Free Will in Heaven and Contingency

I have just questioned my line of reasoning from earlier today when I said that it was clearly not logically possible for God to choose to create the worst of all possible worlds, as there is a theological problem with the reasoning which occurred to me. Namely, the problem is with those in heaven who have Free Will – could they choose to sin? If not, then are they significantly free (in other words, is attributing ‘free will’ to them simply semantics)? I take it that Free Will (I mean Libertarian Free Will) is something essentially human which is a consequence of being a creature made in the ‘image’ of God, since God also has Free Will.

Consider those in heaven (if we must, then consider those in heaven here on earth at the Eschaton); do they not, even while having the beatific vision, have free will? Origen of Alexandria argued that they would, but he also argued that therefore a second fall was possible, and a third after that, onwards to infinitely many falls from Grace. Obviously though, this isn’t reflective of the Church’s teachings. Therefore, one has to wonder in what sense somebody in heaven has Free Will while enjoying the beatific vision. If we will never fall again once in heaven, then it must be by reason of something other than loosing our free will. Some have suggested that if we had the beatific vision we would freely choose God always inevitably, perhaps in the same way that people in Hell will continue always to freely choose Hell. However, if we freely choose based on our natural disposition, and given our disposition it is not logically possible for us to do otherwise, then isn’t it not really ‘free will’ being exercised anymore?

Perhaps the answer lies in something like this: In the case of God, he cannot choose the worst of all possible worlds by nature, whereas man can always choose evil by nature. Instead, man freely and inevitably chooses the beatific vision by reason of the disposition of having the beatific vision, since man always inclines by nature to choosing that which he perceives as a greater good. If this reasoning is sound, then one can meaningfully speak of libertarian free will in heaven without involving the theologically troubling conclusions of Origenism. It also helps one advance the apologetic for Hell.


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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8 Responses to Free Will in Heaven and Contingency

  1. steve says:

    Where do you get that God has libertarian free will?

    • Good question. It seems to me that it is clearly an article of Catholic faith that God freely chose, for instance, to create the world, and that he freely chose to become incarnate for our salvation, and a host of other things. However, if that ‘freedom’ isn’t real then in one sense creation is not a Grace, simply because God could not actually have done otherwise. Consider Spinoza, for example; Spinoza argued that Substance (aka God) is free in the sense that it is not induced by anything outside itself to act in a certain respect, but rather it acts according to its nature. However, for Spinoza, it could not have done otherwise given its nature, and therefore it ‘freely’ necessarily brought about Modes (things) in various Attributes (ways, such as Extended stuff, Thinking stuff, etc). If memory serves I remember Pope Pius XII refuted this kind of view that God by his nature necessarily created the universe and did not have a real free choice to not create anything, in his encyclical “Humani Generis”. It’s also, as I said, a generally acknowledged article of faith… If I had to roll up my sleeves and find exact references I would probably look to the fourth Lateran council, to Vatican I and II, and then to the current Catechism of the Church.

  2. Mike says:

    I take issue with the idea that god “cannot choose the worst of all possible worlds by nature” because this flies in the face of the concept of hell. I know that not all Christians believe in the same kind of hell, or that hell even exists, but the traditional image of hell, is a place of eternal conscious torment, or, the worse possible world that exists for anyone/anything. If that is so, god did design and engineer hell down to every last detail, and then created a “possible world” knowing well in advance that billions would end up in its chambers for the horrible crimes of disbelief, or belief in the wrong deities. Since there is nothing necessary about hell, it is contingent on god’s will for it to be created, so god did indeed freely choose to create the worst of all possible worlds, depending on your interpretation of scripture.

    • This is easily answered: Hell is not a possible world. Hell is a feature of the actual world. There is no world fitting the description of Hell, and exhausted by that description, which is possible. This is because Hell is the result of libertarian freely rejecting God’s love.

      • Mike says:

        Hell doesn’t exist in any world we can see or sense or know about. So if it exists, it exists in some other dimension or universe or something like that and it is disconnected to this one. It may not be a possible world in the philosophic sense of the term, but it is a world onto its own, created by god, who designed and created it for the sole purpose of inflicting misery on the damned. In other words, god loves us so much, he created hell just in case we didn’t love him back. A wonderful relationship don’t you think?

  3. There are logically possible worlds in which the multiverse hypothesis is true, and others in which it is not. You’ve confused modal speech for talk about a physical or spatio-temporal arena. Is Hell, for instance, a world unto its own created by God who designed and created it for the sole purpose of inflicting misery on the damned? No, clearly not. At least not according to classical Christian belief. For example, John Paul II was very clear to say that Hell is a state, and not a place, and it is a state of a soul’s relationship to God. Let’s look at his address to a general Wednesday audience together:

    “God is the infinitely good and merciful Father. But man, called to respond to him freely, can unfortunately choose to reject his love and forgiveness once and for all, thus separating himself for ever from joyful communion with him. It is precisely this tragic situation that Christian doctrine explains when it speaks of eternal damnation or hell. It is not a punishment imposed externally by God but a development of premises already set by people in this life. The very dimension of unhappiness which this obscure condition brings can in a certain way be sensed in the light of some of the terrible experiences we have suffered which, as is commonly said, make life “hell”.

    In a theological sense however, hell is something else: it is the ultimate consequence of sin itself, which turns against the person who committed it. It is the state of those who definitively reject the Father’s mercy, even at the last moment of their life.

    Hell is a state of eternal damnation

    2. To describe this reality Sacred Scripture uses a symbolical language which will gradually be explained. In the Old Testament the condition of the dead had not yet been fully disclosed by Revelation. Moreover it was thought that the dead were amassed in Sheol, a land of darkness (cf. Ez. 28:8; 31:14; Jb. 10:21f.; 38:17; Ps 30:10; 88:7, 13), a pit from which one cannot reascend (cf. Jb. 7:9), a place in which it is impossible to praise God (cf. Is 38:18; Ps 6:6).

    The New Testament sheds new light on the condition of the dead, proclaiming above all that Christ by his Resurrection conquered death and extended his liberating power to the kingdom of the dead.

    Redemption nevertheless remains an offer of salvation which it is up to people to accept freely. This is why they will all be judged “by what they [have done]” (Rv 20:13). By using images, the New Testament presents the place destined for evildoers as a fiery furnace, where people will “weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt 13:42; cf. 25:30, 41), or like Gehenna with its “unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43). All this is narrated in the parable of the rich man, which explains that hell is a place of eternal suffering, with no possibility of return, nor of the alleviation of pain (cf. Lk. 16:19-3 1).

    The Book of Revelation also figuratively portrays in a “pool of fire” those who exclude themselves from the book of life, thus meeting with a “second death” (Rv. 20:13f.). Whoever continues to be closed to the Gospel is therefore preparing for ‘eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thes 1:9).

    3. The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather* than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy. This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the truths of faith on this subject: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell'” (n. 1033).

    “Eternal damnation”, therefore, is not attributed to God’s initiative because in his merciful love he can only desire the salvation of the beings he created. In reality, it is the creature who closes himself to his love. Damnation consists precisely in definitive separation from God, freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his choice for ever. God’s judgement ratifies this state.

    We are saved from going to hell by Jesus who conquered Satan

    4. Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no”, which marks the human creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council, DS 800-801). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a “yes” to God.

    Eternal damnation remains a real possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell — and even less the improper use of biblical images — must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the, Spirit of God who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Rm. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).

    This prospect, rich in hope, prevails in Christian proclamation. It is effectively reflected in the liturgical tradition of the Church, as the words of the Roman Canon attest: “Father, accept this offering from your whole family … save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen”.”

  4. Mike says:

    Amen brother!

    I don’t really want to get into a long debate over the metaphysics of hell, but I just think the assumption that the absence of god necessarily induces a lack of joy isn’t well justified. Millions of us live fine without god in our lives and find joy and meaning in the natural world. Millions of people also worship false gods and find meaning and joy in their god’s imaginary presence. You’d think that if your god was indeed “the source of all life and joy” then the absence of that god in one’s life would produce real world measurable consequences. But instead it doesn’t.

    • Well, the Theist would say that you are deluding yourself when you think God is absent in your life. Just because you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean that he is absent from your life, anymore than bugs bunny not believing in gravity means it is absent from his. Christians would say that the only reason you find any happiness or joy in this world at all (not to mention that you find a contingent world at all) is because God exists, whether you believe in God or not.

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