Paradise Lost

by: John Milton

God

And now Through all restraint broke loose, he wings his way Not far off heaven, in the precincts of light, Directly towards the new created world. And man there plac’d; with purpose to assay If him by force he can destroy, or worse, By some false guile pervert: and shall pervert; For man will hearken to his glozing lies, And easily transgress his sole command, Sole pledge of his obedience: so will fall[.] (III, 86–95)

As Satan flies to Earth to pervert Adam and Eve, God watches above from Heaven. In a speech to the Son, God remarks that Satan will succeed in his goal, and Adam and Eve will fall prey to Satan’s lies. The text portrays God to be an omniscient, passive observer, seeing past, present, and future simultaneously.

Whose fault? Whose but his own? Ingrate, he had of me All he could have; I made him just and right; Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall. (III, 96–99)

God sees that Adam and Eve will fall, and that this event will be their own fault. Here, he even goes so far as to call Adam and Eve ingrates. In an important qualification, God explains that he made Adam and Eve pure enough to withstand evil, but free enough to make their own decisions. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, man has by nature the capacity for strength of character as well as the freedom to choose not to use it.

Man shall not quite be lost, but sav’d who will Yet not of will in him, but grace in me Freely vouchsaf’d: once more I will renew His lapsed powers, though forfeit, and inthrall’d By sin to foul exorbitant desires: Upheld by me, yet once more he shall stand On even ground against his mortal foe: By me upheld, that he may know how frail His fallen condition is, and to me owe All his deliverance, and to none but me. Some I have chosen of peculiar grace Elect above the rest: so is my will. (III, 173–184)

God explains that he knows that man will fall, yet this fall occurs as part of a plan that he devised for man. God created man pure, but free, so that man would know sincere love. God reasons that, without man’s fall, man would not know sorrow, nor would man know redemption and grace. God expresses a special love for his creation, Adam and Eve, through these lines.

Man disobeying, Disloyal breaks his fealty, and sins Against the high supremacy of heaven, Affecting Godhead, and so losing all, To expiate his treason hath nought left, But to destruction, sacred and devote, He with his whole posterity must die; Die he or justice must; unless for him Some other able, and as willing, pay The rigid satisfaction, death for death. (III, 203–212)

Above all, in Paradise Lost, God functions as a just and fair character. As God speaks to his Son about the events about to transpire on Earth, he proclaims that the consequences for man’s disobedience must be death. He explains that if Adam and Eve go unpunished for their sins, justice won’t exist in the world. God’s proclamation seems harsh but necessary.

So man, as is most just, Shall satisfy for man, be judg’d, and die, And dying rise, and rising with him raise His brethren, ransom’d with his own dear life. So heavenly love shall outdo hellish hate, Giving to death, and dying to redeem, So dearly to redeem what hellish hate So easily destroy’d, and still destroys[.] (III, 294–301)

After his Son answers the call for a sacrifice to pay for the lives of Adam and Eve, God feels pleased. Here, God explains that, although he will be giving up his Son, this sacrifice will redeem and reconnect man to God through mercy and grace. Readers note that both God and his Son make sacrifices on behalf of man, demonstrating their true love for God’s creation.

[L]et this him know, Lest willfully transgressing he pretend Surprisal, unadmonish’d, unforewarn’d. (V, 243–245)

God tells Raphael to go to Paradise to warn Adam and Eve about Satan. God knows that if Adam and Eve have not been sufficiently forewarned, they could claim they were taken by surprise and blame Satan for their fall. God might seem cold and calculating here, but he understands that if Adam and Eve do not take full blame for their actions, they would be robbed of true sorrow and repentance, and therefore, God’s grace.

I told ye then he should prevail and speed On his bad errand, man should be seduc’d And flatter’d out of all, believing lies Against his Maker; no decree of mine Concurring to necessitate his fall, Or touch with lightest moment of impulse His free-will, to her own inclining left In even scale[.] (X, 40–47)

God makes a fine point on why Adam and Eve fell: They fell completely of their own free will, not by fate. Satan might have tempted and deceived them, but God made them to possess the discernment to know better. What’s more, God didn’t create them predestined to fall. Even though God knew they would fall, he was merely foreseeing events originating from Adam and Eve themselves.

All thy request for man, accepted Son, Obtain; all thy request was my decree; But longer in that Paradise to dwell, The law I gave to nature him forbids: These pure immortal elements that know No gross, no unharmonious mixture foul, Eject him tainted now and purge him off As a distemper[.] (XI, 45–54)

Once Adam and Eve sin, they become impure and can no longer live in Paradise. Here, God sends his Son to Paradise to tell Adam and Eve that they must live elsewhere, explaining that impure things cannot exist in the purity of Paradise. God wields a heavy hand of justice, but his reasoning reflects his sound principles.

[S]o death becomes His final remedy, and after life Tired in sharp tribulation, and refin’d By faith and faithful works, to second life, Wak’d in the renovation of the just, Resigns him up with heaven and earth renew’d. (XI, 61–66)

God announces his plans for humankind to his angels in heaven, just before Michael reveals the future of humankind in a vision to Adam. Through this passage, readers understand the reasoning behind God’s plan. Humankind will suffer many horrors, deaths, diseases, and a flood, but through these trials they will be redeemed by their faithful works towards God.

To Adam what shall come in future days, As I shall thee enlighten; intermix My covenant in the woman’s seed renew’d; So send them forth, tho’ sorrying, yet in peace[.] (XI, 114–117)

God explains that in his plan, Adam and Eve will redeem themselves through their repentance, a reality made possible by God’s grace. God then makes a covenant with Adam and Eve by planting the seed of repentance in their souls. In this crucial act, God recreates perfect union with his most loved creation.