Paradise Lost: Milton's Intent
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In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the author expressed his intention to “justify the ways of God to men” (“Book I” 26). Milton was a devout protestant, and he stood up for various issues that related to his own religious beliefs. Milton, for instance, supported the efforts in abolishing the priesthood. He supported it because the author observed the massive corruption in the Catholic Church. Moreover, Milton saw that the priests who served the church had been the first ones who participated in sinful acts. This prompted Milton’s decision to convert from Catholicism to Protestantism even against the wishes of his father. Milton was also against the rigid structure of religion and encouraged the secularization because he believed that people should have the right to choose the religion they are comfortable with (Milton & Hughes 118). Milton, thus, believed in individualism as long as people believed and followed the Holy Bible; and he upheld the virtues endorsed by Jesus Christ (Shawcross 257). He illustrated these ideas in Paradise Lost (King 20). Milton was really a religious man, and his religious beliefs influenced on his intentions and motivations in his writing as being palpable in Paradise Lost. The context except the succeeding discussion will focus on identifying the elements of Milton’s poem that express how the author sought to justify God’s actions towards men. Moreover, Milton’s Paradise Lost will be evaluated basing on how efficient and adequate it is in fulfilling the author’s intentions.
The prevalent theme in Milton’s Paradise Lost is the original sin. This was the case when Adam and Eve did not obey God by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – this was an apple. Paradise Lost, which consists of twelve books, also tackles the fall of Satan and the fallen angels, but the story of these two first people Adam and Eve and their “fall from grace” best illustrates Milton’s intentions in justifying the acts of God. In the poem, the creation of Earth was preceded by the war in Heaven between God, the angels, Satan, and his minions. When the latter ones were banished from Heaven, God created the world and the first man, Adam and Eve. In the poem, Milton explicitly illustrated God giving Adam and Eve the free will to do what they want on one condition only – not to eat anything from the Tree of Knowledge. People would argue why God had placed the Tree of Knowledge in the midst of Eden; that in the way, it is a means of tempting a man to eat the fruit from the tree. However, Milton justified God’s intentions such that the presence of a challenge or a dilemma – the Tree of Knowledge – is a means of testing the judgment, control, intentions, and values of the man. Consequently, the ability of man to control his temptation builds his worth as a human being. “By merit more than birthright Son of God | Found worthiest to be so by being good | Far more than great or high;” (“Book III” l. 309). “God knows everything that is to happen and controls it all, but man is free. If he were not, then he could not choose and earn praise or blame” (Mitchell & Spring 54).
In the Book III, Milton portrayed God as the all-knowing Creature. God knew, since He created the world, that man would fall because he would fail to turn down the temptation. God also knew what would happen from then. He knows the past, the present, and the future. Again, some people would argue that if He is indeed God, then why He let Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. In Paradise Lost, Milton argued that God gave man the freedom to act according to his will despite His knowledge of the man’s impending doom for a purpose. God knows that when man falls from grace, his mistakes would also nurture love and mercy. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, the author seems to adhere to the duality, such that love would cease to exist without hate or that goodness will come out because of sin. Therefore, God set human will free in order to build the character. Moreover, man would only be capable of loving and showing mercy towards others if he has free will; so despite the inclination of man to commit sin because he is free to choose; a man would also be inclined to feel love, passion, and mercy because he is free to do so.
In Paradise Lost, Milton also intended to show what Satan represents. In the purge of Heaven God banished Lucifer and his minions because they defied Him. Thus, God cast Satan in Hell where he would suffer the consequences of his actions. Satan’s story serves as a lesson to everyone about making sins especially that happen to people who fail to follow the commandments of God. In Paradise Lost, Satan was banished from Heaven as a result of his rebellion, which was brought about by his jealousy of God’s power. Satan felt jealous and resentful of God because of his lack of faith in Him. Moreover, Satan refused to acknowledge his relationship with God, and, therefore, his thoughts were unclean. “Satan, now first inflam’d with rage, came down | The tempter ere the accuser of mankind | To wreak on innocent frail Man his loss | Of that first battle, and his flight to Hell” (“Book IV” 10). Satan’s story in the poem illustrates why God gave man the free will to choose. Satan had the option to build his relationship with God, but, unfortunately, he chose to disobey him and start a rebellion. As a result, God punished Satan and his minions by cursing them in Hell. Like Satan, God gave human beings the free will so they could make their own decisions; and Satan’s story is a reminder that people should make good choices. When people fail to do so, the stories about the outcomes of sin and backsliding show them how they can correct their mistakes, which is through repentance. “The distancing of the relationship of God and man is the legacy of the fall [fall from grace]” (Kean 62). In a way, God’s punishment of Satan is a reminder to people that they should exercise their free will wisely. God, thus, gave human beings the freedom, but unlike other people’s arguments, He did not abandon them. God still teaches people the right way, but it is our choice whether to follow that path or not.
In Book V, Milton narrates Adam’s and Eve’s story. Eve dreamed of an angel who told her that if she ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, she would become God’s equal. In the morning, Eve told Adam about her dream but he dismissed the idea about eating the fruit. God, knowing what would happen, asked the angel Raphael to go down on earth and tell Adam about Satan’s plan of luring them into eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Raphael told Adam about God’s intentions and His plans towards them, since human beings were the highest form of beings that He had created on earth. Moreover, Raphael told him that as a human being, Adam had to exercise the control over temptation considering the consequences of disobeying God. In this part of the story, Milton emphasizes the idea that God gave us human beings knowledge aside from freedom. God did not leave us alone to discern right from wrong, but instead, He told us what was right from wrong and warned us about what would happen if we disobeyed Him. Since God gave people freedom and knowledge, human beings were, therefore, capable of making informed decisions. Consequently, when they make mistakes, human beings have no one to blame but themselves. Raphael, for instance, warned Adam about what would happen next, but in the end, he still chose to eat the fruit. Milton pointed out those mistakes were conscious decisions.
Unlike other stories about Adam and Eve, Milton’s Paradise Lost portrays Adam as a good man who loved and cared for Eve. Adam was not tempted to eat the fruit because he chose to eat the fruit knowing that God would punish Eve. Adam did not want Eve to suffer alone so he chose the same path for himself so he could be with Eve. This part of the story emphasizes Milton’s thoughts and ideas about God’s intentions in arranging things as if they were. As previously discussed, God gave man free will so they could choose to love and show mercy. Adam’s decision to eat the fruit for Eve reflects this idea. In real life, people could interpret the message as God’s design of human relationships and interaction. Eve’s demise brought out the hero in Adam and, similarly, human beings show their true selves when they see other people’s suffering. Our genuine individual thoughts, ideas, actions, behavior, and responses materialize when we are put in conflicts, challenging and difficult situations. Not to romanticize Adam and Eve’s story in Paradise Lost, Eve knew Adam’s inner being and feelings when he sacrificed his life for her. In the overall, God allows adversities in our lives because through struggles and conflicts, we reveal our true selvves and, therefore, we get to know other people’s motives and intentions as well.
In the Book XII, Adam and Michael talk about the future of human kind. At this point, the story is followed the great flood. The events prior to the great flood illustrate God’s character as forgiving God. Although God could have easily punished the sinners, He still gave them a chance to repent and save themselves. God gave Noah and his men time to tell people about their sins and warn them about God’s plan. While some people believed in Noah, other people did not and, consequently, they all died in the flood. After the flood, Michael tells Adam that people have found their way through God’s graces. Furthermore, human beings are actively seeking God’s blessing and guidance. The story of the flood shows many facets of God as a Creator. God knows what human beings are inclined to do, and yet He gives them the freedom to choose and make the decisions for themselves. When people sinned, God gave them a chance to repent and mend their ways. However, when they did not, God chose to bring a heavy punishment to sinners, but as just God, He chose to preserve humankind by choosing the good men like Noah to survive the flood. Milton highlights God’s love for human beings and the earth. God’s choice to allow good men to live despite the men’s propensity to sinning shows how He believes in our capacity as human beings to make the good decisions. The story shows how God chooses to trust people and that because of the flood human beings would be reminded of the cost of sin. “[God] lets them know ‘what they needs must do’ to remain in his good graces and what will happen if they fail to meet his demands” (Paris, 104). If human beings succeed, they are rewarded, but if not, they are punished.
Milton’s Paradise Lost represents the author’s unwavering faith and the belief in God and, thus, through the text, Milton chose to justify God’s actions and decisions that other people, especially non-believers, would find questionable. One of the most controversial discussions in religion is free will. In the poem, Milton covered the issue of free will by emphasizing God’s knowledge of the fate of humans. God knows what men are bound to do, but He gives them free will as a means, as a second chance for human beings to make the better decisions. Milton also emphasizes that the fate of man lies in his own choices and decisions, and that when they make any mistakes, they are responsible for them, because God has given them the knowledge to know and discern right from wrong. Moreover, Milton emphasizes God’s intentions in giving human beings free will and in allowing people to suffer from adversity. Free will, according to Milton, allows people to choose love and show mercy, while adversities, on the other hand, builds one’s character. Milton focused on the duality of things through God’s decision to give man his freedom.
Milton succeeded in justifying God’s decisions and intentions. Although the story of Lucifer and the fallen angels, Adam and Eve is familiar to readers, Milton chose to write it differently in order to get his ideas across. In Paradise Lost, Milton highlighted Satan’s thoughts and intentions. Satan’s rebellion against Heaven, according to Milton, is a result of his envious and greedy thoughts. Consequently, Satan feels envious and greedy because he chooses to detach himself from God instead of embracing Him as his divinity. In this story, Milton hints at the nature of sin, such that human beings feel compelled to sin when they distance themselves from God. Milton also has altered Adam’s and Eve’s story in order to prove that God gave human beings free will and that free will is important in helping people to build their characters. Unlike the original story of Adam and Eve that people read in the Bible, in Paradise Lost Adam chooses to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. By God’s command, Raphael went to Adam to tell him about their impending demise. After Eve has eaten the fruit, Adam chose to eat it too knowing that Eve would be punished for what she had done. Adam’s decision shows how free will nurtures love, compassion and mercy, and it reveals the man’s innermost being. In general, Milton’s unique spin on the story and his approaches while recreating the story of the original scene clearly reflect his idea about God and His plans for human beings.