"For neither do the spirits damned lose all their virtue..." —John Milton, Paradise Lost
Perhaps it is uncouth of me to quote a piece of a poem partial to Satan. John Milton's masterpiece, Paradise Lost, describes in poetic brilliance the war, fall, and deception of Satan and his legions of thwarted angels. With this description, of course, comes the contrast of the Good Lord's grace and power amidst a "threatened" throne. Milton writes with resounding diction and philosophical inquiry, thus making Paradise Lost an absolute dream for me: an epic poem and genius work of literature that also causes me to think deeply about my faith and the state of the world.
As can be read in many of my previous posts, life's social and logical struggles have challenged me. I have recently fallen into a state of distrust, abandoned expectations, and neglected hope. In response to such notions I have acted accordingly, living in the world as if it is all that exists. Though my actions do little to glorify the God I believe in, He has been ever on my mind throughout, and every day I question what it is exactly I am trying to prove by turning from faith to the world. I made a sort of pact with myself to pursue only what I truly want and to chasten no more the honest opinions of what is necessary in my life. I dove into literature and writing, working a job I adore, creating lists of self-improving goals like re-teaching myself guitar and learning calligraphy. I am working toward the body I want and the mind I want; yet, all falls to faith. Its impact is constant: if you do have faith, its effect is impossible to mistake; if you don't have faith, you spend most of your time trying to explain why it is not there. Either way, the mind is consumed with the presence of faith.
I have not yet brought myself to return to reading my Bible consistently. I have hardly felt worthy to touch it in past times, and now I hold a slight (unjust) aversion to it. I have read only some chapters from my favorite book, Ecclesiastes, which was brought to my mind when it was quoted by dear Mr. Hemingway in the front of my new favorite novel, The Sun Also Rises. Despite my love for Ecclesiastes, the disarray of my mind has kept me from immersing myself in the Bible's call, causing me to be negligent and hesitant and doubtful. By some stroke of fate divine, I chose to next read Milton's aforementioned poem, which I had previously read excerpts from about a year ago in class. The excerpts—small though they be—were enough to dramatically arouse my interest in the poem. An epic verse about the Fall of Man from the tormented perspective of Satan himself? How could anyone not be intrigued?
Thus began my reading of Paradise Lost and the psychological journey back toward faith. Though baby steps seem awfully large in comparison to the miniscule movements I am making back toward God, it seems He is still watching me, luring me by dropping into my hands the perfect concoction of my love and bane. Logic and literature, faith and reality superimposed into beautiful words and artful arrangements on aromatic, red-worn pages have captured my attention. I am only three books into the epic, and already I have witnessed several dimensions of rebellious spirit wrought with sins of pride, greed, malice, and gluttony, as well as the gloriousness of those fallen who had such potential, and the contrast of the wounded, vengeful rebellion against the majestic benevolence of the great Creator. Some instances that have already captured me include God's discussion with his Son about the forgiveness of man, claiming men are given grace because they did not manifest evil within themselves but were seduced by the outward forces of the fallen. Also, the quote at the beginning of this post stopped my eyes immediately upon the page. "For neither do the spirits damned lose all their virtue..." This said of the masses of fallen angels who hold honor among thieves, upholding respect and perverted virtue among the monarchic structure of newly-founded Hell. This statement particularly struck me, as I have mentioned asking before of my friend how many times God would be willing to forgive me the same foul strikes. If the damned do not forfeit the entirety of their virtue, how then can I possibly be so beyond the reach of redemption? I have never doubted the power of God's forgiveness, but only the power of my own ability to turn from evil and embrace the humility necessary to return to God's favor.
If the damned have enough left within them to be considered still of virtue, even in the mires of a poetic Hell, then I on Earth still have infinite strength to return myself to a state fit of attempting worship of a greater God than ever found. I cannot be completely devoid of the virtue I may have owned before. There is a way back; though I have to find it precisely, I am now aware of its existence. I no longer doubt my ability to return to God's graces. It is simply a matter of bracing myself and doing so, and the Lord has encouraged me by placing this response directly into my hands, centuries after it was written by a simple poet.