Few people today find apologetics to be a stimulating pasttime. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the efforts of the apologist to be met by a yawn, or a quizzical look. But for those inclined to ponder inponderables, dialogue with another seeker can be quite rewarding. Recently, I considered the following question regarding whether we can sin in heaven:
1. If evil exists because love is a choice, then can there be love in Heaven where there is no evil? By the time we get to Heaven ourproclivity to sin will be removed, but if sin is not an option, can we still use our free will to love God? Can we have freewill in Heaven if we cannot choose whether to love or to sin?
2. Will we have a proverbial tree of good and evil in heaven so that we can still actively choose to love God after our sinful natures have been removed? If we do have an ability to sin in heaven, as Adam andEve had in the utopian garden of Eden before sin entered humanity,then would we swap eternities and be sent from Heaven into Hell?
To begin to respond to the question, it is important to make sure we are using words in the same sense. For instance, “love” can mean many things. Here, I think we are referring to the concept of “willing the good of the other.” Inclining your will toward the good of another is, of course, a choice. No one can force me to direct my will in a particular way. I can be forced to do an act, for example to help someone, but if my will is not inclined toward their good, or if I am simply indifferent, it would not be “love.” So, love does require a choice on our part, and while actions can be compelled, true love cannot. The Bible also speaks of love of God in terms of following His commands. (See John 14 and 1 John 5) So, we might say that freely loving God requires that we direct our will toward obeying His commands.
Let’s take evil and sin next. The question assumes that God allows evil to exist so that love can exist through choice. Drawing from Augustine, Aquinas and other Christian thinkers, it is important to recognize that “evil” is not a thing that exists. If it were, then God, who created all things, would be the creator of evil. But God could not have created evil, for that would make Him the source of evil, and therefore evil Himself. Instead, “evil” is the label we apply to the corruption of the good. It is not a thing, and therefore was never created. It is the extent or degree to which we have used our free will to depart from God’s will, by taking what He has given us (all of which is good) and corrupting it. On a practical level, we see evil, in the form of acts that are taken, as “things” but what we are seeing are acts of free will that constitute evil because they violate God’s law and nature.
With these observations in mind, I would offer the following thoughts about what heaven will entail. I think the question correctly notes that without free will, we can’t really love God. If love is a function of the will – a desire to obey God’s commands – how can the will be functioning if it is being directed? It is no longer an act of will but simply the act of a robot or a machine. If this is the true state of heaven, there may be harmony, but it would be the harmony of robots or computers humming along according to their programming. So, I think we must conclude that to love God we must still have free will in heaven.
The questions continues: “Can we have free will in Heaven if we cannot choose whether to love or to sin?” But this begs the question. Why should I conclude that I cannot choose to sin? If free will is operating, I can choose to defy God’s will – to not follow His commands – and this would be sin. Is this not what the angels – and Lucifer – did? The problem in the analysis is this: becoming free of our desire/inclination to sin does not remove our free will. We remain free but freely choose to worship perfection – God – because He is deserving of such love and worship. Notice two keys differences between now and then: now, we are temporal beings, who cannot see with clarity the harm that each of our choices will make. We have an amazing ability to deceive ourselves into doing what we want to do rather than what we know we should do. These desires are largely based on our corrupt human nature. Then, we will no longer be trapped by time. With the ability to see the future as part of an eternal present, we will have no desire to choose to depart from God’s will, because we will have clarity in seeing the evil that would result. We will also be free of our corrupted human nature, in which a selfish desire for pleasure is one of our strongest instincts. Second, and more importantly, we will see God in a more direct fashion. Perhaps, this world is the training ground for that, preparing us for the immensity of experiencing perfection. Seeing the infinitely perfect God with clarity, I would suspect that I will be in awe, and in love, with Him. He will be all consuming, all encompassing. Whatever Earthly good or pleasure I can imagine, He will be that multiplied by infinity. The magnitude of this is truly staggering, if you think about the implications.
Putting these things together – clarity of vision as to God’s nature and no self-deception by clouding what the future will bring – I think heaven will be a place of eternal presence with God in a state of communal love. I will want to direct my will toward following God and I will do so freely, as He desired. By way of analogy, I may have grown up as a smoker, which indulgence made stronger. Given a choice, I might always opt for a cigarette to take the edge off or to feel better. If my nature is improved, so that I see that smoking is harmful to me, I could eventually learn to give it up. After enough time, the craving for it might completely cease, replaced by a better way to deal with stress. At that point, though my desire for nicotine is gone, I have not lost my freedom, even though I use it to choose a healthy alternative. Finally, even if cigarettes are banned and no longer available, my free will remains. I simply won’t choose cigarettes, regardless of whether or not they are accessible to me, so nothing is lost.
Now, I think these views leave open the problem of why the angels fell initially, an interesting issue I do not address here, but which in a way leads to the second question: can we choose to sin in Heaven and thereby be sent to Hell. I think that the answer to that is probably yes, but given the above analysis no one who is saved – in whom God made a transforming work – would ever choose to do so. The Bible teaches that we live once, die once and face judgment. The Bible seems consistent in its message that this judgment is permanent. There is no suggestion that we can lose salvation once in heaven, as there is no possibility of bridging the divide from hell to heaven by starting to love God. So, it would seem that this swapping of heaven for hell is simply not going to occur. To use my analogy, seeing the ugliness of smoking as a way of life, and having through time and discipline eliminated my addiction, I am not ever going to be tempted to go back.
A lot to ponder. But given the stakes, certainly worth the effort.
Posted by Al Serrato