Will I Be Able to Sin in Heaven?
Christians often say they long for heaven and for the day when the battle with sin will finally be over. But, if we are no longer able to sin in heaven, does that also mean we will no longer have free will? And, if this is the case, what are the implications concerning the character of God and what heaven will actually be like?
This week, Vince and Jo delve into what it means to be free and whether or not the ability to choose between good and evil is necessary for a meaningful life in relationship with God.
Question Asked in This Episode:
"In heaven will we be able to choose evil, if not how will we still be free?"
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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis.
Michael Davis: For those who are in Christ, the war against sin can oftentimes feel like a losing battle. We pray for the day that the sin in our lives becomes no more. We long for a time where the desires in our hearts are no longer affected by the flesh and reflect those of Christ. Yet this brings up an interesting question, once this is a reality, will we even be able to sin? If not, will this mean that we won't actually have free will in heaven? If this is true, what are the implications for what heaven will actually be like?
Michael Davis: But before we get started, Jo, can you tell our listeners why they should prayerfully consider supporting RZIM by visiting rzim.org/give?
Jo Vitale: Well, it's been so exciting to be a part of RZIM over the last few years, and just the way that God has been at work through it and it's grown...Obviously, originally it all began with Ravi Zacharias and how there are over a hundred speakers worldwide involved in this ministry. And what's so thrilling about it is the doors of opportunity that God is opening for our team to go and share the gospel in places that you just think you wouldn't get a hearing, whether it's new secular university campuses, or the marketplace, in businesses, or in political arenas, in the arts and entertainment, all these different places that we couldn't go if God hadn't made a way for us. But that's been so exciting, both to help the thinker believe and also to help the believer think, and that's the second part of RZIM's goal is really to help train and equip Christians to answer those difficult questions that we're all having to face and engage with in our culture today.
Jo Vitale: So we're passionate both about equipping believers, but also about helping people come to see just the beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so in order to do that, we do need support. We're so thankful for those who are just...It's like a whole family of people who come alongside us and support this ministry in a variety of ways, and we couldn't do it without people's generosity and their giving. And I love that as a speaker for this team feeling like we're not just in it alone. It's not just the speakers who are doing it, but we're the body of Christ in it together. And actually what has so encouraged me is the number of times that someone has come up to Vince or I, who we've actually never met face to face, and told us that they pray for us every single week, and that just blows me away, that kind of care and spiritual support from people that we don't even know. So we really feel loved and helped by people all over the world. We're so thankful for your support. And I would encourage you if you haven't supported RZIM, please do consider that because it's exciting the ways that the Lord is working through this ministry and we'd love to have you alongside us in that work.
Michael Davis: Again, if you'd like to give, just go to rzim.org/give.
Michael Davis: Okay, today's question comes from Lavonne. "In heaven, will we be able to choose evil? If not, how will we still be free?"
Michael Davis: That's a tough question.
Vince Vitale: It is a tough question. Thanks, Lavonne, for sending it in, and I think it's a really significant question as well. On first read, it can seem a bit abstract, quite philosophical, can we choose evil in heaven? If not, will we still be free? But I think it's actually quite concrete and practical as well because it gets to this question of is heaven going to be significant? Is heaven going to be meaningful? Is heaven something that I should look forward to? If there's no freedom in heaven, then in what sense could it be meaningful and significant? And if I'm not looking forward to heaven, if I'm not looking forward to my destiny, then will I be motivated to passionately pursue it?
Vince Vitale: Simple example, but I always thought the Grand Canyon was going to be underwhelming relative to the documentaries and the postcards I had already seen. I just thought, "Oh, it's so amazing on the photographs, it couldn't be that good in person," and so because of that, I never made plans or looked for opportunities to go and see it. When I finally did, it blew my mind and I was like, "Whoa. If I had known I would have passionately pursued going and seeing this." So it's important for us to have an understanding of heaven, which is accurate and one that actually captures our imagination and we say, "Yeah, that's a destiny I'm excited about and therefore I want to prepare myself to be in a state of heart and mind where when I meet my maker face to face, I'm where I should be to really enjoy that communion to the fullest extent."
Jo Vitale: It's just an interesting question, not just in terms of heaven, but the implications that it has for our life now. Because one of the things we often talk about when it comes to the question of why is there suffering in this world is we say, "Oh, because you need to have free will in order for love to exist." So if it's the case that you're not free in heaven, you're not free to choose evil, therefore, can you choose good? Therefore, can there be love in heaven?" And if we're saying there can still be love in heaven, if heaven is a place where we're finally in the relationship with God that we were made for, a relationship of eternal love, then does that defeat the free will defense here on earth if we're saying it's possible in heaven to have love and not be free in the sense that Lavonne is talking about, then wouldn't that also be possible here as well? And therefore, does that argument work? So it not only has implications for the future, but also how we think about our experience of life now. So I think it's a very complex and interesting question.
Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's great. And I was thinking as well that sometimes we tend to not be happy with God either way. So if he gave us free will here and, because of that, that inevitably caused evil, then we're frustrated with him. But also if in a different state, he doesn't give us free will and we don't get evil, well then we're frustrated with him because we don't have the free will. So that's important for us to identify as well, sometimes God has two options and we're telling him we're not happy with either option. Sometimes we make it pretty difficult to be God. It's not an easy position to be in and it's good for us to recognize that.
Jo Vitale: We'll complain either way. It's also an interesting question because, at least reflecting on the past, we know that there's a sense in which certainly there was a time when the angelic beings had some kind of choice because otherwise where does Satan come from? We talk about an angelic fool, there's evidence for that in the Bible, and therefore, certainly at some state there was choice in heaven. People were in the presence of God and yet Satan, he chose to fall away. So that begs the question, does that therefore mean that when you're in heaven there is always a choice whether to be with God or not? Or, was it the case that, like it is here on earth, that angels had a certain period of time or a certain state where they had the choice whether to follow God or not, but then that apparently changed and the same takes place for us as well. So it kind of has layers, this question.
Vince Vitale: And just to complicate it a bit further, if being free requires being able to choose evil, then God is not free. And then that calls into question whether he can be praiseworthy for his actions. So if God is free, in the significant sense of that term, then it seems to me it must be possible to be meaningfully free without having the possibility to choose evil. And I think we can, as we begin to think about this a little further, see that that's the case. A lot of people would define freedom as the ability to choose between alternatives, the ability to choose between more than one option, but freedom, even on that sense, does not require that one of the options be evil. Tonight, Jo and I will decide what to eat for dinner, there are multiple good options-
Jo Vitale: There are some bad ones.
Vince Vitale: There are some bad ones. That's hurting my analogy.
Michael Davis: Popeye's Chicken, right?
Vince Vitale: And you may be right and I'm not sure what's in the fridge.
Michael Davis: There's one evil choice.
Vince Vitale: This may all be hypothetical, but supposing that we have a number of good options, and only good options in the fridge, we're still free to make a choice about what we're going to eat tonight. There doesn't have to be a bad option in order for us to make a free choice, and this could still be a more meaningful choice then that type of choice. If you're choosing how to celebrate someone on their birthday, there might be something deeply meaningful in the way that you choose to do that, but you may be choosing between several good options. It doesn't have to be that you're choosing to celebrate in one way as opposed to an evil choice. You're just choosing intentionally to do something that's good, and that itself is meaningful.
Jo Vitale: It's also an interesting question, what do we mean by free? There's a sense in which Vince and I are committed to one another in marriage, this kind of goes along with your analogy, we're not free therefore to just go and date anybody else because we've already made a commitment to be with one another in marriage. But we certainly have a lot of freedom within marriage in the ways that we express our love for each other. So free in some ways, not in others. Is that detrimental to us as human beings, to our experience, or is that actually a good thing? Are there sensors in which limitations on freedom can be a good thing? Because at the end of the day, all of our freewill is cattail to some degree. Even if we have free choice over certain things, there are limitations to what we can and can't do. We don't just have every single option on the table. So we're always living, in a sense, with some kind of limitations to our free will. The question is, does it look different in heaven than it does here on earth?
Vince Vitale: And there are a lot of ways to talk about this concept of freedom, but Isaiah Berlin spoke of a freedom from and a freedom too, which I find helpful. Freedom from is a sort of negative freedom. It's freedom from external constraints that bear in on you, freedom from any parameters or influences, obligations or responsibilities. It's really autonomy, autonomy to do whatever you want, whenever you want to because there are no constraints on the way that you act. And when I think about that type of freedom, I think thank God that he doesn't give us that type of freedom. Imagine for a moment that you had absolutely full autonomy, that you could do whatever you wanted to do whenever you wanted to do it, what would happen? And I find that a scary thought if every time I had an evil desire or an evil thought just by thinking about it, just by wishing it, I could make it reality, there were no parameters around the type of evil that my thoughts and my desires could translate into. Freedom from doesn't always lead to something great, and so a limitation on freedom is not always a bad thing. Constraint can actually sometimes lead to the best forms of freedom.
Vince Vitale: And you see the way so often people who are very excellent at what they do are so excellent precisely because they've put constraints and parameters around themselves, the concert pianist, the Olympic athlete. The Olympic athlete puts all sorts of constraints on the way they're going to eat, they're going to train, they're going to structure their day. They take away some of those freedoms in one sense, but so that they will have a freedom to, not the negative freedom of freedom from, but the positive freedom of a freedom to be what they've been called to be, the freedom to step into the fullness of what God has for you. That seems to me to be the most significant form of freedom.
Michael Davis: How much do you guys think preference plays into this, especially in regards to what heaven might be like? Like right now I have the freewill to leave my family and start living on the streets, my preference is not that. How much do you think the preference with the new heavens and the new earth, or being in heaven, how much do you think preference would potentially play into that?
Jo Vitale: Yeah, I think that's an important question. I think Christians have actually answered that differently and come to consider it differently. I mean, certainly when we talk about heaven, when we talk about eternal life, we're talking about a state in which it is always good and God's will is always done. That's what we pray in the Lord's prayer, isn't it? Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, the implication being in having God's will is always done. And the question is, is that the case because we have no choice, or is that the case because actually we do have a choice but in heaven our preference is always to do the will of God? Have we been changed in some degree? And certainly the Bible talks about our resurrection body isn't a transformation that takes place and the earthly desires that we no longer desire or struggle with, do we no longer desire those things because we don't have the choice to desire them or is it simply that it's not our preference because of how we've been transformed because of the experiences we've been through with God where we've seen both the horror of what life is like without him, and the suffering of the world without him, and we've seen the beauty of who he is such that yes, maybe technically you have a choice, but it's a no brainer which way it's going to go?
Jo Vitale: And like I said, people have landed differently on this. It's interesting. William Lane Craig for example, talks about...He veers on the side of there not being a choice because the beauty of Jesus is so strong that it's like having a super powered magnet that you just can't help but just everything gets pulled towards him because he's so glorious and good that there isn't really any other way to go, you're just going to get pulled towards him but that's what you want and what you desire. So there isn't freedom in that sense.
Jo Vitale: Norman Geizler also is interesting in the way that he talks about it. He talks about some of what Vince was saying and actually that he thinks that our freedom to do evil is removed in heaven, but he says that's not a lesser form of freedom, but actually that that is what complete freedom is because he says that having the ability to do evil and therefore to self-destruct isn't as good of a freedom as the freedom to do the good, that freedom to that we've been talking about. And so he would say that actually heaven is a place where our freedom becomes full and complete precisely because evil is taken away.
Vince Vitale: And even if you take that view with Geizler, there's a significant sense in which even our inability to do evil in heaven will still be a freely chosen and meaningful state because we chose it in this life before we got to that point. And so I think of, for instance, the person who's addicted to drugs who voluntarily admits themselves into a rehabilitation center, none of us would say that in some sense of their time at the rehabilitation center is less meaningful or that they're not responsible for it because there are then constraints and parameters put up in terms of how they have to live within the rehabilitation center. No, that is a deeply meaningful and even free state that they're in because they freely chose beforehand to exist in that good state.
Vince Vitale: And Jo mentioned marriage as well. In the context of marriage, there are just certain things that you can't do anymore, there are all sorts of constraints around life that there weren't previously, but that's precisely what makes it more meaningful rather than less meaningful, but because it wasn't just forced, but because those were constraints that were voluntarily stepped into.
Jo Vitale: And I think to my mind, that's the key issue here is that I think people have this idea that if somehow our lives and our choices are set up differently in heaven than they were on earth, it must be an issue of comparison and one must be better or worse than the other. Whereas I've always found at helpful events, the way you've sort of spoken about it, that actually there could be goods in each and actually God might have a reason for wanting the good of us having to make a meaningful choice and a commitment here on earth just as he would then have a good in setting up heaven the way that he's set it up as well.
Vince Vitale: Yeah, and I think that explains in part why now we might live in a state where there is all this possibility of suffering and of evil because we needed to have a time period in which we could make that free choice about what type of state we want to live in in the future. But then when we step into that rehabilitation center, it is deeply free, it is deeply meaningful, and it is the place in which we can become who we were intended to be.
Michael Davis: It is interesting though to think about, for Christians...I'm completely fine with having no ability to sin. I would be happy with that.
Vince Vitale: Absolutely. And if you knew that you had some sort of tendency to deeply hurt people that you love about most and you knew you could make a free decision to say, "God just turn off that ability," you-
Michael Davis: I ask that all the time.
Vince Vitale: Yeah, exactly, and we do pray for that. You're right. You're absolutely right. And so we can understand heaven in that sort of way, still deeply meaningful and free and yet without that possibility of the evil that causes so much hurt in the world.
Jo Vitale: And if it's the case that God values beings being able to, at some stage, have a choice, but then that choice actually not being constantly undone and redone and made and then remade and back and forth, but actually making a choice and then that meaning something and therefore having consequences that you can stick with, that would actually make sense of what we read about in scripture about the angelic fool as well because we don't get the sense in which Satan fell, but now angels continue to fall away. It seems to be a one off thing that took place. And now God is dealing with that, with that decision that took place at a certain point. But it doesn't seem to be an ongoing thing.
Jo Vitale: And so perhaps there's something God really values about us having the choice to be in relationship with him, like a commitment to a marriage. But then once you're married, you live within the commitment of that marriage. And actually it's wonderfully freeing to be held to your vows rather than constantly crossing them and being in and out and backwards and forwards and the instability of that. And that also makes sense, doesn't it? Even if the language that's spoken of in the Bible, when it comes to talking about heaven and when we're in revelation and.. What does it say in revelation 21? It talks about the city of God, the new Jerusalem coming down out of the heaven from God, prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband. And then a voice from the throne says, "Look, God's dwelling place is now among the people and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be their God. And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes." And it's basically this picture of deep commitment and intimacy like you would have in a marriage. And I just think, "Wow, that is a beautiful thing."
Jo Vitale: I think sometimes people get scared about this idea of there not being freedom and heaven because I think we assume that it'll be deeply boring, but like Vince has said, you can have a lot of choice even if you don't necessarily have the will to do evil, even if that has been removed from you in such a way that your will is to do the will of God. Nevertheless, when the Bible talks about heaven, it doesn't talk about a boring place. I think the image of a city is interesting because that's bustling with life, there's a sense in which you're still a person, relationship still means something, that the way that you live still has meaning. And I think we're afraid maybe that it takes away the meaning if we're set up in such a way that we decided to do the good, but clearly that isn't how heaven is depicted in scripture.
Michael Davis: Well, guys, we are out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.
Jo Vitale: Well, Lavonne, I hope you've found some usefulness in that slightly philosophical, but hopefully also really concrete discussion because it is an important question that gets to this issue of where are we headed and is that a place that we're excited to be headed and therefore, should we passionately pursue it? And if we think of heaven as a place where it's either going to be unfree and lacking meaning, well that's not particularly exciting. And we think of it a place where there is this freedom which has to lead to evil, well, that's not particularly exciting either. We've already dealt with that brokenness. Hopefully, what you've heard today is that in heaven we're going to have freedom in the most meaningful sense and we're also not going to be able to choose evil. It's a both end, and that's a beautiful thing. And we see that ultimately depicted in the person of Jesus himself who was tempted but who did not sin, who was the freest person ever to live and yet did not and could not choose evil because of who he was. That is our foretaste, and that is what we look forward to and we should be really excited about it.
Michael Davis: Vince, Jo, thank you guys so much for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we will catch you guys next time.
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