Is Soul-Making Contrary To Justification By Faith?

In my last post, we considered two standard objections to the soul-making response to the problem of evil.

According to the first objection, God would prefer that I shape my character within the confines of a virtual reality machine since doing so would nullify any potential harm to real people. This objection failed because it required God to sacrifice the greater good (to humans) of their experiencing a real world of relationships in exchange for a fake world of illusions.

According to the second objection, suffering is not needed for heaven. God can simply populate heaven with people who would have pursued virtue, had they been given the chance to, even if they never actually had the chance. Unfortunately, this objection ignores the fact that goodness is much more valuable when it is actually tested and confirmed in the face of temptation to do otherwise. What people would or would not have chosen in hypothetical circumstance is of little consequence.

Now, having defended the soul-making theodicy (SMT) against these two criticisms, I will go on to consider a third objection based on the protestant view of justification by faith (JBF). The objection goes something like this:

  1. If the SMT is true, then people will only be fit for heaven when they have strived for the goodness of character which God will permanently endow them with in heaven.
  2. The DJF teaches that people are fit for heaven not because they have strived to have good character, but because of their faith in God’s saving grace.
  3. Therefore, the DJF conflicts with the SMT.

But is it true really that the doctrine of justification by faith conflicts with the the soul-making theodicy? It sure appears to, at least at first glance!

justified by faith

The DJF states that God alone puts human beings in a right relationship with Him. None of our efforts can merit this, so our only recourse is to trust in God’s provision – namely, the merits of Christ’s sacrificial life, death, and resurrection. But if the soul-making view is correct, then people have to struggle to be virtuous and perform good deeds to be in right standing with God. This definitely seems contradictory.

Nevertheless, I maintain that the contradiction is merely apparent – not real. I say this because premise (2) of the above argument is based on a misunderstanding. I admit: the DJF does teach the no one is deserving of heaven or right standing with God. That’s because none of our efforts can erase the monumental debt of guilt we each bear. Only Christ’s efforts on our behalf can merit these things.

But here is the crucial point: being right with God is not the same as being fit for heaven. Being right and being fit are two distinct things. God alone makes me right with Him. But I must willingly and repeatedly consent to His sanctifying work in my life if I am to be fit for heaven! Why is this so? It’s because God will not impose on me the good nature he wants me to have in heaven. He will not do violence to my will. Rather, He wants me to consent to having that nature by pursuing it in the face of real opposition and testing in this life. That way, when God finally endows me with a heavenly nature that is immutably good, my nature will have been freely chosen and continuous with who I wanted to become. I would not be fit (or ready) for heaven if I had not already consented to becoming immutably good through a process of soul making.

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