Examining a Paradise Lost

In my ongoing quest to read everything C. S. Lewis wrote, I have not yet gotten to his preface to Paradise Lost, and I decided not to read it until I had first read the poem myself. So I’ve been wading through Milton’s epic.

It’s not an easy read, but I’m getting the hang of it. Every once in a while, I come across some pearls, both theologically and in Milton’s choice of words. For instance, now I’m aware of where one quote comes from that I’ve heard all my life. Here’s a comment from Satan, speaking to the fallen angels who joined in his revolt:

Here at least we shall be free; the almighty hath not built here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though in hell: Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.

Later, Milton compose a soliloquy from God the Father to the Son, making it clear who will be to blame if man gives in to sin:

Whose fault? Whose but his own? Ingrate, he had of me all he could have; I made him just and right, sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.

Such I created all the ethereal powers and spirits, both them who stood and them who failed; freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.

We always want to blame someone or something else for our failure to obey God. That doesn’t work; we choose our path.

I also found it rather fascinating when Milton attempted to show Satan’s own reaction to the possibility of repenting for what he had done. He gives us an interesting back-and-forth in the mind of Satan as he contemplates the awfulness of his rebellion:

Is there no place left for repentance, none for pardon left? None left but by submission; and that word disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame among the spirits beneath, whom I seduced with other promises and other vaunts than to submit, boasting I could subdue the omnipotent.

Ay me, they little know how dearly I abide that boast so vain, under what torments inwardly I groan: while they adore me on the throne of hell, with diadem and scepter high advanced the lower still I fall, only supreme in misery. . . .

But say I could repent and could obtain by act of grace my former state; how soon would height recall high thoughts, how soon unsay what feigned submission swore: ease would recant vows made in pain, as violent and void.

For never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep: which would but lead me to a worse relapse, and heavier fall.

I’m in book six of twelve and unsure how long it may take to finish, but I’m going to persevere. How often I have personally bemoaned (how’s that for a poetic word rarely used nowadays?) the poor education I received in my formative years. Now, in my sixties, I have this yearning to make up for what I’ve missed.

So, as much as I want to read Lewis’s preface to this work, I believe I have to devote myself to the poem itself first. As I find more pearls, I may share them with you.

Personal Accountability & Ferguson

The smoke (literally) has not cleared totally on the Ferguson riots. Since I wrote my blog a couple of days ago, protesters/criminals have continued to cause problems. The National Guard, which was conspicuously not called in by Missouri governor Nixon on the night of the grand jury decision, has helped calm the area, working in tandem with the police and state law enforcement officials. That’s probably not what most National Guardsmen signed up for. Our military is supposed to protect us from invasion, not from ourselves:

Danger Zones

The looters and rioters, setting fire to businesses and endangering lives, are not exactly focused on the presumed reason for the protest. Michael Brown doesn’t seem to be in the forefront of their thoughts; they are far more interested in destruction and grabbing “stuff” for themselves:

Stand for Justice

For instance, what did the woman who ran a cake bakery do to incite riots? Wasn’t she in business to offer a product to the community? Yet the destruction was indiscriminate.

Black Friday

Perhaps the most redeeming story to come out of this fiasco is that this woman has now received over $200,000 from Americans across the nation to help her rebuild her business. That’s the real America, which is far different than the racially divided country the media portrays.

Speaking of the media, some have pointed fingers at them as possible co-conspirators in this unfolding story:

Ideas

I have no problem with the media being on the scene to describe what’s happening on the ground, but whenever the line is crossed from reporting to agitation, there can be grounds for pointing those fingers.

But if we really want to get to the source of what occurred in Ferguson, there’s only one place to go:

Brown

It’s called a principle of personal accountability for one’s actions. It’s a principle that can be forgotten in the midst of turmoil, yet we need to constantly remind one another that each individual is a free moral agent given the ability by God to make decisions. Ultimately, no matter how one is raised, no matter how many wrong influences there are in one’s life, we all have to answer for ourselves. Our decisions are not predetermined; we still have the ability to choose, regardless of our environment. Society is not to blame.

The Road Back to Spiritual Sanity

Islamic terrorism comes to Canada. On Monday, a jihadist used his car as a weapon and killed a Canadian soldier. Yesterday, a more concerted attack occurred at the Canadian Parliament. Another soldier is dead and others are injured. The Islamic convert, fortunately, lost his life before he could kill others.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called it what it was: Islamic terrorism. Our president and his administration are still “getting the facts” and “studying” what happened. Wouldn’t want to rush to judgment, you know.

It’s the same mentality that called the Ft. Hood massacre “workplace violence” and the same ideological blindness that declared an Islamic state wasn’t really Islamic.

I’ve lost count of the many times in this blog I’ve put forward my view that Barack Obama lives in a different realm. He has created his own fantasy world where everything is just the way he perceives it to be, regardless of the consequences the rest of us have to live with due to his intransigence.

I won’t jump on the bandwagon that deems him a Muslim. There’s no way he’s a practicing Muslim. He just has sympathy for them because he sees them as trampled by the real evil in the world—Western civilization, and the United States, in particular.

If you ever wanted to know what it would be like to have a president who pretty much despises the heritage of the nation he leads, you now have a prime example.

Then there’s the other side of Obama, the side that is so narcissistic that his own enjoyment comes before the duties of the office he holds. Golf and fundraisers—the things he really enjoys doing—have priority over all else. Under this president, our color-coded threat grid looks something like this:

Warning System

I have little hope he will awaken from his dream world. Some of my fellow Christians will say there is always hope that someone will turn from error and embrace the Truth. I agree. Yet I don’t hold that out as a probability, only a remote possibility. God has given each of us free will. When that freedom has been used exclusively for one’s own personal pleasure and has been wedded to a false ideology for fifty-plus years, the road back to spiritual sanity is hard to find.

One must want to find that road, and that desire is what seems to be lacking.

Meanwhile, we continue to live with the consequences. We probably don’t deserve God’s mercy, but we can still pray for it, since mercy, properly defined, is unmerited favor in the first place.

Finney: The Undeniability of Free Will

I’ve posted a couple of times comments by C. S. Lewis on free will. Charles Finney also is strong on this doctrine. From his Systematic Theology, he makes the following salient points:

Finney's Systematic TheologyMoral agency implies the possession of free will. . . . Free will implies the power of originating and deciding our own choices, and of exercising our own sovereignty, in every instance of choice upon moral questions. . . . That man cannot be under a moral obligation to perform an absolute impossibility is a first truth of reason. . . . Unless the will is free, man has no freedom; and if he has no freedom he is not a moral agent, that is, he is incapable of moral action and also of moral character. . . .

In theory, the freedom of the will in man has been denied. Yet the very deniers have, in their practical judgment, assumed the freedom of the human will as well, and as fully, as the most staunch defenders of human liberty of will. Indeed, nobody ever did or can, in practice, call in question the freedom of the human will without justly incurring the charge of insanity.

By a necessity of his nature, every moral agent knows himself to be free. He can no more hide this fact from himself, or reason himself out of the conviction of its truth, than he can speculate himself into a disbelief of his own existence. He may, in speculation, deny either, but in fact he knows both. That he is, that he is free, are truths equally well known.

The bottom line here is this: theory is one thing, practice is another. No matter how you may slice away man’s freedom to choose in theory, you cannot escape the reality that all mankind makes choices, and those choices are not forced by God. He has given us the capacity to choose. When we choose in accordance with His love and laws (and they’re not really at odds), we are blessed; when we rebel against Him, we suffer the consequences of our sins.

Lewis: God Didn’t Make a Toy World

C. S. Lewis 6Last Saturday, in my weekly C. S. Lewis post, I quoted him on the subject of free will. He had quite a lot to say on that doctrine, and I like what he has said. Therefore, I’m giving him a wide berth today by relating a passage from Mere Christianity that makes the point even more forcefully than the quote I used last week:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right.  Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.

Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating.

The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.

. . . If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it it is worth paying.

As grievous as sin is, ultimately it will be overshadowed by love when the Lord wraps up this current earthly existence and we move into a new phase. We can get glimpses of His love now, and those glimpses make it all worthwhile.

Lewis: A World of Free Beings by God’s Design

The age-old controversy over free will continues to plague us. I have very settled views on the matter. Some of what I believe on this is enunciated quite well by C. S. Lewis in a couple of his works. For instance, in The Problem of Pain, he zeroes in on the one who is truly accountable for evil entering into this world:

Man is now a horror to God and to himself and a creature ill-adapted to the universe not because God made him so but because he has made himself so by the abuse of his free will.

This, of course, leads to a question:

Why Free Will

In one of his essays, “The Trouble with ‘X’ . . . ” he lays out the rationale for why God made us with choice:

God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them—but only if the people will let Him. . . . He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom.

I see that wisdom clearly. Thank God that He made us with the capacity to love and to have loving relationships with Him and other “free beings.”