It is good for us to make free choices which result in deliberate courses of action, courses that really matter for ourselves and others (especially in the context of eternity). This is relevant because, to the degree to which we are free and empowered, there is also a corresponding risk of our making effective choices which permit or bring suffering on ourselves and/or others.1, 2
So what if a moral arena is good? Maybe humans could be created who would always freely choose the right? [See Response]3
Michael Murray (Philosophy professor at Franklin and Marshall): “I intend to pull the trigger to shoot you but suddenly find that my finger is paralyzed, or that the bullets have all vaporized, or … I intend to steal the car but when I rear back to throw the brick at the car window to gain entry I suddenly fall asleep, or I find that windows are unbreakable when struck during attempts at theft, etc. Would this suffice? In one sense it would. Were the world so configured, I would not be able to bring about any evil beyond my evil choices. But it is further true that in such a world I would not be able to make evil choices at all since the totality of my experiences will make it evident that doing evil is impossible.” [Nature: Red in Tooth and Claw (Oxford, 2008), 137.]
Richard Swinburne (Philosophy professor at Oxford): “the more freedom and responsibility we have, of logical necessity the more and more significant are the bad consequences which will result (not prevented by God) from our bad choices; and so the more probable it is that many such will result. Every slight addition to our freedom and responsibility increases slightly the probability of sadness and pain; every slight diminution of the probability of sadness and pain resulting from human actions diminishes slightly our freedom and responsibility.” [Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford, 1998), 165.]
The cultivating of our own morally significant character is good (especially in the context of eternity). This is relevant because some of the most important character-forming features we can develop are built through choices in our response to suffering (for example, being compassionate, persevering) or that which risks/results in suffering (for example, choosing to steal without regard for others, and/or forming a character that is inclined to steal).1 So it both requires and risks/results in suffering.
James 1:2-4 -- “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”2
God's loving incarnation-atonement for sinners is a great good (especially in the context of eternity). This is relevant, of course, because these sins which seem most unforgivable are murder, rape, stealing, and other things which cause suffering.
Seeking fellowship with God is a great good (especially in the context of eternity). This is relevant because, with less suffering, fewer would seek God. Indeed,
• “Religiosity declines as worldly prosperity of individuals rises.”[2005 WIN-Gallup International poll]1
• Studies confirm that Christianity grows most rapidly during hardships.2
• It is intuitively clear that suffering would lead us to turn to God.3
• Eleonore Stump (Philosophy professor at Saint Louis): “Natural evil—the pain of disease, the intermittent and unpredictable destruction of natural disasters, the decay of old age, the imminence of death—takes away a person's satisfaction with himself. It tends to humble him, show him his frailty, make him reﬂect on the transience of temporal goods, and turn his affections towards other-worldly things, away from the things of this world.” [“The Problem of Evil” Faith and Philosophy, 2 (1985): 409.]
Certain relationships (of forgiveness, of empathy, etc.) are great goods (especially in the context of eternity). This is relevant, of course, because these evil-dependent relationship types are formed only by virtuously responding to existing evil.
Intimately knowing Christ in suffering (as mutual empathizers) is good. This is relevant because one cannot have/enjoy this particular eternal relation with Christ if no suffering existed.
Laura Ekstrom (Philosophy professor at William & Mary): “suffering itself is an experience that one shares with the divine agent, and so it may serve as an avenue to knowledge of, and intimacy with, God. Viewed in this light, human suffering might be taken to be a kind of privilege in that it allows one to share in some of the experience of God, thus giving one a window into understanding his nature. For the Christian, in particular, occasions of enduring rejection, pain and loss can be opportunities for identification with the person of Jesus Christ. Intimacy with Christ gained through suffering provides deeper appreciation of his passion. I understand the notion of intimacy or identification with Christ in a sympathetic rather than a mystical sense.” [“A Christian Theodicy,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (Blackwell, 2013), 279.]
Certain true stories which essentially involve evil are great goods (especially in the context of eternity).1 This is relevant because true stories like this require evil to exist.
A Universe evolving through time in a regular/predictable/intelligible way is good (especially in the context of eternity). This is relevant because it is not clear that there exist possible universes which unfold so elegantly, in accordance with scientifically intelligible laws, which do not also result in occasional harm to creatures born into it.1
But wait, couldn't God maintain the elegance and simply “cancel” all nature-caused horrors by constant miraculous interventions? [See response.]2
Sacrificing (dying, donating, etc.) for a good cause is good.1 This is relevant for two reasons: because sacrifices can involve suffering (emotionally and physically) and the greatness of many of our would-be acts depends on how much we sacrifice and how much better we made things, especially how much suffering we prevent with our sacrifice.
Helping and being of use to others in need is good.1 This is relevant because we are of most use to others when others most need our help (emotionally and physically), and others most need our help in the midst of suffering or a real danger of it.
Richard Swinburne (Philosophy professor at Oxford): “That helping is an immense good for the helper … is especially hard for twentieth-century secularized Western man to see. … It would have been our misfortune if there had been no starving to whom to give; life would have been worse for us” [Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford, 1998), 107.]
Robin Collins (Philosophy professor at Messiah College): “Many people have a great desire to contribute positively to the world and only feel satisfied with their lives if they have made significant contributions; they gain great satisfaction from having contributed, even to the extent of thinking that their life was worthwhile even if they endured more suffering than happiness. Often this sense of value goes beyond the value of the contribution itself, but crucially involves a perceived value of having been the means by which the contribution occurred; thus, for instance, if God directly provided for the welfare of others, this value would be lost. The CBT [Connection-Building Theodicy] claims that this value does not merely end with the actual act of contribution, but continues as an ongoing reality into the future–assuming that we will eventually become fully aware of our contributions to others, as this theodicy hypothesizes. Since contributing to the welfare of another often produces a sense of an intimate interconnection between contributor and recipient (e.g., each becomes a ‘part’ of the other’s life),” [“The Connection Building Theodicy” in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013)]
Appreciating (or more appreciating) the absence and elimination of evil and suffering is a great good (especially in the context of eternity).1 This is relevant because we can only become acquainted as we are with suffering and its elimination if such suffering occurs.2
Justin McBryer: “And there is something plausible about the principle: it is very hard to see how we would ever fully appreciate health without illness, wealth without poverty, love without hate.” [“Counterpart and Appreciation Theodicies,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil (Blackwell, 2013), 202.]