Good vs. Evil in the Christian Epic of “Paradise Lost”

the fall

No human being is entirely good or entirely evil. We have within us two opposing impulses: One pushes us towards the nobler, higher ideals of mankind–such as truth, freedom, service, and fraternity–and the other pushes us towards our baser, more animalistic tendencies–the sphere of existence where greed, dishonesty, jealousy, and selfishness abide.

Human beings have the freedom to choose between an infinitely wide range of emotions, thoughts and actions. The sum total of these emotions, thoughts and actions determines whether we are living in virtue or whether we are giving in to our baser instincts. It is an internal battle that everyone faces Every Single Day… from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, and sometimes our subconscious wages these battles in our dream life, as well.

What lies at stake in this daily battle is not only our personal happiness and wellbeing, but also the happiness and wellbeing of the people that surround us. Ultimately, no man is an island. What we do affects everyone we come in contact with. How to live our life is a personal decision that will shape not only our relationships, but also our reality. Thus, everything that happens to us is a reflection of the choices we’ve made in life, the path we have decided to follow, and the people we have chosen to surround ourselves with… for better or for worse.

The internal battle between noble impulses and baser instincts has been externally represented throughout the ages in Literature. Internal noble impulses are represented externally through heroic deeds; while base, self-serving instincts are represented externally through the conception of the threatening forces of evil.

Take, for example, John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”.

This tale was penned by 17th-century Englishman and poet John Milton. The story has two narrative arcs: one concerning the banishment of Lucifer from heaven, the other concerning the Fall of Man and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

It starts after Lucifer and the other rebel angels have been defeated and banished into Tartarus (Hell). Over the course of the story we learn that the war between the faithful angels and the rebel angels lasted three days.

At the final battle, the Son of God single-handedly defeated the entire legion of angelic rebels. After this victory, God creates the world, which culminates in the fashioning of Adam and Eve after his own image.

Down in Tartarus, Lucifer, who has now become Satan, is livid. He wants to poison Mankind, God’s new and favored creation. However, the other fallen angels want none of it. They were defeated and have had enough war.

Satan, though, will stop at nothing to get revenge. So he organizes his followers, persuades the others to go along with his plan, and then volunteers to cross the abyss (the place between Tartarus and Earth) into the material World, and later into the Garden of Eden.

Satan, the antagonist, is filled with an all-consuming purpose, fueled by the passion of his rage. He has made the decision to stop at nothing until he makes God pay. He also happens to be a spectacular leader and advocate.

First, he uses the facts (as he sees them) to make an argument: God, in his unfairness and pride, banished us from heaven, our rightful home, to then fashion Humankind after his own image, seeking to bestow unto them the power of rulership that he so unfairly took away from us.

Through his passionate powers of persuasion, he rouses his defeated comrades from their stupor and convinces them to rally and fight God once again. But he doesn’t stop at that…

No, Satan takes action. He takes matters into his own hands. He is the one who crosses the abyss, he is the one who tempts Humankind so that they Fall from Grace. In other words, he does his own dirty work.

This part of the narrative ends as the other begins.

Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden, happily minding their own business. God sends Archangel Raphael to warn them about the coming of Satan. He tells them how jealousy against the Son of God led Lucifer and his followers into waging war, and how the Son cast them all into hell. He relates that the world was created so Mankind could one day replace the fallen angels in heaven.

After Raphael leaves, Satan takes the form of a serpent (which curiously, in the Esoteric tradition, is the symbol for Wisdom) and tempts Eve by telling her that if she eats from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she’ll learn the truth about many things… the truth about the world, and about herself.

Curiosity got the best of her and she took a bite out of the fruit. When Adam learns what Eve did, he chooses to eat the fruit as well because he claims they are bound to one another. If she dies, he must also die.. They are One.

Up in heaven, the Son of God, witnessing these events, then offers to sacrifice himself in the future so that Mankind will be redeemed. God accepts, and sends Archangel Michael to expel Adam and Eve (who deeply regret the decision they made) from the Garden of Eden.

Archangel Michael tells Adam of future events, terrible events, resulting from the choice they made. But he also tells him of the future coming of the Savior of Mankind. So in a somewhat mitigated sadness, Michael escorts them out of paradise.

We can learn many things from this Story.

First, that evil is relentless. Satan fulfilled his goal of expelling Mankind from paradise through the use of his skill, after all.

Second, that the flesh is weak. Adam and Eve were warned of the upcoming peril, but still they failed the test.

Third, that there’s always hope.

We will always be surrounded by people who tempt us into acting in a way we feel to be untrue to ourselves. There will always be temptation within ourselves, too. The solution to this is not to retreat from the world. It is better to face these problems with integrity and act in accordance to our own values than to seek to build a bubble of false and isolated contentment around us. Doing the right thing is never easy, least of all in this age… but it is worth it.

However, it is unwise to underestimate the challenges of life, no matter how righteous or strong we think ourselves to be. If we happen to win a personal battle, it would be unwise to think we’re invincible in the face of future temptation. The opposite also happens to be true. If we fail to act according to our values in a certain situation, it doesn’t mean we’re going to perpetually fail for the rest of our life.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Regret is useful insofar as we can learn from our mistakes, and it becomes an unnecessary burden beyond that, a burden we must let go. Adam and Eve moved on. They sorely regretted their decision, but they buckled up their pants (so to speak) and got to work on Earth.

No matter how bad a mistake we make, there is always hope for a better future. This is the underlying message of the great Christian epic that is PARADISE LOST.

4 thoughts on “Good vs. Evil in the Christian Epic of “Paradise Lost”

  1. That is a frequent topic among my friends and myself as it offers so many approaches to discuss and there are so many layers to it!

    I wonder if in this post you gave us a review of John Milton’s view of the world and/or if you agree with him?

    I think Adam and Eve were in an almost Catch 22 situation as they knew (what exactly knowing means before humankind has started on the pathway to consciousness can be a whole discussion by itself) they were not meant to eat from the apple but this could have been a very abstract knowledge as they didn’t have the ability to differentiate between Good and Evil, because that they could only gain from eating the “fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”
    So regardless of the warnings, this situation made them quite vulnerable to any temptation because not knowing good and evil, it must have been quite tough to discern the intentions of a being (an archangel or the snake) they got in touch with.

    And another idea of mine is that God was more than smart enough to predict the outcome of that situation and thus this Fall was according to the big Plan, in harmony with the Mission of the Earth.

    You mention about Satan that “he does his own dirty work.” – strangely enough during Passiontide when we talked a lot about Lucifer and Ahriman, I used the exact same expression (dirty work) as these beings probably undertake these roles because some had / has to do the dirty work of being the counterforce(s) that provides the moral and other trials to human souls so they (we) can find the right way between the two extremes. Without these extremes, there is no “middle” way that leads where we are meant to go.

    I’m happy that you have written this post as it’s really good food for thought and a good starting point to make us, readers think about it! Thanks Monique!

  2. Hi Monique,

    Okay, reading your website more carefully, I now see that FJGottlieb is a non de plume and you have not been hacked! That is good to know.

    All the best again, David.

  3. Hi David! So nice to hear from you. I just checked Academia, and sure enough, there’s your message! Thank you for keeping in touch.

    I suppose I could honestly say I deleted my FB account because it was becoming too much for me… I cannot focus my energies on the real world, on myself, and also on a virtual reality at the same time, I do not think it’s healthy. It was taking up too much of my time and I was forgetting to do things that really mattered to me and were important for my soul development in lieu of posting, commenting and reading on FB, and I felt like it was aging me, aging my soul, and dragging me down (with the risk of sounding dramatic haha). So I gave it up!

    And I feel much better, I really do. I have so much more energy and time to focus on the life I can perceive with my senses, to engage with the friends and family that I feel truly support me and build me up, and to work on my personal goals. This ends up filling me much more inwardly than actively participating in a virtual reality.

    Besides, I’m expecting my first child! I’m three months pregnant, so I’m really taking this time to focus on nurturing myself and the baby that’s on the way 🙂

    I hope to still be able to keep in touch with you, through Academia and the like. It’s been great knowing you. Thanks again for reaching out.

    All the best always 🙂

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