Free Will in Heaven?

There seems to be a paradox regarding the doctrines of free will and heaven. I’m by no means the first to point this out, however, my formulation goes something like this:

1. Free will makes sin possible

2.. Either free will is an overriding good or it is not

3. Those in heaven either have free will or they do not

4. If those in heaven have free will, then it is possible that they sin

5. If those in heaven don’t have free will, then they lack an overriding good

This dilemma seems to follow from the definition of contra-causal free will and the definition of heaven as a place that has all of the goods of creation but none of the evils. What are the Christian’s options here? Well, one could deny contra-causal free will, i.e. be a compatibilist. But I’d argue that this move comes at a steep cost to theodicy. (I’ll leave the fleshing out of this argument to the reader.) One could deny that free will is an overriding good, but then one would have to abandon the free will defense wrt the problem of evil. One could deny that those in heaven have free will, but then it would seem that they lack a great good. One could say that they have free will, but cannot sin (although I think that is tantamount to denying contra-causal free will). But this move invites the question: if it’s possible to have free will without the possibility of sin, then why didn’t God actualize that world in the first place? Finally, one could affirm that those in heaven have both free will and the possibility of sin. The perfection of heaven is a contingent state of affairs. However, this seems to go against the traditional view, that those in heaven cannot sin.

To be fair, there is more that a theist could say. For example, perhaps those in heaven have the freedom to sin, they just choose never to exercise that freedom. In other words, they don’t want to sin. Perhaps they remember their sinful condition and have no desire to go back. This might work if memories of our terrestrial existence remain intact. I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption given certain biblical passages about all tears being dried and every sorrow being wiped away. Presumably that would not be true if certain painful memories remained intact. I would think that the healing of one’s soul that would come as a result of the Beatific Vision would involve, at a minimum, psychological healing which would include memories. There seems to be a dilemma lurking here too: on the one hand, in order to maintain psychological continuity with my terrestrial self, I would have to retain a significant portion of my memories; on the other hand, in order to be a wholly restored person, I would need to be cleansed of a significant portion of my memories. I don’t know how this is supposed to work. Any thoughts?

There are other moves a theist could make. For example, one could say that heaven is not possible without an antecedent fallen state in which people do exercise their will, and sin as a consequence. In other words, the problem of ‘the Fall’ happening a second time in heaven is obviated by the fact that it already happened once. People were given an opportunity to exercise their free will, sin, and accept redemption. Through this experience they have so formed their characters that they now only desire to choose the good. They exercise their redeemed free will only in the direction of the good, much the way God does. However, this heavenly state wouldn’t be possible without the fallen state that preceded it. In this sense, then, the Fall can be seen as an instrumental good leading to this better state. This response has some promise, but it has a couple of entailments: 1) I suspect it commits one to the doctrine of felix culpa (literally, happy sin) by saying that the Fall was good because it permits the even greater goods of Incarnation and Atonement. Again, I think there may be problems for theodicy here, but I won’t go into the details for the sake of brevity. 2) I suspect it commits one the the idea of transworld depravity. In other words, it was not feasible for God to create a world without sin from the get go. This may be true. It’s logically possible. However, it doesn’t strike me as very plausible.

I suppose the theist could come up with other responses. Maybe there’s simply no temptation to sin in heaven, so the possibility is never actualized. Absent temptation, would humanity have sinned in the first place? Maybe there’s a difference between the state of innocence in the garden and the state of grace in heaven. All of these are theologically possible, I suppose. I’m interested in hearing what Christian readers think of these options.

For my part, I’m not necessarily wedded to the notion that contra-causal free will is an overriding good. In fact, I’d argue that on theism, one would expect compatiblism to be true and, consequently, the absence of moral evil. The question of freedom is also confusing when applied to God. God, we are told, is perfectly free but cannot do evil. Is this sort of freedom logically possible? If so, is there some other reason why it’s unavailable to human beings? Are we stuck with felix culpa and transworld depravity?


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