Answering "Invictus"

by Victor Knowles

Answering "Invictus"

Rather than making a final statement before his execution on June 11, 2001, at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, Timothy McVeigh chose to leave behind a handwritten copy of a poem written in 1875 by English editor and author William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). Here is Henley's "Invictus" followed by a "Christianized" version of the same. (I regret that I do not know the author of the latter version.)

Invictus

Our 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.

Conquered

Out of His light that dazzles me,

Bright as the sun from pole to pole,

I thank the God I know to be

For the Conqueror of my soul.

Since His the way of circumstance

I would not wince or 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,

That, spite the menace of the years

Keeps, and will 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.

The poem, "Invictus," celebrates the invincibility of the human spirit. "Invictus" is Latin for "unconquered." Mr. Henley, a survivor of tuberculosis, would have been horrified that some 125 years later his poem would be quoted by a young man who will go down in infamy for the April, 1995, bombing of a federal courthouse building in Oklahoma City-the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil, which left 171 dead (three of the dead were unborn babies; a fact which the liberal media continue to ignore).

"Invictus," while considered a classic (it is included in One Hundred and One Famous Poems, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 1993), contains some lines that are troubling to those who believe in the inspired Word of God. For example:

"I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul."

One of the most fundamental truths of Scripture is the existence of one, true God. Indeed, it is a trans-testamental truth. "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" (Deut. 6:4); "I am the Lord, and there is no other. There is no god besides Me" (Is. 45:5). "For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is only one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live" (1 Cor. 8:5,6). "...He is not far from each of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being..." (Acts 17:27,28).

The soul of man, while indomitable, is not invincible or "unconquerable." The soul, a precious gift from God (Gen. 2:7), has been marred by sin (Ezek. 18:4). But the soul can be restored by God (Ps. 23:3). John Milton (1608-1674), in his "Sonnet on His Blindness," acknowledged man's need to yield to God when he wrote, "who best bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best."

But perhaps the most troubling lines in "Invictus" are those which read:

"I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul."

Is it true that we are the masters of our fate? Can it be truly said that we are the captains of our souls? Postmodern man, without blinking an eye, would answer, "Duh! Of course we are!" To them it is a no-brainer. But the head that is "unbowed" often leaves others bloody in its wake. Just ask the survivors of the victims in Oklahoma City.

Tomothy McVeigh was 33 when he was executed by the U.S. federal government for his crimes. Jesus Christ was also 33 when He was put to death by the Roman state-but not for any crimes He had committed. He was the sinless Son of God. He died for the sins of the world, including the sins of Timothy McVeigh. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the God (Rom. 3:23). All need to come to Christ, with heads humbly bowed, for forgiveness. Christ is the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). Christ is the Captain of our souls.

Victor Knowles is executive director of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries), Joplin, MO