Can We Be Free in Heaven and Not Sin? (Part 3)

A question arises that goes something like this:

If evil and sin are the result of mankind’s free will, then why is it that people in heaven will have free will, but not sin? If we truly have free will in heaven, we would eventually sin. But heaven is described as a place where there is no sin. If God can create a place where there is no sin, why did He not do so in the first place? If humans can be in a state where they do not sin, and God did not create us this way in the first place, then God is reprehensible, and not all good or all love. Either God cannot create a place where there is no sin or could create such a place but did not. In either case, God is not as described in the Bible.

We have answered parts of this objection before. First, we gave a list of all possible combinations of worlds and found that the current world is the best way to get to the best world. You can find that discussion here. In short, a world where no one chooses to do the best good is a world devoid of such things as compassion, bravery, and sacrifice for others. Such a world would not be the best of all possible worlds. Second, we gave a response from theologian Norman Geisler who dealt with free will and the ultimate good. You can find that here.

In the current post we explore an answer from author Brian Shanley in Beyond Libertarianism and Compatibilism: Thomas Aquinas on Created Freedom, found in Freedom and the Human Person (2007). Shanley gives his take on Aquinas’ view of human freedom. Shanley explains that humans naturally, by necessity, will what is the perceived good.

Intellectual beings therefore have an unrestricted appetite for their own good as known. This inclination to the good belongs necessarily to human beings as rational natures prior to any choice. . . Whenever goodness is perceived, the will can become engaged with it as an object of desire precisely as known to be good (even if mistakenly so). . . This natural ordination or inclination of the will to objects as good is prior to and explanatory of the will’s explicit acts; we do not have any choice about our ordination to the good–it belongs to the will by natural necessity. . . Every being has a desire for its own proper perfection. . . It too is not a matter of choice but nature:  human beings naturally will what they do for the sake of happiness. (p.73-74)

Therefore humans choose what we do because we think it will fulfill us. Even when we choose things that are ultimately evil or self-destructive, we do so because at the time we believe it will make us happy. No one chooses what they feel is the wrong choice. Even those who commit suicide do so because they feel it is the way to eliminate pain and suffering. Those who torture others do so because they get some twisted sense of joy from it.

Our flawed human nature — indeed, our spiritually dead human nature — is incapable of fully realizing God’s full and true good. Therefore we selfishly choose to sin. But we will not remain in this state forever, as Shanley explains:

All human striving for the perfective good is an implicit yearning for God. If we were actually to see God in all his perfect goodness, we would will him necessarily and naturally and not as an object of free choice. Once a person enters into the beatific vision, the will’s nature has come to rest in its proper object. Precisely because its nature is made to find completion in the infinite good that is God, the will is not necessitated with respect to any other object. This side of the beatific vision, no object can compel and quiet the will’s orientation to the good.

Because of the curse of sin and the resulting spiritual pollution, we are separated from a holy God. The flawed human condition results in questions such as the current one. Our sinful natures do not fully understand the infinite holiness and beauty of God. Once we see Him face to face in the beatific vision, the object of our desire will have been found. We then will want no cheap substitute. Just as when a child plays with a toy, but later grows to adulthood and realizes the real thing, he is no longer able to go back and choose the child’s toy.  When we see God, He will be the focus of our desire and we will choose no sin. As Geisler says, in heaven our freedom will be perfected.

Could this be considered a loss of free will, since the will is necessitated toward God? Only in the sense that the human will is always necessitated in the same way, toward what it perceives as good. In salvation, God changes us and informs our mind and soul with His spirit, thus giving us a taste of what heaven will be like. We then choose to love Him, for we cannot help but do so.

Inevitably, someone will ask “why would God do it this way and not some other way?” The answer is in the first post we linked above, for a world with greater good is better than a world without greater good, and greater good requires situations precipitated by evil. A world with love is greater than a world without love, and true love requires the ability to walk away.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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3 Responses to Can We Be Free in Heaven and Not Sin? (Part 3)

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    So we’ll still have free will, but we will know God so intimately that we will not want to sin, since we see God’s beauty.

  2. Joe says:

    What does that mean about other goods in Heaven then?

    Will we be able to spend time with our family members who are also in Heaven when we are there?

    Will we enjoy the beauty of nature, music and creativity?

    Or will the Beatific Vision fulfill us to the point where we will no longer have any desire for any other good but the Beatific Vision?

    If so, then that sounds like Buddhism, where our ultimate end is a state where we have no desires whatsoever.

    After all, when you are thirsty, you want water, but when you finally drink water, you no longer feel thirsty.You may be satisfied, but you also take on an attitude of indifference as your desire is satisfied.

    So what will Heaven be like?

    Will it be the Beatific Vision alone, with us no longer desiring anything else whatsoever?

    Or will Heaven include our very desire for happiness, pleasure and joy so that we will be eternally hunting for what is good, and always being satisfied.Our will being brought together with the infinite and being stretched into eternity so that we will be desiring a huge variety of goods for all of eternity and our desires being fulfilled.

    A perpetual adventure, but also a perpetual home.

    Or is it something else?

  3. humblesmith says:

    You’ve asked a lot of questions.
    The Bible presents heaven as being a place where we worship God. In the book of Revelation, and Ezekiel, and other places, the vision of heaven is that of God being the central focus. It would seem logical that in heaven we would know as much as we do know, not less. Therefore it is a logical conclusion that we will know our loved ones in heaven. But compared to God, any human thing will pale in comparison. The best human analogy I’ve seen is this: if you go outside at night, and someone shines a flashlight in your eyes, it is very bright and hurts your eyes. But if you take that same flashlight into the bright noonday sun and shine it into your eyes, you can barely see it, if at all. The sun overwhelms the puny flashlight that seemed so bright the night before. Likewise, when we get to heaven, God will outshine all else. We should indeed be able to recognize our human experiences and loved ones, but the experience will be so much greater than any puny human experience, we will likely not care.

    It will not be like Buddhism, for we will stil have great desire, but we will have desire for an infinite beauty, God. We will enjoy infinite majesty, God. We will have emotions, but our emotions will be fulfilled and we will get to enjoy God forever. This is where the modern atheist and skeptic misses the point entirely. If people do not enjoy worshipping God now, they will thoroughly hate heaven. Therefore God does not force people to go worship Him.

    It will not be a state of indifference as your question implies. It will be a state of ecstasy, a state of active enjoyment and worship. Again, look at every description of heaven…..the focus is always on God. Human experience will not be devalued, but be overwhelmed by an infinite greatness. All human experience, no matter how great, is finite. God is infinite, and will be infinitely better.

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