Paradise Lost: Book 3
The action switches from hell to heaven where we meet God and his Son and the faithful angels. The heavenly muse (“holy Light”) is invoked, because the poet needs divine help to picture heaven for us.
God sees Satan flying towards Eden and shows him to his Son who is sitting on his right hand. He does not try to stop Satan; in fact, he foretells his success in seducing humans. God denies responsibility for Adam’s fall because He created humans “Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.” His foreknowledge does not affect free will. He announces that humans shall receive both his justice and mercy.
Christ, the Son, full of compassion, asks God if Satan will win then? God explains that He will renew the lapsed powers of man through grace, placing his umpire, Conscience, in the soul of man to guide him safely back to God. Some will heed the call and some will not (predestination). But, he adds, because man breaks fealty with God, justice must be done. Adam and all his posterity must pay the price of sin and die, unless someone else can take the punishment and turn it to good. Who will do this? says God.
Christ, the Son, offers Himself as the atonement for humanity. He has faith that God will not leave him in the grave but raise Him up again. God praises the Son, explaining that He will thus join the divine nature to human nature through his Incarnation. He will absolve men of their crime of turning away from God.
God describes the Last Judgment when the doors of hell shall be shut and locked forever, and the old world burn up, while the new Heaven and Earth shall triumph and “God shall be all in all.” The angels celebrate these pronouncements with song and golden harps.
Meanwhile, Satan is looking for Eden, having made the dangerous crossing over Chaos. He disguises himself as a good angel and asks the way of Uriel, the archangel in the sun, who shows him paradise below.
In every way heaven contrasts with hell, in its celestial beauty, concord, bliss, and rule. The devils would call God a tyrant, for heaven is not a democracy, but the Father is a wise king, omniscient and omnipotent and just, able to make decrees for the sake of the whole universe. He turns evil to good through His providence and forethought.
God wants all things to turn to good, even when someone errs. His mercy to man is represented by the Son’s sacrifice. God gave only justice to the devils, because they did not repent. They are locked in their own egotistic illusions, cut off from the larger good.
This book presents all the major Christian doctrines, such as the creation and fall of human beings, the redemption by Christ’s sacrifice, predestination, free will, justice and mercy, grace, the foreknowledge of God, Providence, and the Last Judgment.
God is usually thought of as a less interesting character than Satan because we primarily see him explaining doctrines, like a clergyman. Nevertheless, God represents the most exalted point of view in the poem, and we the readers need to hear about the laws of God from His own mouth to feel the “ways of God justified.” The Father paints a beautiful and dynamic picture of how the universe is constantly renewing itself. He looks forward to the Last Judgment when the bad will fall away and “God shall be all in all,” the whole universe reunited with its Maker.