This is another note in response to Jonathan’s question about my God and Haiti post.
There are two causes of suffering in the world: natural disasters and human evil. The former is part of creation; the latter was not “arranged” by God, but was a consequence of God’s good decision to allow human freedom. I’ve said the alternative to both is a programmed determinism of both nature and humanity. So how will the new heaven and earth avoid being a dull, programmed affair?
At the last day, there will be no more sea. The creation — which was formerly deemed “very good” (Gen 1:31) — will be made perfect. We’ll go from “very good” nature, with unpredictability built in, to something better — an Edenic creation in total (not just that pocket of perfection called Eden, localized and distinct from the rest of creation). This means one cause of suffering — the one which is not inherently evil — will be gone.
The second part — human evil — will also be eradicated, and this is the area where the “will we just be good robots now?” question comes in. The answer is no. In the original Edenic situation, humanity had freedom, and options of good and evil. The final eschaton (is that redundant?) does not entail an eradication of our imaging of God — our freedom capacity — it entails the eradication of evil. The result is that we will still be free, but evil won’t be on the table. Before Adam sinned he wasn’t a robot. It wasn’t evil and the ability to choose evil that made him free. He was free because he was made like God. We will retain that imaging status and be even more like God in the new heaven and earth. We will be as much like God as is possible, and so still free to choose the good things available to us in the new Eden.