Free Will in Heaven?

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

May 2, 2017

Question

Tim,

First, I want to thank you for your message today, Marci and I both thought it was awesome. In particular, Marci wanted me to let you know that she has struggled for years with why did God give man free will, and your explanation about arranged marriages and your example of how you knelt on one knee and proposed to your wife and how she had the “free will” to accept or decline your love proposal is the piece that finally opened the door with her understanding of this topic.

Second, your explanation has left me with a question that I pray that Pastor Adrian and you will address when you have the Q&A session in the future.

I agree that evil is necessary to give us a choice on Earth to use our free will to choose good or evil. For free will to have relevance, there must be a choice between competing ideas or forces (ie. good vs evil). I also agree that God did not create us to live on Earth as robots, and that by giving us free will, God has given us the ability to choose to love and accept Him, or to not love and to deny Him.

Question: Since there is an absence of evil in heaven, does that mean that there is no need for us to have free will in heaven? And, if there is no need for free will in heaven, does that logically mean that we become “robots” in heaven? What happens to our “free will” when we enter into heaven for eternity?

Thank you again for such an awesome message today. I look forward to your response to my question.

Greg


Tim’s Response 

I am so encouraged by your comments, Greg! It is so gratifying to see these big ideas “click” and make sense to people.

I am also encouraged by your question! It is a good question and one that I struggled with for quite a while. After wrestling with this issue at length, I have two possibly correct answers from which we are free to choose.

Magnets & Iron Filings

Perhaps we lose the ability to choose to sin or resist God in heaven (surely we do not lose our ability to freely choose between good options). But if we do, we must freely choose to lose our freedom to reject God.

William Lane Craig is one of the leading advocates of human libertarian freedom among Christian theologians today. Although Craig believes humans possess libertarian free will (LFW) on earth, he leans toward the idea that we will not possess LFW (at least as far as sin is concerned) in heaven. Craig contends that,

God has created us at an “epistemic distance,” so to speak, which allows us the freedom to rebel against Him and separate ourselves from Him. This world is a vale of decision-making during which we decide whether we want to live with God forever or reject Him and so irrevocably separate ourselves from Him. As discussions of the so-called “Hiddenness of God” have emphasized, God could have made His existence overwhelmingly obvious, had He wanted to. During this life, we “see in a glass darkly,” as St. Paul put it; but someday we shall see “face to face” (I Cor. 13.12). Medieval theologians liked to talk of the “Beatific Vision” which the blessed in heaven will receive. There the veil will be removed, and we shall see Christ in all of His loveliness and majesty. The vision of Christ, the source of infinite goodness and love, will be so overwhelming as to remove all freedom to sin. I like to think of it like iron filings in the presence of an enormously powerful electromagnet. They would be so powerfully attracted to the magnet that there is simply no possibility of their falling away. So with the blessed in heaven.

Something like this may have already occurred with angelic beings. Originally created “at arm’s length” from God epistemically, they had a time to choose either for or against God. Those who chose for God were then sealed with the Beatific Vision, so that no further fall is possible.

In this theological thought experiment, humans must possess LFW on earth and then freely choose not to resist God’s grace that will lead us across the line to the point of no return. In that sense, humans possess the ability to make a free and informed decision to cross the line in which we know there is no escape from the maximally great “magnet.” Like sentient iron filings, we know that if we are brought across the line into His presence, then we will never want to escape God’s perfect love. However, one is free to resist the Holy Spirit’s drawing along the way and never cross the line into the point of no return.

This is one possibly correct perspective in which I consider plausible. With that said, however, it is not my primary view, but rather, my “fall-back position.” I do not think it is necessary to surrender our eternal freedom — or think that God would want us to — when we consider the words of the Apostle Paul.

No Pain, No Gain

Considering things from a divine and eternal perspective, as the Apostle Paul did, explains why the suffering we experience on earth is actually a good thing. Regarding suffering, Paul says “these light momentary afflictions prepare us for eternity” (2 Corinthians 4:17). That is basically a nice way of saying, “no pain, no gain!”

The question is raised: what exactly are we being prepared for? What kind of “gain” follows from our “pain”?

Perhaps God created and allows a world suffused with evil, pain, and suffering — moral, natural, and seemingly gratuitous evil — to secure the eternal perseverance of the saints without violating the libertarian free will of man. God does not want to violate human freedom because He desires a true love relationship with each and every person (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) so that true love with God — the greatest good a human can experience — can be attained into the eternal and infinite future.

With this in mind, it is vital to note the philosophical difference between could, would, and will.  Consider C.S. Lewis’ famous quote: “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.” If that is true, then could it also be said that the gates of heaven are locked from the inside? That is to say, could (is it logically possible) for a person in heaven to freely choose to sin, blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and freely leave to go to hell (even if they never would or will)?

Perhaps, yes, but the question is raised: Even if one could freely choose to leave heaven, why would they want to? Those in heaven would have experienced the imperfection of our world filled with evil, pain, suffering, and even what seems to be gratuitous evil. Moreover, they would be in an epistemic position to know that hell is even worse in the absence of God and all that is good.

On top of that, those in heaven would be experiencing a personal relationship with the Maximally Great Being who lavishes them with perfect love and meets every single need with perfection. Heaven is a state of affairs in which there is absolutely zero suffering! Why would a saint in heaven, knowingly — and freely — choose to leave this ultimate paradise and perfect love for the imperfection and horror of hell? They would possess the “knowledge of good and evil” and have personally experienced it through pain, evil, and suffering. They would even be aware of the fact that gratuitous evil and suffering exists on earth. Why would anyone freely leave a state of affairs which is free from all of this evil and suffering when they have already experienced a world that is suffused with affliction? Moreover, why would anyone freely choose to leave perfection for a world that is far worse (hell) than the world they have already experienced?

Those in heaven experience maximal greatness. I cannot comprehend why anyone, who has experienced the evil imperfection of this world and the perfection of the next in heaven, would freely choose to exist in a world that was far worse than the imperfection of the one they already experienced. Perhaps allowing humans to attain this genuine experience and “knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17) is how God can guarantee free creatures will persevere into the infinite future!

This is one reason why God allows bad things happen to “good” people!

So, God allows us to experience this imperfect world suffused with pain, evil, and suffering to prepare us for the eternity of the next world– eternal paradise! After all, Adam, Eve, Satan, and a third of all the angels took suffering-free worlds for granted; since you and I possess the knowledge of good, evil, and suffering, we will not. Therefore, it is “very good” (Genesis 1:31) that God created this imperfect and suffering filled world that we are currently experiencing. It therefore follows that what appears to be gratuitous suffering from our perspective actually serves an eternal purpose!

Bottom Line: Why did God call this world “very good?” Because He knew it would lead to an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). God has eternity in mind; we ought to do the same. Our “light momentary afflictions” would either encourage humanity to freely choose not to resist the Holy Spirit’s drawing that will take us across the line into God’s powerful “magnetic” presence, or it will guarantee the free perseverance of the saints into eternity. Either way, we can “rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3-4)!

Stay Reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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