The Pride that Comes After a Fall

Let’s continue our blog series on Paradise Lost by looking at Book 2.

Satan and his minions plot their course of action. Molech argues they should renew their war with God and seek victory through military effort. Belial advises they lie low, hoping that God may forget them and just leave them alone. Mammon proposes they build a better Hell so they can learn to enjoy their new home even more than Heaven. Satan already has a plan, but he uses Beelzebub to propose it to the crowd so that the demons think it is their own idea. Beelzebub wins the throng’s approval, and they all agree to seek revenge against God by corrupting His newest creations—humans. Satan offers to do this difficult task himself, receiving honor and applause. He then approaches the gates of hell, which are guarded by Sin and Death. Satan demands passage, and he and Death argue. Sin steps in to appease them both, and finally all agree on Satan’s plan. With Hell’s gates opened before him, Satan embarks on his mission through the vast gulf that exists between him and his destination.

Satan does not want to simply strike back at Heaven for his humiliation. No, he wants to spite God by seeking something greater than revenge; he wishes to “interrupt [God’s] joy” (line 371) by attacking and defiling the crown of His creation—i.e., humans. His goal is to seduce mankind to his side and to drive out the “puny inhabitants” of earth (line 367) from the pleasures of Eden.

These passages give us insight into the essence of all sin: pride. Satan hates the joys of God and man because they remind him of what he rejected. As we will see in Book 4, when “the Fiend” (as Satan is called) sees the delight of creation, he is thoroughly undelighted (line 286). If he must be without these joys, so must everyone else. Of course, only pride would sink to such depths.

As C. S. Lewis states in chapter 8 of Mere Christianity, pride is essentially competitive in nature. It is not content to be rich or clever or beautiful—it is content only when it is more rich or more clever or more beautiful than everyone else.

If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy. . . . In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. . . . [But God] wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble—delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life.

In rejection of this humble state, Satan clings to the “silly nonsense about [his] own dignity.” Or, as Lewis says in Chapter 13 of A Preface to Paradise Lost, “In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, [Satan] could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige.”

The seed of this pride resides in every human heart. Like Satan, we cling to notions of our own prestige, our own worth, our perceived right to rule and govern our lives without interference. When we succumb to this mindset, it is easy for the words and actions of our sovereign Creator to produce within us a “sense of injured merit” (PL, Book 1, line 98), as was the case with Satan. When we insist on our own way, we demonstrate the pride of unbelief. But if we succumb to the merciful Lordship of our Creator and Savior, we demonstrate the “delightedly humble” state Lewis talked about—the humility of faith in the goodness of God as reveled in the gospel.

Next week, we will see a beautiful portrayal of this gospel in Book 3.