“Listen: if everyone must suffer, in order to buy eternal harmony with their suffering, pray tell me what have children got to do with it? It’s quite incomprehensible why they should have to suffer, and why they should buy harmony with their suffering.”
Ivan makes this argument to Alyosha in Book V, Chapter 4, as part of his rejection of the idea of a loving God. Ivan believes it is impossible to have faith in a benevolent deity who makes children suffer unjustly. Ivan can, to a certain extent, see the logic in the suffering of adults: adults must suffer to pay for their sins, “to buy eternal harmony with their suffering.” But children, he explains, are too young to have sinned, and are often made to suffer the most excruciating torments by a God who supposedly loves them. From this condition, Ivan reasons that if God exists, he does not really love mankind, but rather occupies the position of a torturer who should be defied and rejected rather than worshipped and loved.