[Milton-L] Human dignity

Samuel Smith ssmith at messiah.edu
Wed Jul 26 17:05:19 EDT 2006

Yes, indeed, we are come to the heart of things.  Richard Strier has
identified a primary failing of Milton's God which renders him most
problematical if he is truly to represent the Center of the universe.  I
think Jim Rovira just barely misses this in his own comments about
forgiveness without preconditions and "choos[ing] to receive" that
forgiveness: "If forgiveness is available to all there are no preconditions;
if one must choose to receive it, that is only respect for human dignity,
freedom, and the meaning of human actions.  A God who forces forgiveness
upon all renders their decisions and actions meaningless.  I wouldn't treat
my own children that way..."

I would argue that forgiveness is not merely available to all without
precondition; any God who truly understands humanity (and for me, this is
why the incarnation is the crucial doctrine for the Christian religion)
actually forgives all without precondition.  This does not render human
decisions and actions meaningless.  Humans must still live through the
painful consequences of their decisions and actions; forgiveness doesn't
change that.

Forgiveness without preconditions isn't "forced" on anyone; it is extended
as a gift from a Center without an ego.  Again, what humans in their dignity
get to choose is whether or not they will EXPERIENCE that forgiveness and
live in the "light" of grace instead of in the "darkness" of what binds
them.  This is so important: the way transgression binds BOTH the
transgressor and the "transgressee."  If God cannot forgive Satan (whether
in Paradise Lost or any particular version of the Christian myth), then God
remains bound to Satan and dependent on both Satan's existence and Satan's
transgression.  Indeed, that is the Christianity I grew up with: the God of
my inherited construction of Christianity could not exist apart from his
evil "twin": the absolute demise of Satan would have meant the the absolute
demise of God--that's why Satan had to be preserved in the lake of fire for

Until he can forgive Satan, Milton's God is forever bound to him--if God
withholds forgiveness he actually supplies Satan with so much of his power,
as reader responses to Paradise Lost have demonstrated over and over.  

As I see it, Richard Strier identifies what we would wish to see in a
universe "created" by a Center without ego, a God whose love is so radically
perfect that it actually does "cast away all fear": to see the Son
travelling north to meet Satan, to continue engagement, to solicit
reconciliation, to persuade with words of love.  For many of us, this would
be a more ethical response to Satan's transgression.

With respect to unconditional forgiveness, I do treat my children in this
way: they always already have my full forgiveness and my unending effort
toward reconciliation, let them do what they will.  I can't force them to
EXPERIENCE that or to live in the joy of forgiveness and reconciliation; I
can't undo the consequences that follow from their free decisions and
actions.  But they are forgiven, without any preconditions.  And so I am not
bound to their transgressions or the pain of their trangressions; but I am
bound to them in this deepest love that I think most parents have for their
children.  Whatever they have done, at the "end of the day" I will hold them
in my arms if they are willing to abide there.  And I will do my best to
insure they clearly see me standing there, FOR them, GIVING my love without
condition.  I won't leave them doubting whether or not they are loved by me.

If there actually were a Satan, imagine the power of a God who could do just
that toward his most offending child.  No petty tribal deity, the God who
could do that!


Samuel Smith
Professor of English
Messiah College
Box 3017
Grantham, Pennsylvania 17027
717 766 2511 x7052
email: ssmith at messiah.edu

"Every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in."
--Leonard Cohen

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