Paradise Lost, Part II, Predestination

May 8, 2015

There is a fascinating scene in The Matrix Revolutions when Neo (Keanu Reeves) bursts into the Oracle's (Gloria Foster) kitchen. The Oracle and a little girl, Sati, are making cookies. The Oracle says, “Oh, I was hoping to have these done before you got here.” Why is this fascinating? Well, so much can be read into the Oracle's words because she is, in part, able to foretell the events that will come. So, why does she want the cookies to be done before Neo arrives? Maybe that scenario presents the strongest likelihood (such as appropriate dimensions and circumstances regarding Neo's growth and education, or as related to space-time events, or the computer's combination of new and old rules) to allow Neo to save the world. Or, maybe she just wants Neo to be pleased by a warm, freshly baked cookie. Either way, she was hoping for another eventuality.

The idea of predestination presents innumerable and often circular problems. For example, in Book III of Paradise Lost, God discusses man's impending doom with the Son. He knows that man will fall, as tempted by Satan and has seen this coming. Predestination, however, does not change the importance of His love for man. In fact, it may be precisely the point. Untested love contains little moral worth. When writing Paradise Lost, Milton desired to explain the ways of God to man. Obviously, this is a tremendously difficult task. But, it would seem that Milton achieved his aim, if we think of the way that love is characterized throughout the poem. Milton humanizes deities in order to guide humans into thinking about the deities themselves. They have struggles to overcome, balance to maintain and a larger picture than just themselves. For some reason, it seems odd to say it, but God must think about every one of his creations before he thinks about Himself. And Satan's temptation of man places God in a very awkward predicament: how to evidence His love.

In Book IV, when Satan sees the innocence of Adam and Eve, he nearly reconsiders his destructive path. However, Satan decides that all hope is lost to him. He says, “For never can true reconcilement grow/Where wounds of deadly hate have peirc'd so deep: / Which would but lead me to a worse relapse,/ And heavier fall” (lines 98-100). These enigmatic lines imply that Satan is fated to fall, that there is something contained within his own being (or God's) that would cause Satan to fall, regardless of circumstance. (On a side note, how could he have a worse fate than the one he currently lives out?)

Satan's view of Adam and Eve is also interesting because the reader finds a basic contradiction: that of complete innocence with that of absolute knowledge. Why does Satan, one who possesses knowledge of the creator and creation, oppose love as offered by God, especially when offered a view of God's love? One wonders what Satan thinks he is doing. Satan's action can only be interpreted as tempting God to react with something other than love. But it also implies that Satan, who has knowledge and some sort of original link to the creator, may not know the outcome of this battle of wills. If Satan knew that God will punish but then pardon man, why would he pursue their fall?

Think for a moment about the predestined path of Satan. If he is predestined to fall, refused reconciliation, then in what way can he access free will? Likewise, think about the predestined path of the Son. If he is an angel predestined to redeem mankind's evils, does he actually know enough to claim that he acts out of free will? Does this type of love lack a spirit of true freedom?

In The Confessions, Augustine says, “[W]hat a person does against his will is not to his own credit, even if what he does is good in itself.” The Son certainly did not act against his own wishes, but it is unclear whether or not he instigated the thought of sacrificing himself. This question is probably not answerable. Milton views the Son's offer as an extension of the love that God created and maybe there is nothing more to it than that. But, just like the Oracle's cookies, I doubt it is merely that simple.

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