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Captain of My Soul

In 1875, a relatively unknown poet penned the words that would cement his place in literary history. William Ernest Henley, recovering from an amputation, wrote the poem that would become known as InvictusPublished without title in 1888, its final stanza still echoes well over a century later.

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 famous philosopher Oscar Wilde wrote the following letter 9 years later after being imprisoned for “gross indecency.” I wonder if Henley’s poem was reverberating in his mind when he wrote it:

The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring: I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the color of things: There was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder…

Tired of being on the heights I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensations. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetops… I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I ended in horrible disgrace.”1

Wilde discovered that taking control of one’s own soul means removing it from the hands of the only capable pilot. What initially seemed like stunning levels of autonomy and freedom became disaster when the currents of his fallen nature led him into unsafe waters – ending in shipwreck.2

“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”3

P.S.4

  1. De Profundis – “From the Depths” []
  2. I Timothy 1:19 (NLT) “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.” []
  3. James 1:14-15 []
  4. I came so close to naming this post, “Jesus Take the Wheel,” but I just couldn’t… []

A Drunken Sailor and a Sinner

During a stop at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico I  was assigned shore duty. The night before the ship was to get underway I went to the sailor center on base to tell my shipmates to head back to the ship. One sailor was missing, however. This sailor’s alcohol issues had caused trouble for me in the past. During a stay at my home he damaged the interior walls and during a drunken fit he kicked a hole in an acoustic guitar that I had let another sailor borrow. Based on this, I guessed alcohol was involved his disappearance. Sure enough, I found him semi-conscious in a bathroom stall. He had vomited and urinated on himself and the smells of bile and urine combined with the smell of alcohol to make a terrible odor.

I tried to walk him the 3/4 of a mile or so back to the ship, but quickly realized I’d have to hoist him, putting one arm over my shoulder and one hand on his belt. During the long trip back to the ship he would occasionally gain enough lucidity to curse at me for a few moments before lapsing back into a semi-conscious state. When I finally got him to the ship and the BMC took him down to his bunk, I was happy to be rid of him.

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Romans 6:3, 6-7

When I carried this sailor back to the ship, I saved him from the wrath of the chain of command. I didn’t bear his punishment for him, I merely moved him from a position of danger to one of relative safety. When I finished, I didn’t want to see him again. I liked him less then than I ever had before. All I wanted to do was change clothes and take a shower. But when Christ died on the cross, he satisfied the just requirements of the holiness of God toward the sins of the world – every sin – past, present, and future.1 Understand this: The sin of mankind is far more horrendous and obnoxious to God than any physical filthiness that has ever existed on human skin. Jesus Christ was not merely exposed to this sin, he became our sin.2  God the Father was required by his very nature to smite his Son with all the wrath that mankind has ever deserved. This is why we who believe are free from sin: Christ died for us. When we identify with him, we receive the benefits of the crucifixion – The removal of “the body of sin.” We are dead to it.

Now that’s a good deal in itself, far better than we ever could have hoped for. But it gets better.

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.  Romans 6:4-5,8

The sacrificial death of Christ freed us from the power of sin. Even better, he was resurrected by the Glory of God to new life. Again, in identifying with him, we also receive new life. I never wanted to see that drunken sailor again and even after he was sober and clean smelling I avoided him as much as possible. God the Son does the opposite. He pursues us, he woos us, he wants us to live with him. Not only that, he compares our relationship to a marriage relationship3 – the most intimate relationship mankind can boast of, a relationship which functions on the closest thing to unconditional love humans can muster. He didn’t just save us from sin, he brought us into his family – to be treated as a bride, a kinsman, as sons and daughters.

I’m glad that God’s ways aren’t my ways, and his thoughts aren’t my thoughts. I’m glad that Jesus Christ, God the Son, wants me to be identified with him. I’m glad that when God the Father looks at me, he sees Jesus Christ, his Son. In him I have died to sin, and in him I live a resurrected life.

  1. 1 John 2:2 – And he himself is the propitiation [satisfying sacrifice] for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. []
  2. 2 Corinthians 5:21 – For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. []
  3. Romans 7:4 – Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead… []