Having recently finished reading all 822 poems in The Oxford Book of English my appetite for great poems has not diminished. So I am reading through Paradise Lost, an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton (1608–1674).
One thing struck me: Milton’s God (the deity of Reformed Christianity) is locked into an eternal battle with Satan who seriously entertained the possibility of overthrowing the Almighty from his throne in Heaven. In this passage from Book 1 of the poem a defeated Satan addresses his fellow rebel angels in hell after their defeat. He asks: how could anyone have predicted that Almighty God could defeat the combined powers of the mighty angels in their revolt? This question appears blasphemous to a Muslim reader schooled in the Quran’s proclamation of a God who knows no equal in power and majesty and who is totally in control of his creation. Allah is the unchallengeable Creator. Everything else is dependant on his power even to exist. This difference lies at the heart of the radically different theologies of Christianity and Islam.
Satan addresses his fellow rebels:
O Myriads of immortal Spirits, O Powers
Matchless, but with th’ Almighty, and that strife
Was not inglorious, though th’ event was dire,
As this place testifies, and this dire change
Hateful to utter: but what power of mind
Foreseeing or presaging, from the Depth
Of knowledge past or present, could have fear’d,
How such united force of Gods, how such
As stood like these, could ever know repulse?
For who can yet believe, though after loss,
That all these puissant Legions, whose exile
Hath emptied Heav’n, shall fail to re-ascend
Self-raised, and repossess their native seat?
For me be witness all the Host of Heav’n,
If counsels different, or danger shun’d
By me, have lost our hopes. But he who reigns
Monarch in Heav’n, till then as one secure
Sat on his Throne, upheld by old repute,
Consent or custom, and his Regal State
Put forth at full, but still his strength conceal’d,
Which tempted our attempt, and wrought our fall.