To reiterate some of what I said there – we’ve all heard the question, “why would a good and omnipotent God allow evil and suffering?” Some of the common answers I’ve heard to that question have troubled me, because they seem so sweeping that, if true, they should apply equally well to the hereafter as they apply to the here, meaning that they would allow (or even require) the existence of suffering and evil in Heaven, something the Bible plainly contradicts.
For example, take what is probably the most common explanation for evil, namely that, in creating truly free human beings, God necessarily opened up the possibility that some of them would sin and introduce evil into the world. Well… do you think people in Heaven will be truly free? If so, then the possibility of sin and evil would still necessarily exist there, would it not?
One of the nice things about Helm’s view of human freedom, and his “greater good” explanation for the existence of evil (see my review or, better yet, the book) is that it allows him to conclude that God would be quite capable of creating human beings who would freely choose never to sin. (Thus Helm rejects the explanation above for the existence of human evil.) And if God could have made people who would freely choose not to sin, then surely he can mold our characters until they reach a point where we would freely choose not to sin, forevermore. Just the sort of people I expect to meet in Heaven.
(You could also flip the argument around – if you believe that you will one day reach a place where you will freely choose not to sin, that such a creature can exist, then couldn’t God have created humans like that originally?)
C.S. Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain, is a very beautiful book, but it also gave me that queasy “wouldn’t this ruin Heaven?” feeling in spots. For one, Lewis seems to adopt the explanation for the Fall, that first instance of human evil, given two paragraphs above and rejected by Helm, saying that,
…the free will of rational creatures, by it’s very nature included the possibility of evil; and that creatures, availing themselves of this possibility, have become evil.
But I’m thinking especially of Lewis discussion of suffering in chapter 3 of his book. There, he argues that the possibility of suffering necessarily follows from human freedom (as he understands it) and the existence of an ordered and inexorable universe in which we act – again, both things I think we expect to find in Heaven. He offers the very strong statement,
Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.
Try chewing on that for a moment. I *think* adopting Helm’s preferred view of human freedom would solve this problem as well, since Lewis seems to argue that free human beings might choose to somehow abuse pieces of the universe to hurt others, but Helm would argue that it would be possible to have free human beings who would choose never to do that.