Lost in Paradise
December 14, 2004
Unified Studies. Those of us familiar with Oklahoma Baptist University and the purpose behind its liberal arts affiliation know the term well. OBU is renowned for its focus on a holistic education. Obviously, an extremely important part of this education is literature. Throughout Unified Studies, and most notably in the notorious Western Civilization classes, students read many classic works. These works are studied because of their timeless quality and their ability to teach the reader something significant about life. Perhaps you have read these books before; if so, possibly a revisit is in order. If you have never read them, do not put it off any longer. You will be glad that you took the time to both enjoy them and learn from them.
An example is the epic poem, Paradise Lost, by John Milton. John Milton was a prolific author of his time. He was loyal to his native country of England, and he was very involved in politics. Milton began by writing poetry, but shifted to writing pamphlets and other essays for propaganda during the English Civil War. He voiced opinions on free speech, divorce, discipline, truth, the separation of church and state, and the preservation of a republic, as well as various other controversial and timely topics. Eventually, John Milton was reduced to almost total blindness, and at that point in his life, he decided to turn back to prose and poetry and again focus on religious issues in his writing.
Inspired by the creation story, Paradise Lost is based on the account of humanity’s fall described in the Book of Genesis. However, Milton expands the story to include great detail. The effect is spectacular and places the reader in a position to fully empathize with the creation and fall of man as directly experienced by Adam and Eve. The story explores the entirety of history from the Son’s generation, through the war in Heaven, the fall of the rebel angels, the creation and humanity’s fall, and even ends with a glimpse into the future when Satan will finally be defeated and Christ’s Kingdom will be established. Milton carefully depicts the fallen angels as they lick their wounds after their grievous defeat, and he details the plotting of Satan against man and God’s new creation of the world. Satan sets off to make the long journey to earth. Eventually, Satan and his offspring, Sin and Death, gain entrance to the Garden of Eden and bring about the fall of human kind.
The overall intention of the poem is to cause the reader to contemplate and experience the creation and the fall of man as he never has before or would have otherwise. John Milton writes in the opening of the poem that his whole purpose is to “justify the ways of God to men” (1.26). He expertly sheds light on a story that is so commonly heard that it is typically glossed over. Where this is the case, the full and complete meaning of the story is beyond the grasp of the reader; Milton’s desire is to bring the story into our full understanding.
Dr. Glenn Sanders, a seasoned veteran of OBU’s Unified Studies program, has been opening students’ eyes to the significance of Paradise Lost for years. Dr. Sanders highlights the poem because of the clarity of Milton’s example of how believers come to grips with the issues of sin and death. He emphasizes the impact it can have on general readers, but particularly the OBU students. “It breaks the account of the creation and the fall wide open,” Glenn says. “Often, students are left with new ideas and ways of thinking about the traditional story, and experience crucial aspects of their spiritual life in a whole new dimension.”
Although the reading can be somewhat difficult at certain points, the opening argument or summary that begins each book helps the reader along. There is little reason to retreat from this work. It is a challenging read, but it is also a very worthwhile read as it teaches the story of humanity’s early, fateful days.