John Milton, "When I Consider How My Light is Spent"
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 Lodged 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.
A Discussion of the Poem by two Scholars of English Literature
Faith and Providence
John Milton's "When I Consider How My Life is Spent"
“When I Consider How My Light is Spent” is a reflection on his blindness and how it affects his relationship with God. The poem can be interpreted in different ways, but one possible meaning is that the speaker is struggling to understand God’s purpose and plan for him, as he feels that his blindness prevents him from using his talents and serving God effectively. He wonders if God expects him to work despite his lack of light, or if he will be punished for hiding his talent. However, he also hears a voice of patience that tells him that God does not need his work or his gifts, but only his obedience and faith. The speaker learns that God is a king who has thousands of servants who do his will, and that he can also serve God by simply standing and waiting for his guidance. The poem suggests that God is understood as a sovereign, benevolent, and mysterious being who does not judge people by their outward abilities, but by their inner devotion and trust in him. The poem also implies that God has a different way of measuring time and value than humans do, and that he has a plan for everyone, even those who seem to be suffering or disadvantaged. The poem is a testimony of the speaker’s faith and humility in the face of his blindness, as well as his hope and confidence in God’s grace and mercy."
Standing and Waiting: Trusting in Providence
Above you find a sympathetic interpretation of John Milton's "When I Consider How My Light is Spent." Open and relational theologians do not find it easy to respect the idea that God has a plan for people's lives, or that God demands obedience, or that God is a sovereign, mysterious being who judges people by their trust in "him.". Often they, we, can be quite intolerant of such ideas, pretending that our ideas are quite superior.
Nevertheless, for some people in specific circumstances, classical theistic beliefs can serve as a source of strength and contribute to their spiritual development. Different spiritual paths can offer unique insights and benefits to individuals, and it is essential to respect and appreciate diverse perspectives.
The idea that Milton believed God could have prevented his blindness but chose not to suggests a belief in divine providence, where God's ways are beyond human comprehension, and there may be reasons behind events that we cannot fully grasp. This adds a layer of mystery and humility to his faith. Is this so bad?
Milton's discovery that God measures time and value based on inner dispositions rather than outward actions emphasizes the importance of one's character and inner life. This concept of "waiting and patience" as valuable spiritual gifts resonates with the idea that personal growth and spiritual maturity may come from enduring challenging circumstances with faith and resilience. Is this so bad?
Here's the point. People's beliefs and ways of thinking about God can vary significantly. For some individuals, a belief in an all-powerful and potentially controlling God can provide a sense of comfort, security, and direction in life. Such beliefs may offer a framework for understanding the world and finding meaning in difficult situations. Is this so bad?
The need among open and relational (process) theologians is to recognize that the value of beliefs in God and about God lie, not simply in the content of the ideas, but in how they function in people's lives. This is true of open and relational approaches as well as classical ideas. Milton's poem is a reminder that "truth" is not simply in ideas, but in how we live, and that, in some circumstances, standing and waiting is the most beautiful thing a person can do.
Even the God of open and relational theology, even the God of amipotence not omnipotence, can call us, sometimes, to stand and wait. not because God causes and controls the circumstances, but because standing and waiting are the best and only option for the situation at hand. In process theology providence lies in the fact that, whatever happens in our lives, there are fresh possibilities for response derived from God and tailored to that situation. This includes circumstances of illness, of going blind. The fresh possibilities are to respond with courage and with trust that, even when circumstances obstruct whatever Talent we had, some kind of consolation is at hand and perhaps some kind of hope.