The Hand of Providence in John Milton's Paradise Lost
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Looking to the last five lines of John Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost,
the tragic figures, Adam and Eve may feel woefully alone when expelled
from Eden after eating fruit from the fatal Tree of Knowledge (IV, 514).
However, Milton's sentiment suggests that the parents of mankind are never
abandoned by their creator, but are rather destined for a spiritual walkabout
to improve humanity and evolve the Godhead:
- - - -......... "Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
- - ... .. ....- - The world was all before them, where to choose
- - ... .. . ...- -Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
- - - ... .. ....- They hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
- - - ... . ... ..-Through Eden took their solitary way." (XII, 645-650)
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While "Providence" guides the newlyweds into Earth"s untested habitat,
the journey is not a "solitary" one because the omnipotent creator has
prepared a plan (VIII, 299) for Adam's ascension into Heaven
(III, 316). Eve too is ensured with sacerdotal importance by the
fruit of her womb which will produce the mother of the Redeemer
(V, 387). Also, if God were not benevolent, he would have allowed
the forbidden fruit to kill Adam and Eve. But rather than punish
them because they were tricked by a devil, God sends them out of
the garden to avoid a second temptation with the Tree of Life's
immortality (VIII, 326). Because God does not wish for Adam and
Eve to endure a hell in Paradise with immortal suffering, he
commands them to go to a safer home where they may amend their
sins and "rest" in peace.
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As with the task of worshiping, multiplying a race of worshippers,
attending nature, and setting order by naming things (VII, 630),
Adam and Eve are told by God that they will suffer on Earth so
that Adam's image may be restored to divine perfection
(III, 206). This plan reflects God's interest and love for
mankind, and is akin to the same sacrifice the Son will make
when offering his life as ransom to expiate man's sin (III, 236-260).
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According to Raphael, God so loved Adam that he created him in
"his own image" to be like the Son and co-rule Earth (VII, 627).
God also shows love for Adam by allowing Eve a chance to join him
in the Godhead when her body, like Christ's, shall produce a means
for man's redemption.
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Redemption in Paradise Lost is a matter of choice made by an individual
asserting free will. Because God respects man's free will, he keeps
a special distance and only communicates to the suffering when they
are either asleep or at prayer. Thus in Paradise, as on Earth, God
involves his hand, whether by allowing man's will to create chaos
or by interceding through thought. Therefore, man is not aimlessly
wandering in the world without God's direct attention, but is guided
by his hand.
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When Adam and Eve part their hands from God by choosing to pursue
their selfish desires, it is because the pair have been practiced
in 'letting go' in 'little baby steps.' First Eve withdraws her
hand from Adam, like a "wood nymph" to test her free will in the
woods (IX, 386). This is where she encounters evil. Then to Adam's
horror, he discovers that she has eaten the forbidden fruit.
Reflexively he drops the garland he lovingly fastened. This,
like his love, falls to the ground and fades.
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Prior to wandering into danger, Adam and Eve naturally walked
"hand in hand" and made Satan sick with their joy (IV, 321).
In spite, Satan made it his directive to separate them so that
he could make one vulnerable, and in turn, injure God's order
by damaging Adam with sin. This separation was not easy for
Satan to accomplish because Adam maintained in his heart that
God was ever present, so he felt confidant to let Eve "rove"
without needing to "check" her movements (VIII, 189). Eve also
reinforced the notion of safety because she told Adam that no
foe could "shake or seduce" her "firm faith (IX, 285). And yet
their faith failed. Thus the moral of the lesson Milton teaches
is that faith alone is not reliable but ought to be tempered by
patience for one to be safely "lead" by God (XI, 360-365).
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Although God safely leads man in Paradise, the "seat of man,"
is a "grotesque and wild" place "of a steep wilderness" which
no doubt presents Adam with an emotional battle that may affect
his good judgment (IV, 135). For Adam, the wild is not a problem
until a female challenges his free will and demands scientific
answers as to why there are stars in the sky. In realizing his
own intellectual limitations, Adam consults with Raphael for
a crash course on cosmology to understand the order of the
universe and offer Eve an education (VIII, 66). What Adam
discovers is that he is not a lesser-developed lord in a
wild garden, but has a purpose to honor the one law God has
graced him with: "Not to taste of the Tree of Knowledge (IV, 423)."
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If God is good and full of grace, why does he not want for Adam
and Eve to enhance their intelligence with the forbidden Tree's
knowledge? According to Raphael, in a slightly concealed editorial
for Milton, it is unwise for a person to ask questions about the
cosmos because man's imagination may invent a foolish, occult
interest in astrology. Such misguided intrigue derails one from
a spiritual union with God. Rather, Milton's Raphael argues that
it is best to let the mysteries of the universe remain undefined:
"To intellectual, give both life and sense, fancy and understanding,
whence the soul reason receives-wonder not then, what God for
you saw good (V, 485-491)."
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While Adam is satisfied with the
message to pry no further, the answer is not good enough for
Eve who prods her husband to question Raphael's vagueness by
asserting free will. After all, if God did not entrust Adam
with the intelligence to know the difference between right
from wrong, he would not have been installed with free will, right?
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Once more Adam entreats Raphael to answer as to why no one may
eat from the forbidden Tree. Adam asks for Eve's sake. Raphael
replies, "knowledge as a food [...] oppresses the mind, and turns
wisdom to folly (VII, 126-130)," and then the angel proceeds to
educate Adam on the history of creation, relationships, and
purpose (VII, 130-630). What Adam receives from this lesson
is the understanding that obedience to God is a fair homage
because he was created in God's image, therefore to love God
is to feel good about ones self and experience healthy self-esteem.
Such virtue is missing for the intellectually malnourished Eve.
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Why is Eve short of self-esteem when Adam is secure? By God's design,
he has made her deficient, dependent on a man for joy, and unsure
about her intelligence. Plus, he has made her aware of "all of the
above." Perhaps Adam is able to comply with God's law because he
is adequately supplied and told accordingly. Yet how is it for Eve
who is told again and again that she is second best" Such favoritism
is reminiscent of God demoting Lucifer to "second status when favoring
the Son. Before his fall, Lucifer was "known in Heaven by many a
towered structure high" (I, 732) for being a great architect and
yet he was not equally loved by God. This imbalance drives Lucifer
toward a destructive course and drives Eve into the woods. Both
seek a special closeness with God but are disabled because they
go the spiritual journey alone, unguided by God.
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Separation between Adam and Eve is what offers sin an opportunity
to break down their Paradise. The fissure that gives access to their
fall is a psychological matter. Eve would like to improve her
intelligence because she knows that left on her own she could
wander with "wondering where and what I was," and probably become
estranged by narcissism (IV, 451-468). What saves Eve from narcissism
is her internalized voice of God. However, the same mental window that
allows for righteousness to enter her mind is the same window that
allows for satanic thoughts to be born. Thus when Eve in her sleep
hears Satan tell her to eat the forbidden fruit, and she wakes in
a fright, Adam reminds her that with the help of prayer she can
calm her disquieting thoughts. Therefore mending thought is a
matter of free will. Such a message out to be comforting because
it demonstrates that a person can be empowered to amend their
own hellish thoughts. Yet, if there is order in the universe
with a loving God, why would he allow a mind, like the gates
of Heaven, be left open to evil?
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When Adam is not visited by the internalized voice of God to get
direction on how to recognize evil, Adam explores the "mazy error"
of Eden (IV, 239) and defines order by naming things. Quite
interestingly, the phrase "mazy error" means "wandering maze"
which suggests that Eden is a place for Adam to experience a
sense of loss and discover personal error, only to improve
after recognizing such shortcomings by the mazelike tests.
Therefore much of the hell experienced in Eden is part of the
plan of perfecting man in God's image. It is no accident that
Adam and Eve fail. And although they wander, cry tears of
lament, blame the other, and scheme for a way to be found good
again, God has predetermined their fates.
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In Paradise, the parents of mankind may feel lost, but God
decrees in Heaven that they are "not lost" (III, 173) because
he has prearranged with his Son to expiate man's sin. The
fate of Christ is told to Adam and upon hearing of God's
sacrifice, Adam weeps, and weeps again when learning of the
suffering his heirs will endure. God empathizes with Adam,
yet provides peace of mind by telling him that such sacrifices
"unite God with man (XII, 313)." And so the gentle father leads
Adam and Eve out of Eden where they experience for the first
time a real rest. "Rest" because they could not know peace
until overcoming fear, tempered by patience and the experience
of a "paradise within" (XII, 588), governed by God and blessed
in dreams (XII, 611).
Registered ©2000 L. Bialik All Rights. ®
- Thanks: Prof. D. Shuger