Is there free will in heaven?

The question has come up a few times: Is there free will in heaven?


Saint Maximus the Confessor

*The term “gnomic” derives from the Greek gnomē, meaning “inclination” or “intention.” In Orthodox theology, gnomic willing is contrasted with natural willing. Natural willing designates the free movement of a creature in accordance with the principle (logos) of its nature towards the fulfilment (telos, stasis) of its being. Gnomic willing, on the other hand, designates that form of willing in which a person engages in a process of deliberation culminating in a free choice.

In the theology of St Maximus, which was upheld by the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Jesus Christ possessed no gnomic will. St Maximus developed this claim particularly in his Dialogue with Pyrrhus. According to St Maximus, the process of gnomic willing presupposes that a person does not know what they want, and so must deliberate and choose between a range of alternatives. However, Jesus Christ, as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was omniscient. Therefore, St Maximus reasoned, Christ was never in a state of ignorance regarding what he wanted, and so never engaged in gnomic willing.

Maybe the real question is, would we recognize free will if we saw it? What we call “free will” here and now is actually a broken version of real freedom.

The really free person never experiences what Paul describes – “I keep doing what I don’t want to do!” He never has to battle reluctance, because he’s not “double-minded” as James says, divided within himself; the free man is described by our English word “wholehearted,” as David prays: “Unite my heart to fear Your name.

The really free person is able to act according to his nature, which is whole and in union with God. Self-sacrificing love is the free person’s natural, unforced habit. To do other than love would require him to force himself, against his nature, to do something alien to him. This is the description of Adam, and of the human person who has grown fully into the likeness of Christ.

Humanity as we experience it isn’t free that way. Except when compassion or affection temporarily moves us, we often have to force ourselves to do what’s right. Some temptations cause us real inner conflict, and if we quit being vigilant then we tend to fall. We are subject to disorders of soul that the early Christians call passions (from the Greek and Latin words for illness and suffering.) Acts of sin are only fruits that we see at surface level; they spring from hidden passions. This condition is called the gnomic will*.

The person who has experienced some degree of healing/salvation from his passions can tell firsthand what it’s like to start being free. Instead of a raging inner war, the temptation has become a knock at the door that nobody’s obligated to answer.

In the Resurrection, as we grow in grace and union with God, we’ll experience in full the freedom to be what we are meant to be: Motivated by love and creativity; inwardly whole and undivided; with no inner compulsions to inward-turning selfishness, pride, obsession, or disordered appetites.

TL;DR – Nobody experiences “free will” fully in this life the way Christ did, but we do expect to in the Resurrection.

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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