Yesterday's post on theosis and free will elicited two accounts (in the comments) of how it is that after death and resurrection a human characterized by free will can nonetheless choose only good: the idea that the choice of good after death functions rather like a freely-subscribed oath binding us for eternity, and the idea that the last choice as we pass from time into eternity becomes eternal.
The fact that needs to be explained is that somehow a creature of free will can become such as to choose only good.
But the answer must be such that we can understand the purpose or necessity of mortal incarnate life in this world. And I do not think either of the above answers help us to understand this.
I have been thinking along somewhat different lines.
What follows is a mixture of conviction and rational elaboration - regard it as a fantasy if you wish.
If Man has a pre-mortal spirit existence of the
soul, then the choice of good or evil could have been made with full foreknowledge of the nature and consequences of the choice, such that the decision was of necessity permanent.
(This is the orthodox account of why fallen angels are irreversibly damned - because - unlike mortal men - they knew exactly what they were doing, and the consequences, and chose damnation.)
Then the spirits of those Men who chose good were enhanced with bodies - but mortal bodies, on earth. The reason for which was that incarnation in mortal bodies provides and unique and essential experience.
Thus, mortal life and death is ultimately an experience, not a test.
For the human soul (or spirit), even living very briefly in a body and then dying is a necessary experience to qualify us to become Sons of God.
So that for a soul even to live very briefly as a baby, even perhaps living only as an embryo in the womb, is an
experience of incarnate mortality; which is of such great value to the soul, that the difference between a spirit who has lived and died as a mortal and a spirit who has lived only as an un-incarnated spirit is a qualitative difference.
The spirit who has lived a mortal life and died, and then been resurrected, is a qualitatively higher state than is attainable by a spirit lacking this experience.
But free agency continues throughout as part of the essence of being a Man.
So Men who have chosen good, and which choice is irrevocable (because made with full knowledge) choose then to embark upon mortal life in which there is partial and distorted knowledge and during which they regain the freedom to choose evil.
Because, during mortal life they are subject to temptation from those pre-mortal spirits who originally chose evil.
So mortal life is a hazard; a risk taken freely by the pre-mortal spirit in hope and expectation of attaining a higher state; but which opens the human soul to the possibility of losing everything.
Yet, if the benefits of mortal life and death can be attained by living briefly as an embryo or baby, then why should humans live longer and suffer the corruptions and temptations of childhood and adult life, of disease and senility?
The answer would presumably be that the benefits of mortality are qualitative with respect to the preceding spirit state, but quantitative with respect to one another - that to survive the hazards a longer life without yielding to the temptation to choose damnation is a higher thing.
So, when a man dies (at any age: an unborn baby, an old and sick adult) then the innocence of the less experienced human has a reward that is certain - but a lower place in Heaven; while the endurance of the old and sick is rewarded by a higher place in Heaven (assuming that the offer is accepted, not rejected), because the result is a higher being - a more complex resurrected Man capable of a higher role - just as a mortal adult is potentially more complex than a child.
In terms of free will the sequence is:
1. Pre-mortal spirits (souls) with free agency, irrevocably chooses good - irrevocably so long as they remain in the spiritual state (those spirits who choose evil are damned which means excluded from the following - they remain spirits).
2. Those spirits who choose good may become incarnate mortals with free agency.
3. The experience of being an incarnate mortal, however briefly, is of qualitative value or benefit - it enhances the pre-mortal spirit beyond his former state and in a way otherwise impossible.
4. But the experience of being an incarnate mortal re-opens the possibility of rejecting good/ God and choosing evil - so that a pre-mortal spirit who could not have chosen damnation as an incarnate mortal again becomes capable of choosing damnation.
5. However, the default of mortal life is salvation - due to the once-and-for-always (past, present, future) work of Christ 's atonement - his death and resurrection. Thus Men will be saved by default, and eternal damnation is only by active rejection of salvation.
(This is the safeguard of mortal incarnate life, without which it would not just be a hazard but a hopeless gamble against overwhelming odds. It is only by Christ's work - in cleansing us of the sin from innumerable bad choices - that there is any possibility of the incarnate soul coming through an extended mortal life with a hope of salvation - because that hope has been made an assurance of salvation (unless it is rejected by choice.)
6. At the end of mortal life, those who have-not-rejected salvation (a negative definition) will return to the spiritual realm outwith the earth (Heaven) to await ultimate resurrection in the same but perfected bodies they inhabited during mortal life - at which point they have a higher state than they would otherwise have had without the experience of mortal life.
So for the good souls, the judgment is a matter being allocated between the 'many mansions' of Heaven - by analogy their job, role, authority.
(Those good spirits who have not been through the experience of mortal life simply remained as they were, at a lower hierarchical level - remembering that all levels are blessed.)
7. At the end of mortal life, those who reject salvation, go to hell (or pre-hell, perhaps) to await ultimate resurrection and the final judgment; at which point decision for- or against-good must be made in light of its full consequences; and those who actively-choose evil instead of good are then - in resurrected form - sequestered in that permanent hell which they have chosen.
This may seem, and probably is, an over-elaborated, over-complex and fanciful tale - but parts of it seem to answer some of my most pressing problems in a simple and pictorial fashion.
In particular, I find the explanation of incarnate mortal life as primarily an experience (and only secondarily as a test) to be valuable - especially because it makes sense both of the fact of mortal incarnate existence, and also the fact that so many humans have got no further than being fetuses or babies, and many other do not reach adulthood - on the basis that it is potentially of great value to have been an incarnate mortal human at all and however briefly, while on the other hand extended life is potentially of additional value.
Incarnate mortal life is thereby conceptualized as a high risk, high reward venture - freely chosen.
In terms of choice, the above seems to regard choice in an extended fashion - that as free agents interacting withe the world, we are making choices all the time - only a very few of which (or perhaps none of which) are conscious.
Yet since Men are intrinsically free agents, we necessarily make these choices - it is intrinsic to our relation with the world.
Thus even a baby makes choices. However, these baby choices do not have the same status as conscious, deliberate choice. Because salvation is a default, damnation must be chosen - and a baby cannot choose damnation - thus a baby is Innocent.
The above account is tentative, conjectural, no doubt garbled and contains errors (as do all human things, but maybe more than usual!), and its theological basis will be obvious to some; but I think it is pretty-much (if corrections were made) - or perhaps - not-impossible to reconcile with, potentially compatible with, standard Christianity and Scriptural interpretation - if not currently, and in all denominations - then across the sweep of Christian history...
In other words: take it, modify it, or leave it - as you will.