A Thought on Free Will
‘Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.’ This phrase comes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost: Book 1. It is in the voice of Satan as he finds a reason for the rest of his existence after his Fall from heaven. He speaks of his desire to create ‘a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’ It is a curious yet an expected reaction of a character with so much pride to challenge his Creator for the power over creation and Heaven. If this was the true motivation behind the actions of Satan after his Fall, it makes one consider how strong his will was in those times.
Ok. Let me throw out a quick disclaimer that I am analyzing this thought to provoke a bit of discussion on the nature of man and the stories that we have written to explain the world around us. Take this same story and lay out its parallels with the myth of Prometheus and Zeus. It is tale of how the Titan Prometheus, whose name means ‘forethought,’ descended to the earth and gave the secret of fire to man. It was the knowledge that would give man free will and eventually lead man to consider the Gods obsolete. Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock where he was visited by an eagle that consumed his liver daily. Prometheus would regain life the next day to suffer another visit.
The myth of Satan and his crimes do have a touch of similarity to Prometheus. Pride lifted him so high that he started to see that he was greater than God. In that moment, he challenged God and quickly led his supporters against the hosts of Heaven. Satan was cast down with the rest of his side into the depths of perdition. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, he speaks of the ‘adamantine chains.’ Chained on the lake of fire, Satan must suffer a horrific eternity of punishment. His story also speaks of his connection to the snake in the garden that caused the Fall of Man. It is the offering of the knowledge of Good and Evil.
It is curious that Satan, in the Old Testament, was originally seen as an adversary or advocate to an opposite opinion to God’s, not as a challenger to his power. In the book of Job, he speaks to God in this way. Of course that was before the idea of the world being divided into Good and Evil. That is another thought for another day.
Here we read of Satan, as did Prometheus, giving forbidden knowledge to man. It was this information that created a sense of free will and wedged a division between God and his creation. This was an expression of his will from the pits of his punishment as the chains hold him in the lake of fire. Each day that passes was a chance for him to make a ‘Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’ The role of adversary became his true motivation.
The ability to identify with Satan in Milton on these levels is somewhat of a testament of that free will. Each of us has to come to terms with the idea that we are either the inheritors of such grand and glorious plans of the powers or we have the ability within to find our own way through this world. I say this as I point to the fact that these tales were written and created by men. These men delved into their own experiences and thoughts to give us a better understanding of the human condition and our free will.
As a youth, I was often lost in the world of Christianity without a true understand of what it was that I was following. For years, it was just part of growing up. Your parents took you to church and you followed as part of your training in obedience. I often say that I blindly followed because I was not brave enough to reject it. Of course, this was not true because I was brave enough at the right time to reject the narrow path of intolerance. I left that life with the idea that I had seen what the dark underbelly of the faithful looks like. I went to find the answers for myself.
Essentially, I pressed myself into the historical facts of the religions of the Western World. I started to learn the context of the world that these religions were born and raised in. It was nothing that simply came overnight. I have touched on the earliest texts of the Mesopotamian region. My education spread into the very world that Christianity appeared and why it did. These were answers that I would have never found as a Christian.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate those that have faith, but I cannot accept that faith for myself in a blind fashion. I need to know where it is coming from. My free will allows me to search and find the answers for myself. This is why I started reading Paradise Lost. I want to know where these tales come from. The Bible only has so much to share.
My point in this is that we have created these stories to explain the world in terms of Free Will or Obedience to the Authority. Satan is a vehicle for the world to view Free Will as an evil such as the Seven Sins. However, I dissent that it is a tale of how we can all find the will and strength to pick ourselves up from defeat. We can turn our will to an energy that will help us find our own purpose and success.
Let’s just try to have more success in our endeavors than Satan. I am not up on a lake of fire.