William Ernest Henley was a British poet in the late 1800’s. His most famous work was a poem by the name of “Invictus.” This poem is a triumphant battle cry of the Western dream if ever there were one, shouting loud the speaker’s unconquerable soul and ending with the now famous lines “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate,I am the captain of my soul.”
And as I read the poem, I was struck by a thought:
This is how many of us live our lives.
Fighting through opposition, we always want to remain unmoved, we want to believe that our souls are strong, “unconquerable,” as Henley says. We want to be the masters of our fate, whether or not we would ever have the gall to actually say it.
And as a Christian, this mentality unsettles me deeply. Not because I would be so arrogant as to pick it out in others, but because I see it in myself. I feel its tendrils curling under my skin and convincing me to believe the lie my culture tells me, the lie that the course of my life depends on me.
This poem, and the larger cultural landscape behind it, represents every ugly thing inside me bubbling to the surface.
I live in a world where to have any exclusive belief (especially if that belief is in Christ) is tantamount to bigotry.
A world where to trust in anything but myself is idiocy.
A culture that sets itself up as immovable in the face of any storm.
And some days, I am almost convinced to take control of my own destiny, to worship the idols I set up around me, idols that look a whole lot like mirrors.
To be a captain is to have the ultimate authority of your ship. What you say, goes. Of course a gracious captain allows more than his own input, but that’s beside the point. As captain, the buck stops with you. It’s an issue of authority.
And as a firm believer in Christ, to name myself captain of my own soul is the dethrone the one that sustains me. It is to tell the God of the universe that his work here is done and I have no need of his services.
And of course us “good Christian people” would never admit to thinking of God this way, however it’s always a more subtle way of dethroning God that we cling to. Surely not in the words we say or the thoughts we think, but in the actions we do without thinking.
Every time I am locked in a struggle with sin and refuse to go to him, refuse to believe him when he says that there is a way out of that temptation. When I face insurmountable odds and forget to pray. When things are going great and I forget to continue seeking him. Then I mistakenly forget to trust in the real captain. I lean on my own understanding and, gleaming with pride, believe that I finally have this life thing figured out.
But I serve a King whose power is far greater than mine, whose mercy is really better than it seems, who is perfect in every way and still loves me despite myself.
In my arrogance, I all too often believe I am unconquerable, immovable.
But in the face of life’s triumphs and defeats, do I really want to be so calloused as to remain unmoved?
Isn’t it better to have your heart ripped apart and stitched back together than to never have it broken at all?
I am not the captain of my soul. I don’t trust myself enough for that. Instead, I have to give that title to the only one deserving of such praise, Jesus Christ.
“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”-Jeremiah 9:23-24