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In the poem, Milton talks about the story of Adam and Eve and how they lost their place in paradise. He expands the story of creation by including more details and events that led to the creation and fall of man. He also presents a narrative of the activities that happened in the Garden of Eden. The theme of free will is deeply embedded in Milton’s Paradise Lost. It comes out clearly as he tries to explain the way of God towards human beings.
Milton argues that the reason for creation of man was to allow man to assume the previous position held by Satan and his angels. This was primarily the reason for making man after the fall of Satan. Man was given the free will to choose what he wants. However, God still had full knowledge of what man was going to do if he uses the free will. This implies that God knew from the beginning that man would disobey the commandments given to him. As a result, it begs the questions as whether there was free will given in the first place.
If man was truly given free will, God’s knowledge of how the world would eventually turn out raises so many questions. At the same time, man’s inability to make decisions beyond his human and physical nature further creates concerns as to the amount of freedom he has in making his decisions. This paper seeks to explore and develop an argument based on the theme of free will in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
According to Milton, the war in heaven led to the defeat of Satan and later dismissal from heaven. He then built a pandemonium in hell where he held meetings with his followers. These meetings were aimed at planning a revenge mission after losing the war in heaven.
In the meetings, it was decided that the mission shall aim at attacking God’s prophesied new creation, mankind. God, being omnipotent and all knowing, foretells the fall of man. When Satan got his way into the Garden of Eden, he became extremely jealous of them. He knew that the favor mankind was experiencing was supposed to be upon him.
But, since he had rebelled against God, his destiny was destruction. Attacking God’s newly favored creation, he thought, was the best way to hit back at God. From this background, one is able to deduce that God knew how everything would transpire even before he created mankind. He was aware of the meeting Satan had with his followers in pandemonium. He knew their agendas and foretold of the fall of man.
The concept of free will
The concept of free will refers to the ability of individuals to make choices without the influence of external forces. The forces that impede someone from making free decisions can be physical, spiritual, mental, social, and metaphysical in nature. However, in the context of the poem, such forces are either metaphysical or spiritual.
Therefore, if human beings were given the free will, according to Milton, it implies that they should be able to make choices without being constrained by God. This ability is evident in the poem. God makes Adam and Eve then gives the ability to make their decisions. He gives them a commandment and expects them to obey. Even though God knows what Adam and Eve are able to do with their free will, He still expects them to obey the commandment that required them not to eat fruits from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
When the devil came to tempt Adam and Eve, God knew that they would fall to the temptations because they had the free will to make their decisions. He knew that they were eager to gain knowledge and to have an experience beyond what they are. God did not influence or interfere with their decisions to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. According to Milton, God expected man to obey voluntarily. This is what Milton means by Adam and Eve having free will.
The angels in heaven are also part of God’s creation. These angels including Lucifer were also given the free will. They were expected to obey God voluntarily and not out of coercion or influence from God. Lucifer and his cohorts chose not to obey but there is evidence of voluntary obedience in the other angels.
One such angel is Abdel who declines being part of the team that disobeys God. As Satan tries to convince him to join his side, Abdel counters his argument and tells that the laws God makes are to establish a union with him. By disobeying God, the union is broken and the consequence is separation and death. Abdel is used in the story to demonstrate the true meaning of freedom.
Being separated from God, as a result of disobedience, seems democratic and in pursuit of freedom. However, in essence there is no freedom in breaking the union God has established with his creatures. This made mankind to have the tendency of both God and Satan. On one hand, man could be good and act for the benefit of all while on the other hand man could be extremely evil and create a lot of disaster and chaos in his surrounding environment.
In their first state, Adam and Eve were good people. However, after the fall, every aspect of mankind was affected. The mind became unable to comprehend the things of the spirit, the hearts developed deceptive emotions, and the free will became bound. Humans are natural beings.
Even though sometimes they feel like acting beyond their nature, they are bound not to. Adam and even could not act beyond what is natural despite having the desire. The aspect of free will was only truly free when they had not sinned. They would interact with God, according to Milton.
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God appeared to them in a form that they would see. They would communicate to God through a normal conversation. This meant that they would be able to get immediate feedback when they spoke to God and vice versa. It was through free will that both of them were able to decide to try something that was not part of them. As Milton describes, both Adam and Eve were very inquisitive and desired to gain knowledge.
This aspect was not part of them prior the fall. They were only to gain knowledge if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. At that point they had the free will to choose something that was beyond their nature. However, after the fall, they became bound. Their free will became limited only to their human physical nature. They were only able to make free choices that revolve around their nature.
If humans were to really enjoy the concept of free will, they would wish to transform into various things they find interesting. They would wish to operate in the spiritual realm or control forces of nature. But, since their free will is now bound, they can only create things with their imaginations but within the limits of nature. Another concern that is raised from the poem is why God would make such a lousy security system.
In other words, why would God wish to make man to replace the position previously held by the devil and yet allow for the fall of man by giving man free will? The point is that if God wanted mankind to take that position, then man should not have been given the ability to make choices out of their own will. This is because the same rebellion and disobedience God got from Satan would follow through mankind.
From the poem, it can be deduced that God, through his mercies, still expects humans to obey him voluntarily despite the fact that Adam and Eve fell. God presented before them life and death.
Even with the fall of man, God still had intentions to rescue man from the consequences of disobedience. He planned a remedy for the fall of man but still left man with the free will to accept the remedy or continue living in disobedience. Man still has the freedom to eat from the tree of life which reestablishes the union man once had with God.