Four items appear below

1   Free Will in Heaven
2   Assumption of Heaven
3   Assuming the Assumption
4   Assuming the Assumption – A Reply

Free Will in Heaven

Bruce Bennie

(Investigator 139, 2011 July)

In my article on 'Goodness and Evil' (Investigator #134), I put forward the view that to allow human free will to operate provides a significant reason as to why God allows evil and why we experience it. That is, to be fully human is to have the capacity to be morally and rationally responsible. Kevin Rogers (Investigator # 135) responded that "Christianity offers the hope of a new world order (heaven), where there will be no evil. Will there be free-will in heaven? If so, how can God prevent the re-emergence of evil?"

This is a question that surfaces quickly when Christians consider the role of free will in choosing between right and wrong. If such an ability constitutes an essence of the image of God within us, and if that image is to be perfected in Heaven, then how can we find ourselves without free will? Yet, if there is free will in Heaven, how can we guarantee that we will not, at some stage in eternity, use that free will to choose evil once again? It is this uncertainty that causes Christians concern with the idea and this uncertainty focuses around the 'risk' we may choose evil over the good. Indeed many struggle to understand why God allowed this element of risk in the first place.

Thiselton draws from the late Australian philosopher, J. L. Mackie, in acknowledging that "for God to create Adam and Eve was a 'hell of a risk'…when divine foreknowledge would tell what (at least) might occur…a more restricted 'freedom' could have ensured conditions for 'right action' with less risk." (Thiselton, 2002, p. 109).

On the whole, many of us prefer situations where there is less risk. But to find a way of a 'more restricted freedom' can confront us with the question of determinism. Craig defines determinism as "for every event that happens, there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could have happened…its happening was caused or necessitated by prior factors" (Moreland and Craig 2003, p. 268). If God had arranged a world 'where nothing else could have happened' and fashioned it where only good moral choices were possible and evil was not a possibility, then good moral choices would have become the ruling factor. In light of the extent of evil and suffering in this world, would that not have been a better choice on God's behalf?

Yet many believe we also have libertarian free will, which holds that for one to be truly free, we must have control over our actions and our will. If we have to choose between options or possibilities there is nothing determining how we will make that choice. Rather than a choice that happens as a response to predetermined factors, a libertarian choice originates solely from our own 'casual powers'.

Is Mackie right and would some form of determinism have been a more successful way for God to keep the potential for evil from escalating to the extent we have seen in human experience?  Is libertarian free will the cause of all our problems, a sort of moral loose canon within the heart of humanity from whence comes the problem of evil?

Determinism would carry the idea of 'less risk' but libertarian free will conveys what we really prefer. For a hard line, absolute determinism where all events are pre-determined or caused by another agency or influence would appear to rob people of being responsible agents, accountable for their actions. But it would affect other things as well. Receiving praise or assigning blame would become meaningless. And if every event was determined by other factors, we would simply have to resign ourselves to playing the hand of cards we were dealt. So again, we are back to acknowledging that to be fully human appears to require we have something like libertarian free will. Yet some Christians are concerned that if God is sovereign, and determines everything, does  libertarian free will usurp that sovereignty? In answering this, Geisler responds: "It is sufficient to note that God sovereignly delegated free choice to some of his creatures. There was no necessity for him to do so; he exercised his free will…Only absolute freedom would be contrary to God's absolute sovereignty. But human free will is a limited freedom. Humans are not free to become God themselves. A contingent being cannot become a Necessary Being" (Geisler 1999, p. 263).    

If God's sovereign rule is absolute, but human free will is not, then it suggests that some things may in fact be determined. Is there a middle way between these two sides?

Compatibilism appears to provide a middle road through complete determinism and unrestricted freedom. It allows a measure of both to operate with the view that both are in fact compatible – freedom is not completely determined, nor is it completely free of any predetermined factors. God still has sovereign control while allowing human beings as morally responsible beings.

Yet there is still more involved than just wanting to reduce the risk of choosing evil. Having a free will also radically affects the kind of relationships we can have. For genuine love, trust and affection to arise in a free being it must not be compelled. It is the Christian view, Hick affirms, that human beings should have a relationship with their Creator, and that any worship or obedience that was not freely given would lack any real value in God's eyes. "We should, in relation to God, be mere puppets, precluded from entering into any truly personal relationship with Him" (Hick 1968, p. 308-310). It is seen then as logically impossible for God to receive free, un-forced love from human beings while already having put conditions into place that would force such a response. To be forced to love God is not to be free to love God. Indeed, is true love ever forced?

Yet what if the choice to love or to rebel against God was at last fully and finally removed? Certainly it is free will that is involved in making that choice to love or reject, but what if that particular choice was one that no longer had to be made by human beings? What if the choice made in this life concerning people's response to God (for or against) was the choice people were eternally confirmed in. Certainly for some this would raise the question of those who were, because of mental illness, unable to make a decision in this area, or those who had never heard the gospel, or those who hold a universalist view that God would make it possible for everyone to be restored into the divine presence, but for now, let us consider this question in the broad strokes.   

What if there awaits in Heaven the full flush reality of what theologians have referred to as the Beautific Vision, a vision so all-consuming it would encompass all and any possible worlds? Where human beings would consciously enter into the presence of an omniscient, omnipresent, Necessary Being who was pure actuality in terms of knowledge, coherence and morality. A Being not contingent upon any other but fully realised, sufficient in itself, inexhaustible and unlimited in mind, nature and power, and sustaining all things? Where the 'hiddeness of God' was finally and irrevocably revealed?  

And here we discover the 'hope of a new world order' Kevin spoke of. Here, Christians affirm, is the hope of the gospel fully realised - Christ in you the hope of glory (Colossians 3:4). For it shall be in Heaven that Christians will share fully in Christ's nature, and as Christ gave himself completely to the glory of God, even so shall believers desire to know nothing other than that same glory. The free choice to choose Christ on this earth will yield its full reward in his presence in eternity. The presence of God will expel all darkness from the human heart and God will dwell in us and we in him. Any action taken that would violate that relationship, to choose against God or to operate outside of him, will be finally seen to have a vileness that makes it repulsive. It will be like the betrayal experienced when one partner commits adultery against the other. But the hope of this 'new world order' is that we will no longer desire to live outside of the immediate presence and knowledge of God, there will be no other alternatives that will have any appeal or pull on us. The nature of Christ, to which we will be inseparably bound and infinitely content, will be the guarantee that we will not choose evil in heaven.  Indeed, we have as much desire to sin in Heaven as Christ had to sin on earth. Which Christians believe was no desire whatsoever.

 In the light of such a 'Vision', would there be any choice left to make? Would there be any choice possible? Could we become entirely objective, unbiased and calmly decide the issue of God's existence with a detached air of rational consideration? Would that capacity be available to us anymore? Would we discover we have already chosen in this regard after all? Yet will God, who has created body and mind, soul and spirit, have also made a path where determinism and freedom will find their perfect expression?

Christians believe that what will constitute the ruling reality of Heaven will be the full expression of God's divine nature and glory. All eternal life, power and strength will flow out of that nature and glory, and all joy, adoration and purpose will be found as a response to it. So the nature of Heaven will be fully determined by the very Being of God. Yet free will can exist in that such a Being will be freely embraced in adoration and delight, from which no dissent or separation will again be sought or desired. It may be more the case than not that Heaven will indeed allow a compatibilist response, where a free act is one "that is causally determined but done voluntarily" (Pojman 1998: p. 257). Augustine's confession will at last have become every believer's eternal experience, that "you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you" (Augustine 1961 ed;  p 21).

Yet some may ask if God's direct presence banished darkness, why did Lucifer and a third of the angels choose to rebel against God and fall from Heaven? It may be for the same reason Adam and Eve were given a choice to obey in the Garden, a choice that had by necessity to be allowed each human being. For if God is truly the Being that has captivated the attention of theologians, stirred up the probing questions of philosophers, and garnered the worship of countless human beings throughout history, then the 'hiddeness of God' could be seen to be the very protection of the ability to make a free will choice in the first place.

Now for some reading these words it will perhaps seem to be mere fantasy. They may protest that talk of a Necessary Being does not give immediate licence to equate such a Being with the God of the Bible. Issues involving the historicity of Jesus may surface or questions regarding the reliability of the Biblical records. And these are all valid questions and will no doubt continue to fuel contributions to the Investigator for many issues to come.  But for the purposes of this article I have endeavoured to look at the Christian 'hope' Kevin Rogers spoke of and suggest some thoughts as to how free will may exist in Heaven without sin becoming an inevitable recurrence.


Augustine, St. 1961 ed, Confessions, trans. R. S.  Pine-Coffin, Penguin Books, England.

Geisler, N 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Hick, J 1968, Evil and the God of Love, Collins, London.

Moreland, J P and Craig, W L 2003, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, IVP, Illinois.

Pojman, Louis P 1998, Philosophy of Religion An Anthology, 3rd ed, Wadsworth Publishing, New York.

Thisleton, A 2002, A Concise Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Religion, Oneworld Publications, Oxford.


(Investigator 140, 2011 September)

I read Bruce Bennie's article Free Will in Heaven (No. 139, page 57), and although I found it interesting it reminded me of a Medieval scholastic discussing the properties of unicorn horn. Said scholastic should have first obtained proof that unicorns existed before putting quill to parchment.

I apologise to Bruce if this comment comes across as being rather blunt. But really, what evidence is there that humans can survive death, and that there is a heaven to which souls can go?

If Bruce replies I hope he isn't going to bombard us with Biblical quotations. All this can prove is that a particular person believed a particular thing at a particular point in time.

Kirk Straughen

'Assuming' the Assumption' –
A Reply to Kirk Straughen

Bruce Bennie

(Investigator 141, 2011 November)

Kirk Straughen responded to my article concerning free will in Heaven (#139) with a reply entitled 'Assumption of Heaven' (#140). Kirk made the observation that I reminded him of a medieval scholar pondering the properties of a unicorn, the thought being there seemed as much evidence for the existence of a unicorn as there was for Heaven.  That is, none. 

It was a side bar from addressing the issue of moral beings responding to God, and did not address that issue. But I took it that Kirk was not focusing on that point as such, but this business of 'assumptions'. After all, it is hard to delight over holding opera tickets to a theatre that doesn't exist. Why worry about the implications of free will in Heaven if we don't have any hard evidence Heaven is actually there? Kirk rejects we have any such evidence and so any discussion of Heaven's role in terms of morality or life after death is simply an assumption on my part. 

Philosopher Peter Kreeft has looked at this issue of Heaven, and addresses twenty nine objections to Heaven's existence. In looking at objection 2, he considers the argument that there is no scientific evidence for Heaven. In reply he writes “the objector assumes that whatever there is no scientific evidence for, does not exist…But there is no scientific evidence for that assumption; it cannot be proved by the scientific method. It is simply an assumption – in fact, it is an arbitrary decision and desire to narrow the bounds of reality to the bounds of the scientific method. It is a decision of the will, not the intellect” (Kreeft, p. 264).

Assumptions form a part of our worldview. Because our worldviews are shaped by our perceptions, early education and community expectations, we often simply assume this is indeed how the world operates. So there often appears to be little reason to examine or evaluate our views, until life experience raises new questions or they suddenly clash with another's view of the world and we are forced to face our unexamined assumptions. If we assume the scientific method is the most reliable way of gaining knowledge, or that without airtight evidence the whole case is not worthy of any serious investigation, then we are making assumptions of our own.  That assumption is what Timothy Keller refers to as 'strong rationalism' (Keller, p. 128). But where do we find the airtight evidence that assures us that only a 'strong rationalism' can provide us with the only knowledge worth knowing?

Certainly those demanding airtight proof for God's existence will be continually frustrated. It can seem as if God does play 'hide and seek' with his creation. Some can assert there is no proof for the simple reason God does not exist. But here again is the assumption that no proof of existence must mean no existence. Tim Keller, in talking with a young scientist who was frustrated that no proof of God could rationally survive all counter arguments, put aside this business of 'proofs' and viewed the classic arguments rather as 'clues' (Keller, p. 128). To regard the existence of a fine-tuned universe, the regularity of nature, the impression that the world seemed to have been fashioned with human beings in mind, and a moral sense within human beings of all races, could stand as clues that pointed toward the existence of a God. And we are free to ask what worldview best explains all these 'clues'?

These clues have fascinated and engaged people of all walks of life for thousands of years, and continue to do so. Not with the force to overwhelm us, but enough to woo our thoughts to turn toward the big questions of life. It is almost as if the human heart has a receiver that picks up this 'signal' from a far distant shore, that can never be found on a map, or in a test tube, but seems to be echoing from the world and universe around us.

It is the assumptions we will make about that signal that will determine how we will evaluate the clues.


Peter Kreeft, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Inter Varsity Press, Illinois, 1994.

Timothy Keller, The Reason For God, Belief in an Age of Scepticism, Hodder, England, 2009.


Reply To Bruce Bennie On Heaven

(Investigator 142, 2012 January)

I have read Bruce's reply (No. 141, page 54) to my comments concerning heaven. Unfortunately, he hasn't offered any evidence for the existence of heaven. Rather (in my opinion) he seeks to obfuscate the issue by claiming that lack of proof isn't evidence that God and heaven don't exist, and implies that their existence is possible for this reason:

Certainly those demanding airtight proof for God's existence will be continually frustrated. It can seem as if God does play 'hide and seek' with his creation. Some can assert there is no proof for the simple reason God does not exist. But here again is the assumption that no proof of existence must mean no existence. (Page 55)

Is this argument convincing? I shall modify the above quotation and let my readers be the judge:

Certainly those demanding airtight proof for the existence of unicorns will be continually frustrated. It can seem as if unicorns do play 'hide and seek' with those looking for them. Some can assert there is no proof for the simple reason unicorns do not exist. But here again is the assumption that no proof of existence must mean no existence.

Have I proven unicorns exist by this verbal sleight of hand? Have I shown that the existence of unicorns is even probable? If this kind of argument isn't convincing for unicorns then why should it be convincing for heaven?

Kirk Straughen