John Milton’s portrayal of God in Paradise Lost

Introduction

The classical work Paradise Lost by John Milton is a religious epistle which recounts the story of creation and the descent of the human race into sin. John Milton does not shy away from introducing Biblical characters such as God and Satan in his work. Furthermore, he accords to the characters accurate descriptions and functions within his work. Some characters such as Satan, contrary to the Biblical interpretation, are given a sort of heroic status within the work whereas God is given less precedence and is seen as indifferent. John Milton endeavors to portray God as selfish, vain, indifferent, flat and unsympathetic towards his creation.

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John Milton presents God very ostentatiously as being all powerful. He portrays God as sitting on a throne and ruling over his creation. He also depicts how God thrust Satan out of heaven following Satan’s vain attempt to overthrow God from His throne: “With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power/ Hurld headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Skie / With hideous ruine and combustion down” (Milton, 1: 43-45). However, one cannot help but detect a tone of mockery in his tone. In real sense, John Milton is truly saying that God is so powerful that he cares about nothing else other than enforcing his will on his creation. Thus, John Milton truly sees God as being vain. He further goes ahead to call him a tyrant: “who now triumphs, and in th’ excess of joy/ Sole reigning holds the Tyranny of Heav’n” (Milton, 1:123-124). The dominant voice in the poem is Satan and his fellow fallen angels. Some literary critics have even argued that Satan is the protagonist of the poem whereas God is the antagonist. Undoubtedly, the precedence given to Satan is a way in which Jon Milton endeavors to justify his actions and to put God in bad light.

God is portrayed as unsympathetic mainly when he banished Adam and Eve from paradise. He also punished them for their sins. The worst of these punishments is death: “Henceforth I flie not Death, nor would prolong/ Life much, bent rather how I may be quit” (Milton, 9:544-545). God also added to the pain that Eve and all womanhood would suffer when giving birth. The devastation felt by Adam and Eve after being banished was so great that Eve contemplated suicide. It also created a rift between Adam and Eve which ensued into a blame game between them. Owing to the omniscient and omnipotent nature of God, John Milton poses the question as to why God allowed Satan to enter paradise: “All, though all-knowing, what had past with Man/ Recounted, mixing intercession sweet/ Meanwhile ere thus was sin’d and judg’d on Earth” (Milton, 9:227-229). Again, God is cast into the villainous role. This time, he is unsympathetic to Adam and Eve who were victims of Satan’s deceit. God knew fairly well how conniving Satan was as he had managed before to convince the angels in heaven to rally behind him and overthrow him. However, he placed all the blame of sin on his creation. John Milton believes that this blame was placed unrightfully so.

God is also depicted as a flat character due to his limited involvement with his human creations. He is seen as a distant figure in creation who is too preoccupied with his power to care about what his creation does. An example of this is when God sends angels to converse with Adam and Eve. An example is the angel Michael who is charged with evicting Adam and Eve from paradise: “MICHAEL, this my behests have thou in charge/ Take to thee from among the Cherubim” (10:99-100). It seems that God is not even the enforcer of his own decrees. Another angel sent by God was Raphael who acts as God’s messenger. He narrates to Adam the story of the angels cast down from heaven: “Thus ADAM made request and RAPHAEL/ After short pause assenting, thus began” (Milton, 5:551-553). God also sent his son to offer salvation to the world through his death. Undoubtedly, the involvement of God in his creation is very limited. John Milton’s argument is that God is uncaring of his creation, so much so that he makes no personal effort on his side to intervene in its affairs.

God is seen as selfish due to the countless acts of pain and death he lets sin inflict on mankind for his grand purpose to materialize. Adam is shown visions by angel Michael of the pain and destruction that mankind was going to reap from the birth of sin into the world: “Of wickedness, wherein shall dwell his Race/ Who slew his Brother; studious they appear” (Milton, 10: 603-604). The whole of human kind was doomed to repeat the same cycle of pain and destruction till the appointed time of the savior. John Milton finds this selfish and unfair to the rest of mankind who are forced to live in a world tarnished by sin which was not of their doing. The angel Michael further lists a few men who would escape the pain of sin. He showed Adam a few of these people such as Noah and Enoch who were so favored by God that they were separated from the rest of the decaying human race. This can be termed as unfair and selfish of God. He is seen as being biased to a specific lot of people while the rest suffer under sin. God’s plan of salvation was going to be fulfilled only through the suffering and death of the human race.

God is indifferent towards the devil and his efforts to distort the original plan of creation. Despite being banished from God’s creation, the devil and the fallen angels devise a way to reach God’s newly created world: “Tamely endur’d a Bridge of wondrous length/ From Hell continu’d reaching th’ utmost Orbe/ Of this frail World; by which the Spirits perverse/ With easie intercourse pass to and fro” (Milton, 1:1028-1031). Owing to the all-knowing nature of God, it can be deduced that he allowed the devil to pervert his creation. The devil also found a way to reach Eve after being banished a second time from Earth. He transformed himself into a serpent and tricked Eve into eating from the tree of knowledge: “So spake the Enemie of Mankind/ enclos’d In Serpent, Inmate bad, and toward EVE/ Address’d his way, not with indented wave” (Milton, 8:494-496). John Milton portrays God as the author of all things on Earth and in heaven. God may have created good and prosperity for mankind as his initial plan for creation but he also created evil and sin. The part played by God in creation is absolute. He was aware of sin even before it came into existence through the devil. He was aware of the course that his creation was going to take. He is therefore the only author of sin and all the destruction that came along with it. The human race along with the devil and the fallen angels were simply pawns in God’s grand plan for the world. John Milton therefore puts it that God’s grand plan for his creation is inevitable since he is omnipotent.

Conclusion

The role played by God in creation is absolute. He is undoubtedly the most powerful creature in creation. His role is to be the author of creation for the attainment of his grand plan for the whole of humanity. However, there are several views put forth by authors such as John Milton who aim at discrediting God and his actions and plan for humanity. The poem Paradise Lost portrays God as being indifferent, selfish and unconcerned for his creation. It further paints God as being vain in his due to his omnipotence. John Milton further aims at defending the devil and some of his acts during creation. It is undoubtedly true that every human being has a preexisting notion of God and the devil. Both these Biblical figures play an important role in each one of our lives. It is because of this that every human being should strive to know and understand God and the devil on their own terms. John Milton has simply put forth his views on creation as should we all.

 

Works Cited

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. 1667. Print.