people to the suffering necessary to cultivate the attributes that one will have occasion to exercise in eternity?
That reminds me of the time when I began jogging more than twenty years ago. I started jogging with the intent of “losing some off the midsection”. But it didn’t work out that way. After jogging for several months I realized I had lost weight from my midsection, neck, cheeks, arms, etc. And with that I came to see that weight loss through cardiovascular exercise is a holistic enterprise that tones one’s entire body. One does not merely target one part of an integrated system for weight loss. One simply loses weight in toto.
Moral and spiritual formation are like that as well. One does not target one virtue to the exclusion of others. One does not decide to become loving and kind whilst setting aside the attributes of generosity and courage. Rather, one simply works on becoming a good person and the result of this is a commensurate increase in the exemplification of all the virtues that constitute being a good person.
Consequently, it is wrongheaded to object to the acquisition of courage with the retort that one shall not have occasion to exercise courage in eternity. The fact is that courage is simply one attribute indicative of the holistic cultivation of a good person. And the goal of the Christian life is not to become a person who will cultivate that set of attributes that one will have occasion to exercise in eternity. Rather, the goal is to become a good person, and given that goodness includes attributes of generosity and courage as surely as love and kindness, eternity shall welcome denizens who are generous and courageous, even though they shall never have occasion to exercise those specific attributes.