Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Only a Slave Can Be Truly Free - Paradise Lost

Only the eyes of the heart perceive
That the deaf and blind can hear and see
That insanity’s saner than sanity
That only a slave can be truly free
-“Through the Eye” Michael Card
I tend to prefer the epic to the commonplace. While Shakespeare’s tightly plotted tragedies and comedies are hardly everyday fare, compared to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, they’re as familiar as an alarm clock in the morning. Because really, Paradise Lost is high fantasy. Fantasy based on fact, but still legendary in scale. Peopled with fantastic creatures and transcendent beings, colossal settings and astounding descriptions, Paradise Lost consists mainly of Milton letting his imagination run wild as it fills in gaps between the first few chapters of Genesis.

Milton doesn’t just try his hand at description; he also takes a shot at theology. Obviously, anyone who creates a fictional story puts their characters in a world where the author’s views are Truth. For instance, judging the bulk of literature, one concludes that most of humanity (consciously or unconsciously) believes in an ultimate Happy Ending, and longs for the triumph of Justice.

“…and they lived happily ever after.”
The main ideas that jump out in Lost (really, the TV show wasn’t very true to the book), are those of justice, pride, freedom, gratitude, and forgiveness. Milton certainly isn’t a universalist. He correctly understands that every time God forgives, he must do so at the expense of his justice. Of Jesus he said:

“Die he or Justice must; unless for him
Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.”

Yet at the same time, he presents the glorious solution: “mercy first and last shall brightest shine” due to Christ’s death and resurrection. All of that is decided and foreknown before the beginning of the world. And…that’s when the problems start. Pride, that original sin, slinks out of its den and into the hearts of men and angels. Man begins to fancy, doubting God’s exclusive right to reign. Attack of the Ego. With pride comes loss of gratitude, and the delusion of autonomy. But not Satan. He’s intelligent to know that it’s a delusion. He understands that he’s fighting a losing battle.

“The debt immense of endless gratitude
 So burdensome, still paying, still to owe;
Forgetful what from him I still received…”

None of us exist by our own power or will; Satan understands that, and yet still does not have the humility to surrender. For in the end, surrender is all that will win the victory. Only submitting to God’s service will make one truly free.

“You washed me clean like a summer rain
You set me free with that ball and chain, Hosea,
 I threw away the key, I’ll never leave.”
-"Hosea" Andrew Peterson

Submission and forgiveness recieved must necessarily breed gratitude. And “ay, there’s the rub.” Satan isn’t about to thank God for what he considers a patronizing gift. Satan will endure many things, but not being laughed at or thought inferior. His pride rebels at surrender and he continues to chase the illusive freedom of self-rule. He sneers at servile gratitude, and because of that, he will never accept forgiveness as a gift.

He’d have made a great American. Too often we sneer at surrender, choosing arrogant independence rather than becoming the servants of true freedom. We place desire for Freedom, that original sin, on the altar, rejecting the priceless gift of servitude and thankfulness. For it is only through surrender to God’s purposes, his law, both as individuals and as a nation, that we transcend all barriers into true liberty. Adam and Eve were completely free, but for that one essential act of obedience, one law: refraining from the Tree of Knowledge. If we are God's servants, we are free of everything else.

“What Better Work For One Who Loves Freedom Than The Job Of A Watchman? Law Is The Servant Of Freedom. Freedom Without Limits Is Just a Word."
-“Feet of Clay” Terry Pratchett

Law is the servant of freedom. Don’t be fooled, you’re never really free, and you never have been. Every breath you breathe is a gift. We all serve something—whose servant are you? If you don’t serve God, you’ll serve yourself, or a cause, or Big Brother, or Freedom, or a million other petty idols. It’s not a question of whether or not one is a servant, it’s a question of whose.

Pride, Freedom, Justice, Gratitude, Forgiveness. It is the only logical progression of a man’s journey, and Milton understood it very well.

“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”
Or is it?
Neo-Mayberry, Middle of Nowhere, America

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