I'm Not the Master of My Fate, Nor the Captain of My Soul

Written by Pastor Jim Law

William Ernest Henley was an influential poet, critic, and editor in the late 1800’s. His life was marked by sorrow and struggle. His greatest battle was with tuberculosis which eventually took his life at the age of 53.

Henley was best known for his 1875 poem, Invictus, which I remember reading for the first time in a college dorm room. One of my friends had a large poster on his dorm wall that proclaimed Henley’s humanist creed.

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.

Henley’s words sound so cavalier and determined. For the humanist, Invictus is a creed of one’s refusal to yield to anyone, including God. Henley, in an economy of words, indicated that though his head was bloody through the trials of this world, it would remain unbowed.

While Henley’s bravado receives cheers for those championing the human spirit, I find it dishonest and hopeless. I mean, really, who can manage the contingencies of this life? When I am flying at 35,000 feet in an airplane, the last thing I think or feel is that I am the master of my fate or the captain of my soul! When I go for my yearly check up, I cannot manage the molecular chemistry of my body and eek out a clean bill of health.

The Scripture establishes that it is before the true God that we “live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Because this God created us and has spoken to us through the wonders of his creation, the specificity of his word, and the unmistakable claims of his Son, we are accountable to Him. And be assured of this, one day every knee will bow to Him. (Philippians 2:5-11)

One of the most comforting analogies in the Scripture is that we are to trust God as a little child trusts his parents. Jesus said that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it. (Mark 10:15) Regardless of one’s age, physical strength or gift mix, only those who have childlike faith and trust in Jesus will enter the Kingdom.

It is a generally accepted truth that most parents care for their children. In this way, as a child looks to his mother and father, we must look to Christ to meet the needs of our life, and most importantly of all, for our redemption from sin’s devastation.

We never graduate from our childlike dependence on the grace and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. It is at the core of what it means to know the living God, and when we come to know Him through Christ, we see that He is indeed a good, good Father.