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The most common explanation I heard from Christians for the theodicy is that suffering is caused inevitably by the free will of humans. The argument is essentially that a world without suffering is impossible when you allow free will, as you can't prevent humans from causing harm to each other.

In heaven, there is supposed to be no suffering at all. How can that notion be reconciled with the free will argument? Do the humans in heaven have no free will, and are therefore unable to cause harm to each other? Or is it possible to create a world without suffering even when granting free will to the humans living in it?

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Similarly, in heaven there is supposed to be no sin. Sin is a result of bad choices made through free will. I've wondered this myself. –  Richard Aug 30 '11 at 21:34
Awesome question. –  Chance Dec 5 '11 at 21:31
Free will + selfish desires is the cause of suffering. Free will alone is not the cause. –  Monkieboy Feb 13 '13 at 9:12
Many good thoughts. I'm surprised nobodies straight up mentioned how Lucifer (Satan) was once the angel of light until he chose to rebel, Isaiah 14: 12-14. For me, this is the easiest example showing free will in heaven. –  jAce Sep 15 '14 at 21:30

12 Answers 12

Once we attain heaven, we will be given a new nature, purged of our old sinful nature.

2 Peter 1:4 (NIV)

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Once we escape this corruption, we will gain the sinless state of Jesus.

1 John 3:5-6 (NIV)

5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NASB)

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Now, while Jesus was free from sin, he also had free will:

John 10:17-18 (NIV)

17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

So, there will be no sin in heaven. This isn't because we don't have free will, but rather because we simply won't sin. It won't be in our nature. Just like now, it's not in our nature to fly. So then, it won't be in our nature to sin.

However, there will be freedom in heaven:

2 Corinthians 3:17 (NASB)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Clearly, there is freedom in the Lord. We don't loose our freedom simply because we're in heaven.

One final note is a simple call to logic: How can heaven be paradise if we lose our freedom and free will?

One way to think about this is a world where sin isn't an option. Partially because it's not in our nature and partially because it's not available to us. Imagine, for example, life in the Garden of Eden, but without the snake.

There is no reason to sin. There is no need to sin. There is no desire to sin. Yet there is complete free will.

(Note that I give this as a simple way to reconcile this in our minds, not as an actual answer. Because in truth, free will allows for sin. But, in heaven there will not be any sin--per my answer above.)

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I couldn't have put it better myself. –  Robert Haraway Aug 30 '11 at 23:07
-Removed a bunch of comments that were addressed in (and in regards to) this question- –  Richard Sep 16 '11 at 20:15
@Richard Does that imply the snake was the reason humans committed the Original Sin? –  user729 Oct 3 '11 at 22:36
Doesn't this contradict the free will response to the "problem of evil"? If God can create a world with free will and without evil, then why did he create one with evil? –  Brendan Long Aug 23 '12 at 19:50
Did you know you have a new nature now? it's the new man birth in you. You have the mind of Christ. But when we get born again we live the way the old man did. We need to renew our minds to the new creation. –  Matt Nov 25 '13 at 22:32

When the world was first created, humans (Adam and Eve) had free will and there was no suffering. It was through their decision to disobey God that they allowed evil to enter the world.

I believe that there will be free will in Heaven. By trusting our souls to Jesus now, we are in the process of being changed. I believe when the time comes I will be completely cleansed of my desire to do evil. I also believe this is a part of why we must be faithful to Jesus and those who are not will not be admitted into Heaven. God will not for you to abandon your evil desires if you do not want to; this would remove your free will.

I do believe being cleansed of my evil desires does not negate the idea of free will since it is my heart's desire to be free of evil.

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Yes, people in Heaven will have true free will - but it will not be a free will that allows them to sin.

People living under sin are described in the bible as being enslaved to sin. Thus true freedom is not freedom to sin but freedom to serve God and not sin. Be aware that freedom does not equal autonomy.

Does God have a free will? Yes, otherwise he would not be God. However, his character is such that he does not sin. It's like saying, that I don't have a free will because I cannot choose to swim in the sea and not drown. It is in my character such that I cannot do it.

So you might say well if we have a free will in heaven then surely we'd be able to sin. The point here is that one becomes a Christian precisely because one does not want to sin and wants to be free from the power of sin to enslave us. One wants to be free to choose not to sin. Heaven will be where this desire is fully realised and we will no longer be enslaved to sin and thus have a truly free will.

Another illustration I can use is that of a stray dog. Is the dog free while stray? If I take in the stray dog the dog would have certain constraints placed on it, the dog would have to listen to my commands. However, the dog would be well fed and warm at night. When it was a stray it was enslaved to finding food, that was its sole purpose in life. Now that it is no longer a slave, surely now it is truly free? Even though it is no longer allowed to do whatever it likes?

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The dog is freeER, but not yet completely free. Whether you restraint be a "necessity of life" like food or a "desire to sin", they both are restraints which restraint freedom. –  Shawn Aug 31 '11 at 5:48
Rather than "It is in my character such that I cannot do it", I would say "It is simply not in my nature to be able to do it". –  Lawrence Dol Aug 31 '11 at 6:26
Excellent answer, though the analogy is weak; I think it might be better without it. –  Lawrence Dol Aug 31 '11 at 6:28
As I have said in another answer: "Freedom from the law is not freedom to break the law, but freedom to obey the law in all it's meaning because I no longer desire in my heart to break the law" –  Lawrence Dol Aug 31 '11 at 6:31

It is difficult to use specific scriptures off hand to answer this question. However, I will try to take an approach that takes into consideration that as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.

In the beginning Adam and his wife (before being named as Eve) were without sin, and and still had free will, as we see demonstrated in God having Adam name the animals and reason that there was nothing suitable for him.

Even after the introduction of sin, we see from Enoch, that man retained his free will to choose to turn back to God in the presence of sin.

From this concept, it make sense to me then to postulate that we will have free will in heaven, just this free will, will be a will "free of sin".

(My apologies for the will, will, will)

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I don't think you really answered how this can be reconciled with the free will argument for the problem of evil. –  Peter Olson Aug 31 '11 at 1:59

Yes, just as Adam and Eve and Jesus and Mary (New Adam and new Eve) had freewill yet were without original sin, we'll have freewill.

Just as the good angels made their decision to stay with God and not fall, yet are totally compelled by their intellect, we'll have freewill

The difference is, as Jonathan Byrd pointed out, that we don't have to fight against original sin to overcome our passions.

Some more info from EWTN

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Your basic premises was incorrect. It is true that human free will causes suffering, but not in isolation.

Normally, when we Christians talk of free will and suffering, we do so in context to the world in which we live. It's like discussing chemistry and forgetting to mention the air because it's assumed to be there.

A truer equation would be

Free Will + Sin= Suffering

In heaven, the sin will be gone, and thus free will will no longer cause suffering.

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+1 for the formula - nice analysis :-) –  Tomas Feb 11 '12 at 16:11
but anyway it should be sin = suffering; where sin is_subset_of free will :-) –  Tomas Feb 11 '12 at 16:13

I do not know of any scripture that would back this up. However I can tell you that after you're reborn your nature changes. I believe that in heaven our core nature will not be to do evil, but instead to do good.

We would have to fight against our good nature in order to do evil.

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OK so to answer this we first must look at a few different things. First we must answer the question why do we suffer. We suffer because of the sin we created in this world in Genesis 3. It is true that this could only happen because of free will BUT free will itself did not create suffering. Sin is the reason for our suffering. If we look at Adam and Eve in genesis before the fall they had free will but did not suffer. In face they had a face to face relationship to God. Next we need to answer why do we have free will. Is it by design or a fluke. The answer is by design. We were created to worship God and if we didnt have free will would our worship be authentic or just what was programmed into us. Probably the latter. Since we are sinners we all worship something but most of the time we miss the mark and worship something else like money or ourselves. When we do this we suffer.

Next lets look at what we call free will today. Today our free will is tainted by our sin. Paul talks about not being able to do what he wants to do but instead doing what he doesn't want to do. He gives us the basis for what is called limited will. This is where when we have a choice we can only choose to sin. But through the Holy Spirit we do good, not by our own will but by God's. Once we understand this we long for the day when we truly have free will and can choose God ourselves.

Now lets look at salvation and heaven and what we know about that. First we know that through Jesus our sins are wiped clean. So for the first time ever we will be without sin (since we are all born into sin we were never sinless in this world) second we know that when Jesus returns we will share in his resurrection. (This includes resurrection of the body as well) an we will join in with the angels in worship. The question begs will we have a choice in this worship. Here is what I believe: when face to face with God we will want nothing other than to worship him. When faced with choosing between perfection and sin we will choose perfection. God will not take away our free will but since we will be perfect we will be able to choose something other than sin because free will is one thing that makes us fearfully and wonderfully made.

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Good thoughts. This answer would be a lot better if you could mention what this view is called and what part of Christianity believes this way. What view are you representing here? –  Caleb Sep 30 '12 at 18:31

Freedom within limits

Freewill always exists within limits, e.g., the limitations and quirks of our minds, etc. This does not nullify freewill.

Freedom in heaven might be limited in certain ways (e.g., the ability to sin is taken away) but that is not to say it is nullified completely. People might not be free to choose evil but they are free to choose between any good and neutral actions.

People who land up in heaven – Christians – have thoroughly abdicated their desire to do evil. They spend their lives resisting, hating, eliminating sin and praying to God for this. They choose to give up the choice to sin.

Thus, in heaven, the limits of our freewill change, but there is still freewill within these limits. Freedom to go where they will, to choose what good things (or neutral things) to do, but they will never again be tempted to do evil; this is a tremendous relief to believers.

This stands to reason. Life is the test; those people in heaven have passed the test and no longer need to be tested. The test has ended completely in heaven.

The alternative does not stand to reason: It would be somewhat cruel to kick people out of the presence of God (which would be the inevitable result of sin) after them having suffered to get there, and then sent to…hell? Or some sort of purgatory? And God possibly losing believers here and there for eternity? No.

There is, in any case, less reason to sin in heaven: people will lack nothing, need nothing, want nothing. They will have God – which is, literally, everything. They will have unending joy in the presence of God; beside this everything else is meaningless.

A free world without suffering?

In light of this, it is possible to create a world with freewill and without suffering. This would be a world where no-one could choose evil (or the evil would not have bad consequences and would, then, not really be evil). If people were put straight into this world, they might seem perfectly good, when they might have been perfectly wicked if they were given the chance. These perfectly wicked people would seemingly be rewarded by God forever. (Not desirable for an all-good God.)

Instead of this, God removed us from himself to be tested in the free world with evil and suffering. Those who pass the test go on to the free world without suffering. Testing freedom, before rewarding freedom - simple no?

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The Latter-Day Saints believe that free-will, or "free-agency" as they call it, existed before the creation of the Earth, and will exist in the afterlife. I'll state now that the teachings below are unique to LDS doctrine, and the Church has been attacked by other denominations for such teachings.

The scripture below is from the Book of Mormon, and helps explain why God had to sacrifice his Son;

Alma 42:13;

13 Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.

This is what largely separates the LDS from the rest of Christianity; the concept that God can lose his power. He could have chosen to show only mercy, and disobey the laws of justice, but to do so would have caused him to loose his power and cease to be God (how that is possible is another question that I don't have time to go into here). Of course this would never have happened, because God is omnipotent, having a perfect knowledge of all things, but the fact that he could have chosen to disobey the laws of justice suggest that there is in fact free-will in heaven.

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Individuals "in heaven" are, by definition, perfect.

In perfection, one possesses the ability to do evil but no desire to do so; this is because one can plainly perceive Unity and sees that harming others is to harm one's own self. One lives the experience of Christ-consciousness, seeing Christ in everyone and everything. There is no lack, and therefore no cause to do evil.

Free will remains, but the individual possessing it is no longer limited. Only those separated from God are capable of wrong action.

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When I think of death, I like to think of the "Soul separating from the body" image. What would it be like? Well, no ingoing or outgoing information since I no longer have a body to do these things with. With the exception of God, because He communicates through the soul, not the body. Once this exclusive connection to God has taken place, I can lose any desire for evil and I obtain true freedom.

This doesn't exclude pain or suffering, but that depends on what God and I have to "say to each other". If I have done Good all my life, my thoughts will be Good and I won't "live" with regret. I would have no desire to sin (nor the possibility). Also God will be happy and proud of me. This would be Paradise (Free will, no suffering). If I have done Bad all my life, I will spend eternity regretting it. Also, God might be kind of angry, hence the possible suffering (Hell: Forget the free will here, I suppose)

P.S I have absolutely no "literature" to back this up

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Note, that when we are resurrected it will be bodily - see 1 Co 15. This is an absolutely vital tenant of Christian faith; as Paul said "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.". And Jesus was raised with an incorruptible, glorified body "Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." –  Lawrence Dol Aug 31 '11 at 6:40

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