Farmers Market

Einblick

Farfalline

Bilmek

Lewis & Quark

Einblick

When God Came to Man


    What is exaggeration, and what is elaboration? When does adding to a truthful story become a problem? Even lies are built on grains of truth. One of the key events in history is the Biblical event of the Fall, related in Genesis 3:1-24. John Milton, an English Puritan of the 17th century, penned Paradise Lost, an epic poem that sought to elaborate on the events of Genesis. But Genesis was inspired by God, and God is perfect, upright, and holy. He does not sin, and by extension, does not lie. Milton, as a man without divine inspiration, does not carry the same authority. What he added, bad or good, is not necessarily what happened. Milton took poetic license, with godly intentions. Milton’s account, contrary to Scripture, advances the claim that God does not constantly and directly interact with the world, leaving humans to fend for themselves.
God created the world good. The peak of His creation was two beings made like Him, for the direct end of glorifying Him. God could have kept the world in that state, but He chose another way. God allowed Satan to entice them do the one thing God forbade—to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, New King James Version) By their willing disobedience, nature and the human race were damaged, both seeking rebellion against God. This account is sufficient for life and godliness, yet it leaves many questions unanswered. Why did God forbid the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Why did Satan rebel, and seek to attack Adam and Eve? What led Adam to disobey alongside his wife?
     Paradise Lost, as a biblical epic, states a specific, limited end: “to assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men” (I.25-26). However he answers the aforementioned questions, it will not be superfluous. His worthy paradigm of justification (I.25-26) dictates all of his content. And yet, it is also entirely possible that as a man, Milton makes mistakes, theologically and historically. We determine this by what Milton actually adds to the story. Milton’s account in Book IX must stand against the original, biblical account in Genesis 3:1-24 for this determination. Milton begins with a disagreement between Adam and Eve about where to work, moves to Satan’s glorying in his evil purpose, and finally connects with the biblical narrative in line 532, as Satan tempts Eve. Eve succumbs to temptation, followed by Adam. Book IX is capped by a vehement argument between Adam and Eve. Events like these cannot be freed from the author’s voice and biases. Quantitatively, Milton is more comprehensive. Qualitatively, the versions stand opposed. In both accounts, Adam and Eve eat of the fruit, but in only one is the judgement and presence of God depicted as central.
In the Bible, the dialogue is focused, clustered around a key incident—God’s entrance into the world of man, in Genesis 3:8-24. In Book X, the Son pronounces judgement, but in Book IX, other events are given more significance. God—and therefore, good—is the deuteragonist. The goodness of God is shockingly absent, and evil is far more prevalent. This manifests, among other things, as Satan’s debauched desire for Eve, Satan’s apparent role as the hero, and most prominently, Eve’s justification of her own actions. “Great are thy virtues, doubtless, best of fruits, / though kept from man, and worthy to be admir’d…” (IX.745-746). God’s name is spoken, but only in reference to His authority. “Yet not so strictly hath our Lord imposed” (IX.235), Eve reminds Adam. God’s authority is even appealed to by Satan. “The garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat / Thereof, nor shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” (IX.661-662) As far as Eve and the serpent are concerned, in both renditions of the tale, God rules from afar.
     Adam and Eve knew God, but they did not know Him enough to trust Him. Pre-Fall and post-Fall, God appears to be absent. God’s essence is neglected, and even though His existence is acknowledged, He Himself is ignored. Milton’s greatest textual departure from the biblical account is the addition of arguments between Adam and Eve before and after the Fall. Not only does this carry implications about argument’s place in a perfect system, it also elucidates Adam and Eve’s character traits. Did the Fall really change them? Pre-Fall, they argue, appealing to safety and impersonal rules and even themselves in order to justify their respective views. “And what is faith, love, virtue, unassay’d. / Alone without exterior help sustain’d?” (IX.335-336). God has a small place in their thoughts in light of their supposed perfection. Writing a story four thousand years from the fact, Milton appears to be at fault.
     The Bible seems to contradict this idea of disunion. Witness Genesis 3:8: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” (Genesis 3:8, NKJV). Conjecture can suppose that God walked with them. In Paradise Lost, God only sends angels, and both Adam and Eve seem surprisingly in need of correction for being in a perfect state. Adam is painted as distracted by his own authority over Eve and misunderstanding God’s decrees, especially in Book VIII, while Eve pretends to be worthless apart from Adam. The Fall occurs while they are isolated from each other. In the absence of Adam, Eve appeals to reason to combat Satan. But with the presuppositions Satan provides her with, to eat the fruit is rational. “[the serpent] Hath eaten of the fruit, and is become…Reasoning to admiration…” (IX.862, 872) Reason leads her straight to sin. Adam does not fare any better—rather than reasoning, he appeals to his passion for Eve. “Our state cannot be sever’d, we are one / One flesh, to lose thee were to lose myself.” (IX.958-959) Both applied the best they possessed, in God’s absence. Eve’s reason is the right method operating under wrong assumptions. Adam’s emotion is the correct—but misapplied—love of Eve. Their wills are at fault, not their rationality or feelings. Their wills were myopic, shaped by outward circumstances. Rather than trusting in the goodness of God’s will, they placed faith in their own wills and ability to recognize good.
    Unsurprisingly, they lacked the tools to discern between good and evil. God did not offer Himself to them. Throughout the whole epic, God only interacts with Adam and Eve twice—to make them (related by Adam in Book VIII), and to judge them (Book X). Everything else is taught at the mouths of angels. Only by the Fall does God offer proximity to Himself. Only after the Fall does God speak to Adam and Eve with any semblance of hope. Creation has no hope for them, only stagnancy. Hope proceeds from the Fall. Adam and Eve’s lack of knowledge of His will executes His will. God’s ways are justified in the epic, but Milton still has inaccuracies. Milton implies that the Garden of Eden was not a good place. It was a place stripped of God. Satan enters the Garden, by the will of God. An unquestionably evil event occurs, by the will of God. And the highest expression of evil is ignorance of God. He intimates the parents of the human race did not know God except by hearsay. All of Adam’s mistreatment of Eve stems from God’s similarly distant treatment of Adam. Adam is wrong. He is not Eve’s God. But in Paradise Lost, Adam does not know any better, as opposed to the scriptural account. God Himself emphasizes Adam’s need to accept responsibility for his sin. He abandoned the will of God, but not because he was far from God, as Milton writes. On the contrary, because he was closest to God, he had total responsibility to use his free will. He had every reason to be strong. Adam takes the blame for his sin, not God. God is the one who takes away the blame. God promises to see the blame taken away, the punishment of sin removed. By the redemptive death of Christ on the cross, God has returned His chosen to a pre-Fall state—able to sin, able to not sin. Despite Milton’s presentation of Adam and Eve, God constantly and directly interacts with us, as He did with them. This does not mean we will not fall periodically. In those times, we can rely on God, because He has changed our will and forgiven us. Adam failed because he tried to fend for himself. We do not have to fend for ourselves. We can rely on the God who saves our passions, reason, and wills.
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