An excerpt from my upcoming book:

One fruitful theme that I wanted to explore here was that heaven and the existence of free will without suffering and evil is incoherent. We are often given the free will theodicy as (at least partly) the answer to why evil exists on earth. However, if heaven can exist with free will and no evil, then this should surely be an option on earth, especially if God is as loving as he is purported to be. This very simple logical argument has devastating effects on whether you believe in heaven, in an omnipotent God or even in free will. Many theists such as Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne[1] try to answer this by saying that life on earth is a ‘test’ for humanity, with the goal of being morally responsible, avoiding hell, and getting into heaven. The idea of punishment or reward in an afterlife becomes moot without free will, and so free will becomes the central tenet of such theology. But, as Sam Harris explains in light of this theory:

 Yet if heaven must exist, if there is no doubt that heaven exists, then we know that we are being trained here on earth to exercise a free will that will not be needed in heaven, a free will the exercise of which causes immense pain to many people, but a pain that will be miraculously eased in heaven. This is nothing less than a definition of torture. (Though presumably the likes of Richard Swinburne would argue that seventy years of torture versus an infinity of heavenly bliss is a “reasonable” experiment.) Heaven is not and never has been the solution to theodicy; heaven is the very problem.[2]


There does seem to be this promissory note that any amount of evil and suffering on earth can be balanced in an afterlife. I’m not sure that this works or even if it is properly evidenced by anything other than faith.

[1] Swinburne (1998)

[2] Sam Harris (2006) “The Celestial Teapot” from Letter to a Christian Nation, (14/01/2011)