Bart Ehrman’s fourth objection to the free will defense is this: “Most people who believe in God-given free will also believe in an afterlife. Presumably people in the afterlife will still have free will (they won’t be robots then either, will they?). And yet there won’t be suffering (allegedly) then. Why will people know how to exercise free will in heaven if they can’t know how to exercise it on earth?” (12-13). This is a common question and there are several reasons we can have free will in Heaven but not sin.
There’s much to say on this, but I’ll be brief here.
First, the Bible says that one day all the things that cause sin will be destroyed: “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mat. 13:41). This includes Satan and his minions, as well as all those who tasted of good and evil and ultimately chose evil. (Rev. 20:10, 13). There will be a new earth (Rev. 21:1) so that the corruptions of this earth will be forever gone; we will no longer be “one-click” from evil. Our bodies will be redeemed and we will no longer know the lusts of the flesh. (Phil. 3:21). But God waits to accomplish these things until all those who will come to Him, come. (2 Pet. 3:9).
Second, the eternal punishment of the eternally unrepentant will serve as an eternal reminder of the peril and horror of sin.
Third, I suspect that lessons learned here and at the Judgment will make sin too ridiculous to commit.1 In other words, God couldn’t just create beings with a significantly free will and not let them ever use it wrongly, but that doesn’t mean that this world and all the evil we experience here won’t be sufficient, in conjunction with the other things I just mentioned, to make us realize that sin is something we simply won’t want to do—ever.
I use the following illustration when I teach. I will hold a pen, or other sharp object, up to my eye and ask the class if they would like to see me jab it into my eye?2 Holding the pen even closer I’ll stress, “I could do it!” Then I’ll ask, “But I’m not going to. Do you know why?” No one ever answers. Finally I tell them, “I’m not going to do it because I’m too smart for that; that would be stupid thing to do.” Consider that we don’t give pens to babies because, sure enough, sooner or later they’d jab them into their eyes. But, even if I lived a billion years on this earth (as long as I still had all my marbles), I would never, ever, intentionally jab a pen into my eye because I know that would be stupid.
That is what is going on in this world. We are learning to distinguish between good and evil (Heb. 5:14). We are learning that sin is not only rebellion but that sin is stupid, hurtful, hateful, and counterproductive. We are learning that God is right, was right, and always will be right. And at the Judgment, where everyone’s evil thoughts and deeds will be exposed, we are going to get an amazing education about the horror of sin. In other words, this life prepares us to be able to use our free will responsibly in Heaven. Just like so many rebellious teenagers, we are learning the hard way—through experience—that our Heavenly Father has been right all along.
And finally, in Heaven, those who persevere in their faith, having learned here that rebellion is inane and insane, will see God who will give them the Kingdom (2 Thess. 1:5; Luke 12:32) where:
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. ~Revelation 22:3-5
- William Lane Craig makes a similar point in a debate with Ray Bradley. Bradly asked why God didn’t just create heaven and forego this world.
Craig: “No, Heaven may not be a possible world when you take it in isolation by itself. It may be that the only way in which God could actualize a heaven of free creatures all worshiping Him and not falling into sin would be by having, so to speak, this run-up to it, this advance life during which there is a veil of decision-making in which some people choose for God and some people against God. Otherwise you don’t know that heaven is an actualizable world. You have no way of knowing that possibility.”
Bradley: “You’re saying, in effect, that when I characterize heaven as a possible world in which everybody freely receives Christ, I’m wrong insofar as that had to be preceded by this actual world, this world of vale of tears and woe in which people are sinful and the like.”
Craig: “I’m saying that it may not be feasible for God to actualize heaven in isolation from such an antecedent world.” See: http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-bradley3.html [↩]
- I got this illustration from a doctoral class I took years ago from Dallas Willard. [↩]