Free Will and Sin in Heaven

Francesco Botticini [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Francesco Botticini [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The problem of evil is a common affront to the Christian worldview. Why does an all-powerful and all-loving God allow a world where humans commit atrocities on a daily basis? 

The typical response to this is, in brief, that in order to be free, humans have been given the option to freely choose whether they are going to accept God or reject him. The freedom to choose leads some people to choose to act in selfish and evil ways. 

However, if free will is responsible for evil, and there is no evil in heaven, does this mean that humans in heaven have no free will? 

In order to answer this question, it is instructive to look at the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. Genesis is a book of some controversy both outside and inside Christian circles. But whatever one’s position is on the actuality of Genesis stories, there is a great deal of philosophical and theological content to be gleaned from this text. 

The second chapter of Genesis finds a newly formed Adam in the Garden of Eden where “…the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant in the sight and good for food.” Adam was then instructed, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” 

The obvious point that is taken from this text is the fact that there was only one rule to break. Eating from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” would give Adam and Eve the ability to know and to choose both good and evil. Does this mean that Adam and Eve did not have free will prior to this? Not at all. They had the freedom to obey or disobey the one command they were given. If the tree had not been there, would they have been free? They would, in fact. They would be free to choose to “…eat of every tree of the garden.” In other words, Adam and Eve were protected from evil choices because they were protected from even knowing what good and evil were. Instead, they had a wide variety of free choices at their fingertips, all of which were good. They could act and express themselves freely without sinning. 

People who find themselves in heaven have already made the one free choice that matters: they have chosen to accept God and reject their own sin. As a consequence, the temptation to sin will be entirely gone. The options for sinning will similarly be removed. 

Another thing that was not present in the Garden was misinformation. Adam and Eve knew exactly what to expect if they disobeyed the rule they were given. When the serpent lied to Eve, she suddenly had the choice to either believe the lie or believe the truth. Believing the lie that she would “be like God,” was more attractive than the truth, and so she opted for the more attractive choice. Such deception is not going to be present in heaven. The consequences of free choices will be known with certainty. 

When a crime is committed, one of the primary things that the police will search for is a motive. On the whole, motives for crime come down to power, money, strong emotions, or sex. In heaven the struggle for power is over. People will defer all power back to Christ: “They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’” 

This is a voluntary act which is preempted by their decision to give their lives to Christ in the first place. 

More than this, each individual within heaven will be assigned a realm of power equal to their needs. Paul reminds his readers that they are “…to judge angels,” and in Revelation, John tells his readers that they will “reign with him.” 

It should go without saying that the temptation for money will be a thing of the past, but in heaven, strong, negative emotions are also gone, as everyone will be in the loving and fulfilling presence of God who “…will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

Sexual temptation is not an issue in heaven, for sexuality itself will be gone. Jesus told his listeners, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” 

In what sense does free will exist in heaven? In the sense that all people may choose any good thing, and may express their worship of God in individual ways that are unique to them. If they did not wish to spend eternity this way, they never would have freely chosen to reject selfish desires in exchange for Christ.