When I was growing up I thought I was the master of my fate. I grew up in a Christian home and my father is a pastor! So, I was blessed with a strong household that knew that God was sovereign. However, I was the middle child and the only son, so naturally, I was a “quiet rebel.” The way I acted though was not like a person who believed in a Sovereign God.

There was a movie that came out in 2009 titled, “Invictus.” Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are the key actors in this film and you can check out the summary/synopsis of it here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1057500/?ref_=nv_sr_1

After watching this movie I was struck by the poem that was used in it. Remember I was a little younger and a rebel at heart, so what I heard resonated with my way of life. The poem was “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. Hence, why the movie is named after his poem. Perhaps you studied this poem in high school or college literature classes, but if not this is what Henley wrote:

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.

I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul…. How captivating those words are! I posted the poem on Facebook immediately after watching the movie in 2009 and now I regret it. Why? Because this poem is self-centered. It has no room for God, for I wanted to be my own god.

Here is what Jon Bloom from Desiring God writes on Henley and his famous poem:

“Henley wrote “Invictus” when he was 27 years old, having battled Tuberculosis of the bone for years, to which he had lost a leg and which eventually killed him at age 53. He was an avowed atheist, so the only place he could look for strength was himself. He didn’t believe there was any larger purpose to his pain. It was just “the bludgeonings of chance.” His only hope was to take his bludgeonings like a man, which to him meant a stoic resolve never to surrender.

So Henley wrote “Invictus” as a poetic middle finger to the cosmos — and if God did exist (see the last stanza) to him, too.

“Invictus” is decent poetry, but as a declaration of cosmic independence it is, frankly, a delusional fantasy. Even if God didn’t exist, it would be a fantasy. In what possible way could Henley reasonably claim to be the master of his fate, being subject to a thousand forces beyond his control? It takes more than stubborn resolve to make one master of his fate, as any parent of a toddler can tell you. The poem is more like a metaphysical temper tantrum — “No one’s going to be the boss of me!” (If you like your “Invictus” with more schmaltz and melodrama, there’s always “My Way.”)”- Jon Bloom, Desiring God http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/invictus-redeemed

Invictus is Latin for “unconquered.” Even as a teen I knew the power of these words, yet I did not know what they really meant. Now I do. It is pride. Pride with no room for God. Just me and my own will. No God to govern or direct his will in my life, just Jonathan. How sad.

Like most poetry that is self-focused, this poem can be reversed to reflect a Christian Theology. Dorothy Dad did that in the 20th century. She took Henley’s poem and rewrote it with the title, “Conquered.” This is what she wrote:

Out of the light that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be,
For Christ – the Conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under the rule which men call chance,
My head, with joy, is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears,
That Life with Him and His the Aid,
That, spite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and will keep me unafraid.

I have no fear though straight the gate:
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate!
Christ is the Captain of my soul!

– Conquered by Dorothy Day

This is the gospel in poetry. Instead of us trying to master our own ship, Christ corrects our course toward his Kingdom.

“The greatest need of our souls is to be conquered by the self-sacrificing, sinner-serving Christ and direct our invictus manifesto against evil — especially the evil within us… To have an invictus soul is not heroic. It is unbounded foolishness. But to have a soul conquered by the greatest love that exists (John 15:13), that then by God’s grace can withstand the worst that evil can throw at us and be more than conquerors, and then know eternal joy, that is a life worth living. ” – Jon Bloom

Cast aside your pride and your longing to be first. Christ put aside all his prerogatives and died for us, for our good. Stop pursuing self and pursue the Savior.

2 thoughts on ““Invictus”

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