This phrase is taken from first book of John Milton’s long epic poem “Paradise Lost.” In the opening stanza of this book, Milton writes, “I may assert eternal providence,/And justify the ways of God to men.” (Line, 26). Here, Milton explains the cause of man’s fall. He argues that this fall of man is fortunate, though its outcomes would be bad. However, human beings, he reiterates, would endure, as it is the execution of God’s purpose. No doubt, humankind would suffer the consequences for their faults, yet they would find mercy and grace of God through knowledge and experience.
“Justifying the ways of God,” means, Milton chiefly demonstrates the correct ways of “Providence”, as it is God’s nature to turn everything from bad to good. Like He has created the earth and humans to replace bad angles and sent Jesus to redeem the fallen humans. This is exactly the difference between God and Satan, who is an egoist, thinks of his interests only, and vowed to avenge upon God by converting good to evil when he was expelled from the heaven. Apparently, God seems to be arbitrary in setting the law, and Satan looks reasonable for being rebellious. Hence, the poet feels compulsion to talk about God’s case and grace.
In common usage, this phrase can be applied to describe our fate or destiny. For example, if we find happiness or sadness, we can justify it as a will of God, who is Almighty and Sovereign and that whatever good comes to us is because of Him and that would be for our advantage as He has done with Adam and Eve. The bad things in our lives happen, on the other hand, due to our own faults. However, its best use is in literary speeches and literary gatherings.
We find this phrase in Book-I of Milton’s poem, “Paradise Lost” where poet says,
“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste …
I may assert eternal providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.”
(Book-I, Lines, 1-26)
We observe disobedience in bad angels and Satan. In fact, Satan spreads his lies everywhere about the tyranny of God, whereas God gives Satan his liberty and extends protection to Adam and Eve through education.
From literary point of view, this is a heavy sentence that has put the entire book in just one theme. Here the poet’s idea of justification is nothing about arrogance. He has not used this word “justification” in modern sense to prove how an action can be shown justified. He has used rather to show the justice underlying an action. Milton is trying to show that death, fall and salvation are acts of our just God. Thus, to understand its theme, readers need not to acknowledge his ideas as a proof of actions of God; rather, they need to understand the concept and idea of justice lying behind God’s actions.