Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Won’t We Abuse Free Will in Heaven?

I’ve heard the objection to the Christian belief before from friends, “Why won’t we sin in heaven?” I recently read this article on it. Now I don’t know if theism is true or false, this is simply a response I read that I thought was interesting and addressed the objection. It was written by someone named Clay Jones who is a christian apologist. Yes, I know this topic is controversial so take it for what its worth.
Bart Ehrman raises an objection to the free will defense in his book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Imporant Question – Why We Suffer: “Most people who believe in God-given free will also believe in an afterlife. Presumably people in the afterlife will still have free will (they won’t be robots then either, will they?). And yet there won’t be suffering (allegedly) then. Why will people know how to exercise free will in heaven if they can’t know how to exercise it on earth?” (12-13). This is a common question and there are several reasons we can have free will in Heaven but not sin.
There’s much to say on this, but I’ll be brief here.
First, the Bible says that one day all the things that cause sin will be destroyed: “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mat. 13:41). This includes Satan and his minions, as well as all those who tasted of good and evil and ultimately chose evil. (Rev. 20:10, 13). There will be a new earth (Rev. 21:1) so that the corruptions of this earth will be forever gone; we will no longer be “one-click” from evil. Our bodies will be redeemed and we will no longer know the lusts of the flesh. (Phil. 3:21). But God waits to accomplish these things until all those who will come to Him, come. (2 Pet. 3:9).
Second, the eternal punishment of the eternally unrepentant will serve as an eternal reminder of the peril and horror of sin. [I should add, this does not have to be an eternal hell fire where people literally burn for all eternity. The same meaning can be taken if we view this point as saying that the ultimate consequences of sin (death, especially of lost loved ones) will serve as an eternal reminder.]
Third, I suspect that lessons learned here and at the Judgment will make sin too ridiculous to commit.1 In other words, God couldn’t just create beings with a significantly free will and not let them ever use it wrongly, but that doesn’t mean that this world and all the evil we experience here won’t be sufficient, in conjunction with the other things I just mentioned, to make us realize that sin is something we simply won’t want to do—ever.
I use the following illustration when I teach. I will hold a pen, or other sharp object, up to my eye and ask the class if they would like to see me jab it into my eye?2 Holding the pen even closer I’ll stress, “I could do it!” Then I’ll ask, “But I’m not going to. Do you know why?” No one ever answers. Finally I tell them, “I’m not going to do it because I’m too smart for that; that would be stupid thing to do.” Consider that we don’t give pens to babies because, sure enough, sooner or later they’d jab them into their eyes. But, even if I lived a billion years on this earth (as long as I still had all my marbles), I would never, ever, intentionally jab a pen into my eye because I know that would be stupid.
That is what is going on in this world. We are learning to distinguish between good and evil (Heb. 5:14). We are learning that sin is not only rebellion but that sin is stupid, hurtful, hateful, and counterproductive. We are learning that God is right, was right, and always will be right. And at the Judgment, where everyone’s evil thoughts and deeds will be exposed, we are going to get an amazing education about the horror of sin. In other words, this life prepares us to be able to use our free will responsibly in Heaven. Just like so many rebellious teenagers, we are learning the hard way—through experience—that our Heavenly Father has been right all along.
And finally, in Heaven, those who persevere in their faith, having learned here that rebellion is inane and insane, will see God who will give them the Kingdom (2 Thess. 1:5; Luke 12:32) where:
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. ~Revelation 22:3-5

William Lane Craig makes a similar point in a debate with Ray Bradley. Bradly asked why God didn’t just create heaven and forego this world.
Craig: “No, Heaven may not be a possible world when you take it in isolation by itself. It may be that the only way in which God could actualize a heaven of free creatures all worshiping Him and not falling into sin would be by having, so to speak, this run-up to it, this advance life during which there is a veil of decision-making in which some people choose for God and some people against God. Otherwise you don’t know that heaven is an actualizable world. You have no way of knowing that possibility.”
Bradley: “You’re saying, in effect, that when I characterize heaven as a possible world in which everybody freely receives Christ, I’m wrong insofar as that had to be preceded by this actual world, this world of vale of tears and woe in which people are sinful and the like.”
Craig: “I’m saying that it may not be feasible for God to actualize heaven in isolation from such an antecedent world.”


  1. A few questions and comments:

    1) Was heaven imperfect in the past, leading to the fall of Lucifer? If so, did God desire or allow it to be imperfect? If that's the case, then why? And if he didn't desire or allow it to be imperfect, then how can we assert that he has ultimate control over whether sin is evident or not in the future, since it arose beyond his control in the past?

    2) If God can destroy everything that causes sin and evil including Satan and his minions, then what is this "eternal hell" that he mentions. If something is still burning and people are still experiencing pain, then it isn't destroyed. Hell doesn't insinuate non-existence, it insinuates the existence of hell.

    3) He says "the eternal punishment of the eternally unrepentant"... does this mean that people can choose to repent even while in hell? Certainly some would desire to do so... no? Why should a sinner on earth be considered "eternally" unrepentant?

    4) I'm sure Clay Jones understands the lessons of sin today. He knows he shouldn't do anything stupid. But even though he doesn't choose to poke himself in the eye with a sharp object, I'm certain he still does stupid things that he understands aren't good. He is undoubtedly not "sin free" by any Christian standards. So how will the lessons be different in heaven? What changes to make the stupid things that we still do become stupid things that we don't do? We already know the lesson, yet we still fail. So does God take this free-will that leads to poor decision making away? Does he change us biologically? Or do we just make better decisions because we'll see people sizzling in hell?

    5) In regards to William Lane Craig. If heaven absolutely required the fall of man and the learning process in order for humans to be prepared for heaven, doesn't this insinuate that God wanted humanity to fail? As in, if Satan didn't "tempt" Adam and Eve, then there was no purpose for us? Did God necessitate the fall of mankind otherwise heaven would not be an actualizable world? I would have hoped that God created us for the Garden of Eden to enjoy a perfect world, but WLC's argument seems to insinuate that God created the Garden of Eden so that we would fall and endure thousands of years of turmoil and pain all in order to know that he is good. How is this supposed to be a good God? Or maybe I'm interpreting WLC's argument wrong.

  2. Ok man sorry it took so long to share my thoughts, exam week and all, but since I just finished writing an exam I think I’ll share now before I start studying again for the day. And please keep in mind that while I do my best to answer these questions it doesn’t necessarily mean that my reasons are God’s reasons. I think it’s really hard to judge this situation from such a limited standpoint with such limited knowledge of the big picture. Plus the reasons I give will obviously be assuming theism.

    Firstly, to touch on your point one, I don’t think it was that heaven was imperfect in the past. I would argue that God allowed the possibility of sin entering the universe by giving his created beings free will. He knew full well that these created beings would question His authority and knowledge and that some would be rebel because of it. I think God, being an entity of love, had two options, to create beings with free will or to create beings who blindly follow. However, only one of these options allows the created beings to fully and actually love God back. I think love would pretty obviously be an illusion if humans/angels only loved God because they were programmed too. Think of it this way, if you have a child you know you run the risk of raising him and he could hate your guts, he could be a murderer or a rapist, yet you also know that you can experience great joy and love from a child for the rest of your existence. Now you could buy yourself a talking computer program and program it to love you but it doesn’t truly understand and thus the love isn’t real, but an illusion. I think God realized in giving his beings free will, some would rebel, and ultimately the whole universe would see that God is life, apart from God everything breaks down and leads to death.

    So I don’t think it was beyond his control but that it was simply what had to happen in order for beings to experience love and free will. Now with this said I think we will come to a better understanding of what exactly it means to be apart from God. The whole universe will realize that “the wages of sin” or being separate from God (going your own way) really does lead to death and thus, no one will even consider rebelling/sinning again. Think of it this way, let’s say you are a chain smoker and a drinker. You know you shouldn’t be doing it but it’s just so hard to stop. So you’re wife and mother and everyone who loves you forms a support group. When you are with them you feel strong, you have no desire to do that stuff around them and over time with their love and support (and we can also throw in because you’ve seen the effects of smoking and alcohol) you come to realize that you have no desire to do those things. When you were on your own you fell and you did them, but in the presence of your family you were kept strong and eventually broke free of all desire. It’s not a perfect analogy but I think it shows my point, that after seeing the effects of sin, being in the presence of God, and having the knowledge that God’s way is truly the only way to sustain life, that you will simply not want to sin.

    On you second and third points have to do with a literal hell which I don’t think is Biblical (based on previous studies of the scriptures). And I think I answered your fourth point somewhere up there.

    And lastly, on your fifth point, I don’t think WLC’s point was that God wanted humanity to fall. I think God understood that the fall would happen If he a) gave humanity free will and b) wanted to created beings who actually love, experience love, and appreciate it. Would you rather go through pain in your 70-100 year existence to experience true love, or would you rather be under an illusion. Think of the Matrix, blue pill in one hand, red in the other.

    1. Okay... the purpose of 1 & 4 wasn't to point out that god was wrong to allow free will. I get that. The point was that if he allowed it then and Satan existed, then what is going to be different in the future? Are we going to be perfect or are we going to have the free will potential to sin? Your response seems to be "we will come to a better understanding of what exactly it means to be apart from God" - the wages of sin is death and therefore nobody will ever sin again. But c'mon, don't act like believers don't already recognize that "the wages of sin is death". Every Christian preaches this. They understand it clearly. They do their best to live it, yet they still fail. So what changes? To me, it inherently MUST be a biological change because humans as we are right now are far to prone to make errors even when we know what we're doing wrong. Do you agree or disagree?

      Anyways, since I think it is impossible for humans to be perfect with the biology we were given - it seems impossible for us to be perfect in heaven unless we are biologically changed. And then I wonder - why didn't god just start with this "better biology" in the first place? You'd say we still have free will, but just better minds that understand the wages of sin better. So what would be wrong with starting there? I suppose I see and understand your response, but I disagree. And that's fine...

      Points 2 and 3 are direct responses that refer to what the article you posted says. It seems strange to post something that advocates eternal hell and then disregard the responses.

      For #5 - it seems God knew humanity would fall, yet created it with the capability of falling anyways. If God is not guilty of wanting humanity to fall, then he is at least guilty of negligence. "I didn't want the baby to drown, I just put it in the pool and allowed it to have free will."

      To ask if I'd rather 70-100 years of pain or to live an illusion is to limit god. Like I said, is heaven going to be an illusion? Surely we could have had better brains that understand the wages of sin rather than having to experience it ourselves. All it requires is a simple biological change... we'd still have "free will" to sin if we wanted (like Lucifer did with his heavenly mind), but we'd just be smarter.

    2. Ok so first off, let me say the potential to sin doesn’t mean we will sin. I have the potential to kill myself but obviously I’m not going to do that. I think it’s easy to say, “well Satan existed and he fell” but one has to keep in mind that he challenged God’s claim that God’s way was the way of life. I think believers understand the wages of sin is death but they still fall because in this world it’s too easy to fall. Like I said in my last post I think actually having a better understanding of “the wages of sin” and it’s consequences coupled with being in the presence of God for eternity, no one will want to sin. Though I do think if there is a God and heaven and consequentially a resurrection that some of the change will be biological as well. I mean the Bible states that through one man sin entered the world and from there on out sin was inherited by everyone. So I think it’s possible that as a created species, humanity was created with a better biology than we have now and it will be restored. So I agree, but I do think that we are far to prone to making these errors because of the environment we are in. To sum that paragraph up to one line: I think it mainly has to do with the presence or absence of God. Obviously in this world we are apart from God and the effects are clear.

      So to answer your question I think it is possible that we did have a better biology at the beginning and it has degraded and changed.

      As for point two and three I left it in because I thought the main point of Clay Jones there was the “eternal punishment” which I would interpret as death, would serve as a constant reminder. So though him and other believer may have a different interpretation of what the “eternal reminder” is the point still stands.

      For the last point, like I said earlier I think God knew that in order to create beings with free will and the capability of love the option of falling would be there and they would fall, but perhaps he felt it would be worth it in the end. Like I’ve said the Bible does say that you will only be held accountable for what you know, and many different people from all sorts of faiths will be in the kingdom so perhaps, when compared with eternity, the good out-weighs the bad.

      I know my response probably won’t satisfy you but I think it’s a fair guess based on our limited perspective on the matter if God does in fact exist. You know me though and I fully admit that I don’t know I just try to cover all the angles, if that makes sense.

  3. Well I’ve taken 30 minutes and that’s as much as you’re going to get for now on this topic so feel free to leave more comments if you feel you need to or pm me but I’ll be occupied again for a couple days. But hopefully I gave at least possible or reasonable answers for why we wouldn’t sin in heaven, even if you still disagree with them. Remember I do not claim to actually have the knowledge that these are the reasons, it’s a guess assuming theism to be true in this case.

    Oh also I see Sam Harris is coming out with a new book this year, “Freewill” I take it you’re going to get it? I’ll be putting that on my reading list anyway.

    1. Thanks for taking the time man... and respond again when you get the time. I'm looking forward to the book "Freewill". It's going to be a short book, much like "Lying" was, which was a nice, quick, yet powerful read.