“When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
― John Milton, On His Blindness from The Sonnets of John Milton
It’s hard to imagine deaf Beethoven, producing symphonic masterpieces composed in the chambers of his mind, but equally staggering is John Milton, completely blind by his fifties, yet dictating his epic poem Paradise Lost with its ten thousand verses. The work is so ubiquitous to the canon of literature its lines are often confused with scripture. He was deeply bitter when he wrote it and could not understand why God would give him both talent and desire, yet rob him of the sight needed to see the written page. In his poem above, he works through the anger and remembers that no, it’s not about him.
This world is broken, but it’s not God’s fault. Paradise was indeed lost when man decided to throw it away, but before you hastily blame Adam and Eve, look back over your last week and think of your own sins.
When we focus on the tragedy of this world we completely miss the point. God could have walked away when we – yes we – rejected Him. The Bible describes Satan as “the Destroyer” and were it not, even now for God’s merciful hand, we would all be subjected to unthinkable hell.
When beauty and genius emerge from darkness, we see the hand of God. When the sun rises and the stars shine at night, we see the hand of God. When the eternal soul of a child is conceived by the act of mortal humans, we see the hand of God. God is not absent from this world, and His hand is not stayed.
His greatest display of mercy and beauty was the sacrificial gift of His only Son, Jesus who He sent to die for our sins. His grace extends to you. In Christ, we see the perfect human life lived perfectly, and while His death is our redemption, His life is our meditation.
In Paradise Lost, Milton wrote:
“A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”
You are more than your circumstances. You are a child of God. When your gaze turns from the consideration of your brokenness to the glory of God, your night will have concluded and your morning just begun.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
Dig Deeper – Paradise Lost
The theme of Milton is not primarily Satan, nor even God and angels, but humanity. Not only do the opening lines of “Paradise Lost” proclaim the subject “man’s disobedience,” but throughout the epic it is the fate of man that is made the issue of every event in the universal creation. Thus Milton begins his story, not when Satan is conspiring against God, but when the defeated devil turns his revengeful thought toward the future inhabitants of the earth. Of that new world man is solemnly made the lord, God himself descending to breathe into him a spiritual life. It is to warn man against his fall that the rebellion in heaven is related; and in the central books it is the glory and the weakness of human nature that we see displayed. Finally, the future history of the world is communicated to Adam, not so much to manifest the absolute power of God or the futility of Satan’s hate, as to assure the children of God of his eternal love toward them. In short, the subject is not theology but religion—not the nature of God and of Satan, but the relation of the powers of good and of evil to ourselves. Could a poet deal with a problem of more compelling and everlasting interest to us? The reader who focuses his attention upon the human beings in “Paradise Lost” will do what the poet did, and will, though accidental details may elude him, follow Milton’s essential thought. The descriptions of heaven and hell, which may not correspond precisely to the reader’s notions of the states of bliss and of misery, will recede into the background, where they belong; and gradually there will rise before him Milton’s idea of the true meaning of human life.
Ernest Bernbaum, “The Poems of John Milton,” in Lectures on the Harvard Classics, ed. Charles W. Eliot and William Allan Neilson (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1914), 81–82.