I was thinking about something completely unrelated the other day, when this mini-revelation popped into my head. I think we’ve all probably heard the atheist arguments that: 1) If God exists and he loves us, he would show himself to us in a way that is completely undeniable…which he doesn’t, therefore he doesn’t exist. And 2) Heaven is illogical because we either have no free will in Heaven to accept or reject God, therefore we’re robots…or if we do have free will in Heaven to reject God, then sin must exist there and Heaven is no different from Earth.
What I realized (and you already have as well from the title of this post) is that these two propositions, which seem devastating in isolation, actually reinforce the existence of God and the perfect logic of Heaven when considered together.
Christians believe that our time on Earth is the opportunity we’re given to accept God’s love through Jesus Christ, or reject it. It’s our free will time-period. In order to fully exercise our free will in regards to our relationship with God, we must have some evidence of his existence and love to consider, but at the same time we can’t be forced to choose either option. We do have evidence in the beauty of creation, in our love for each other, in the natural law we feel in our hearts, and of course in Christ himself. However, if God were to “show himself” to us completely, we would be forced to know him without our free consent and would have no choice but to love him.
Consider what it would mean for God to completely reveal himself, in all his glory. That’s what the Catholic Church calls the Beatific Vision. It’s the soul coming face to face with God as he truly exists. Even the Old Testament prophets never saw God’s true form and Christ told his followers “…nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). Christ is the channel through which God has chosen to “show himself”…a method that preserves our free will. If God split open the fabric of our reality tomorrow and poured himself into our souls, then of course we would believe and love him. But it wouldn’t be our free choice…we would be over-powered by his perfect love. Besides, if forced love was what God wanted, he could have just created us inside Heaven from the beginning.
Now looking at the second argument, we can ask: Doesn’t Heaven strip away our free will in exactly the same way? Practically, I believe that’s how it would appear to us. It may be more accurate to say that Heaven restores our fallen nature to it’s original goodness so that we learn to use our free will correctly…but only after we’ve been given the opportunity to choose between God and ourselves in this life. Heaven just “locks in” the choice we’ve already freely made.
So without our Earthly life…where God does hold back his full glory, Heaven wouldn’t be fair - we’d be robots. And without Heaven, where the Beatific Vision does cement the final choice we’ve made here on Earth and renders our current, flawed free will “obsolete”…Earth would be a cruel tease, because we have an idea of God’s love and a vague sense of his glory, but we don’t have the power on our own to “lock in” that choice. We’re always tempted to make the wrong choice, until we die and God gives us our just reward or punishment.
This synthesis argument has probably been around for a long time, but it was enough to leave me speechless for a while when I “discovered” it.