Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Two Views of the World

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.
William Ernest Henley

In 1875 William Ernest Henley wrote the poem above that has been taken by many as a sort of personal declaration. Invictus has been quoted at graduations and funerals and, I believe, even inspired Mandela during his years of imprisonment (great movie by the way). Henley was a humanist, who believed in the indomitable power of the human spirit. His convictions come through clearly in his poem. His belief is that he alone was master of his own fate. It is the trumpet call of the "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" crowd.

It has been said that Henley's poem was intended to be a fist shaken defiantly in the face of God who who would dare to claim sovereignty over him. The poem below is, of course, a rewriting of Invictus from a different perspective. Dorothea Day was a journalist who, in her younger years, was quite enamored with the writings of Henley, but who later converted to Christianity. Her poem "My Captain" is a retelling of the same story, but from her new Christian perspective.  

Out of the night 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 that 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,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.

I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.
Dorothea Day

On the one hand, Henley would claim self-sufficiency, Day would admit to total dependence on God. Henley appeals to the popular notion that "God helps those who help themselves," (which is not in the Bible, by the way), while Day would fall solely on the grace of God. Finally, Henley's world would revolve around what we can do by ourselves, while Day would focus on what Christ has done and what He can do through us.  

They are two very different views of the world. The question is, which one is true. As a recovered "self-made man" I would side with Dorothea. When we get to the end of ourselves it is good to know that the God who has made us has not abandoned us, nor required us to face the world all on our own. Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and, as the missionary David Livingstone said, "that, my friends, is the word of a gentleman."

Related Articles:
Book Review: The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism
On the relevance of Christianity
What Is a Christ-follower?
Worldview - an introduction.

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