Is there evil in Heaven? And is there free will?
I know it doesn’t really make sense to spend too much time wondering about the details of fictional universes (“if Peter and his friends could only fly when they were having happy thoughts, why did Tinkerbell, who was after all the source of the pixie-dust that let them fly, seem to have no trouble flying even when she was upset?”), but I am somehow fond of these questions at the moment.
It’s a subject that I don’t remember coming up in the average Internet discussion of (Judeo-Christian) religion, and it seems to me like a real quandary.
Seems likely that there is free will in Heaven (otherwise why give it to us on Earth?), and seems unlikely that there is evil (it being Heaven and all); and yet if God can make a place where there is no evil even though there is free will, why didn’t he do that on Earth?
(I started to wonder about this after hearing a couple of different theist types talk about their ideas of Heaven on NPR or something: the Jewish one said that there must be a wonderfully just afterlife because he strongly believes that the universe is just, whereas the evidence he has suggests that life isn’t just, so there must be some really very just stuff after life to make up for it; and the Christian one says that Heaven is a place where we all get whatever we truly want, and we all have learned to live together in harmony. Ha ha funny people, I thought, and also thought the “well if God can make it happen in Heaven, what’s his excuse for not doing so on Earth?” thought that we consider here.)
(Ooh, here they are! The Rabbi and the pastor; so you can judge for yourself how badly I’m misreporting their statements above.)
The usual answer to the Problem of Evil, that is comes about as a direct and inevitable result of imperfect beings with free will, seems to sort of evaporate if (as seems hard to avoid) Heaven is a place where imperfect beings have free will, and yet there is no evil there. So evil can’t really be the inevitable result of free will. So the Problem of Evil, it would seem, remains.
I did have a rather detailed discussion of this with my Jehovah’s Witness friend back in the day. He (and therefore I assume the JWs in general) have a pretty complete and interesting (if maybe sort of creepy) picture of life after the umm Big Thing, where (in the case of the JWs) the 400,000 special people or whatever it is go to live with God in Heaven or something, and all the other good people live on Earth under their direct governance more or less.
He said that yes in that world people would still have free will, and that in fact they would be able to do evil. They wouldn’t do it very much, because they would be good people living in a great environment, but it would still happen, and in that case God (i.e. Jehovah) would look into their hearts, and between the time they made a really bad decision and became evil and the time they were able to actually do anything bad as a result, He would stop them, in a very final way.
Since the JWs don’t believe in Hell, and think that all the stuff about burning and fire and stuff in the Bible is just a way of talking about ceasing to exist altogether, what happens to you if you freely chose evil after the Big Thing happens is that you just cease to exist.
Pretty weird, I thought!
And this got me thinking of a story set in that world, which I’ve never gotten around to writing, but which I think I will try to set down a general idea of here.
And in the meantime, you can ask your local rabbi or pastor or Judeo-Christian friend whether there is free will in Heaven, and whether there is evil there. I wonder if that is a hard question…
“I cannot follow the Elders anymore,” he’d said, that night, as they walked back from the orchards where they had been picking the perfect fruits that Jehovah provided for them in this perfect Earth.
“Jeremiah,” she’d exclaimed, “what can you mean, you cannot follow them? How could anyone do anything but follow them? We know that they are the appointed ones of Jehovah, that they have only our welfare at heart, that they are good and wise men. You cannot doubt, when you have seen Jehovah and His Son moving about on the Earth with your own eyes.”
“I have.” They were walking close together, hands brushing each other now and then, innocently, like brother and sister. “And I do not doubt that the Elders are those chosen of Jehovah. But…”
“But what? What is it that you can doubt?”
He’d taken a deep breath. He looked, she remembered thinking, like someone who was not quite sure of what he was saying, and speaking as much to convince himself as to convince her.
“I do not doubt the facts. The Elders are the chosen of Jehovah, and they do truly intend the best for me. But I doubt, no, I reject, their authority over me.”
“What can you mean by that, Jeremiah? Jehovah is the source of all authority, of all rightness, and He has given them their authority! It cannot be doubted, or rejected.”
“But I do reject it,” he’d said, his voice louder but still with an undercurrent of uncertainty, “I reject it as I am free to do, using the free will that Jehovah has given me. It is my right!”
She’d stopped, and taken his hands, looking very seriously into his face. The others walking in the same direction continued along, and were soon out of any danger of hearing.
“This is blasphemy,” she’d said, “this is not the use we are supposed to make of the freedom that has been given us. Can you truly do this? Do you truly, of your own free will, reject the authority of Jehovah?”
She had meant it rhetorically, really, or so she told herself afterward, saying it only so that he would say no, of course not, not that. But his face said that he took the question very seriously, and was considering it, somewhere deep inside. When he spoke again, the uncertainty was gone from his voice.
“Yes, Sarah. Yes, I d–“.
And before he’d finished that last word, her head was filled by a strange sound, like the buzzing of distant bees, and her hands were empty. And Jeremiah was gone, forever.
So now, in her bed at night, she lies curled tensely after her prayers, telling herself, telling Jehovah who can see into her very heart, that she does accept His goodness and His authority, that she is His true daughter, and that she would never reject Him.
And she cries until sleep comes.
Something like that, anyway…