Over the past weekend, I watched the latest Clint Eastwood film, Invictus. In summary, it is the story of how Nelson Mandela unified the apartheid-torn nation of South Africa around the game of rugby.
It is a very well-made movie, though the soundtrack had some of the strangest choices of music. But what interested me most was the poem that was quoted so often in the previews, titled Invictus:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
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.
The poem is a powerful one. It was written by the 19th century poet William Ernest Henley. Google him. I would be a liar if I said that there is not something inspiring about Morgan Freeman patiently chanting the words, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Yet despite how stunning the imagery is and how powerful the analogy of a ship’s captain is, the worldview represented is wrong.
The Bible represents an all-together different view of fate and our souls. We are not the masters of our souls at all. Before Christ, we were all “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2, ESV). We were “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:17, ESV).
And after we are saved by Christ, we are still not our own masters. Christ is our Lord, our master. So in the end, my soul has never been “unconquerable.” It has just been a question of what has conquered it: sin? or Christ?
The writer of Psalm 121 says it this way:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121, ESV)
My help does not come from my own strength of will, but from the eternal God who created all that exists.