Master of my fate and Captain of my soul

Facing the death penalty for his horrific crimes against humanity, the young man was given an opportunity to speak his final words. Defiantly, he quoted the 1875 poem, Captain of My Soul.

Captain of My Soul

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.

(Invictus, William Ernest Henley, 1875)

After speaking these final words, an unrepentant Timothy McVeigh was put to death. His soul left his body and he entered eternity—only to find that he was not the master of his fate, nor the captain of his soul!

It’s a lie as old as the human race. And if you allow yourself to believe this lie, this notion that you are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul, one day you will also leave time; enter eternity—and you will answer to the Creator.

“’As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will confess to God.’  So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Isaiah 49:18; 45:23;Romans 14:11-12).

And Jesus, the Lord of history, stated that He is the master of our fate (see: Revelation 1:17-18; cf. John 5:24).  The thought that you can be master of your fate and captain of your soul is the wishful thinking of a person who does not want to answer to God.  (see: Psalm 10:4, 11, 13 and Psalm 14:1). Only fools reject God.

You can be sure of this:

  • There is a Creator who is revealed as both a lawgiver and a judge—and every human being must answer to Him.
  • As the Creator, He holds the right of ownership over His creation.

We frequently hear it said that religion is merely wish fulfillment. This was Freud’s argument: Christianity is an illusion we invent to meet various personal needs. And it’s true that there are psychological benefits derived from believing in God. But psychological reductionism is a game both sides can play. For it can be said that there are likewise certain psychological benefits from not believing in God.  After all, the idea of God can be as disconcerting as it is comforting (at least in the short term). Who wants to abandon personal preferences and be held accountable to an absolute moral standard for every thought and action?  Who wants to go beyond admitting to a few mistakes and actually confess to having sinned before a holy God?

The psychology of atheism is a dangerous illusion based on wishful thinking (see: Romans 1:18-32).

The Christian says, I believe in:

1. Creation – It answers the question of origin: Where did we come from? It explains the good that I see in the world.

2. Fall – It answers the question of evil. It explains the wrong and suffering that dominates the world (see: Romans 3:10, 23; 5:12; Mark 7:21-23).

“Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine [of original sin], and yet without this mystery…we are incomprehensible to ourselves. Blaise Pascal

“The first and most fundamental element of any worldview is the way it answers the questions of origins—where the universe came from and how human life began. The second element is the way it explains the human dilemma. Why is there war and suffering, disease and death? These questions are particularly pressing for the Christian worldview, for if we believe that the universe came from the hand of a wise and good Creator, how do we explain the presence of evil?”

If God is both all-loving and all-powerful, why doesn’t he use his power to stop suffering and injustice?

“No question poses a more formidable stumbling block to the Christian faith than this, and no question is more difficult for Christians to answer. Yet the biblical worldview does have an answer, and it accounts for universal human experience better than any other belief system. Scripture teaches that God created the universe and created us in his image, created us to be holy and to live by his commands. Yet God loved us so much that he imparted to us the unique dignity of being free moral agents—creatures with the ability to make choices, to choose either good or evil. To provide an arena in which to exercise that freedom, God placed one moral restriction on our first ancestors: He forbade them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“The original humans, Adam and Eve, exercised their free choice and chose to do what God had commanded them not to do, and they rejected his way of life and goodness, opening the world to death and evil. The theological term for this catastrophe is the Fall.”

“In short, the Bible places responsibility for sin, which opened the floodgates to evil, squarely on the human race—starting with Adam and Eve, but continuing on in our own moral choices. In that original choice to disobey God, human nature became morally distorted and bent so that from then on humanity has had a natural inclination to do wrong.  This is the foundation of the doctrine that theologians call original sin, and it haunts humanity to this day.”

“And since humans were granted dominion over nature, the Fall also had cosmic consequences as nature began to bring forth “thorns and thistles,” becoming a source of toil, hardship, and suffering.  In the words of theologian Edward Oakes, we are “born into a world where rebellion against God has already taken place and the drift of it sweeps us along.”

“The problem with this answer is not that people find it unclear but that they find it unpalatable.  It implicates each one of us in the twisted and broken state of creation.”

“…in modern times, many influential thinkers have dismissed the idea of sin as repressive and unenlightened. They have proposed instead a utopian view that asserts that humans are intrinsically good and that under the right social conditions, their good nature will emerge.  This utopian view has roots in the Enlightenment, when Western intellectuals rejected the biblical teaching of creation and replaced it with the theory that nature is our creator—that the human race arose out of the primordial slime and has lifted itself to the apex of evolution. The biblical doctrine of sin was cast aside as a hold over from what Enlightenment philosophers disdainfully called the Dark Ages, from which their own age had so triumphantly emerged.  No longer would people live under the shadow of guilt and  moral judgment; no longer would they be oppressed and hemmed in by moral rules imposed by an arbitrary and tyrannical deity.”

“But if the source of disorder and suffering is not sin, then where do these problems come from?  Enlightenment thinkers concluded that they must be the product of the environment: of ignorance, poverty, or other undesirable social conditions; and that all it takes to create an ideal society is to create a better environment: improve education, enhance economic conditions, and reengineer social structures. Given the right conditions, human perfectibility has no limits.  And so was born the modern utopian impulse.”

“Yet which of these worldviews, the biblical one or the modern utopian one, meets the test of reality? Which fits the world and human nature as we actually experience it?”

“One can hardly say that the biblical view of sin is unrealistic, with its frank acknowledgment of the human disposition to make wrong moral choices and inflict harm and suffering on others.  Not when we view the long sweep of history.  Someone once quipped that the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by thirty-five centuries of recorded human history.”

“By contrast, the “enlightened” worldview has proven to be utterly irrational and unlivable.  The denial of our sinful nature, and the utopian myth it breeds, leads not to beneficial social experiments but to tyranny.  The confidence that humans are perfectible provides a justification for trying to make them perfect…no matter what it takes. And with God out of the picture, those in power are not accountable to any higher authority.  They can use any means necessary, no matter how brutal or coercive, to remold people to fit their notion of the perfect society.”

“Nonbelievers must be made to see that they are in an intolerable dilemma.  On one hand, we all implicitly hope to live in a society where divine authority is respected, where we don’t have to be afraid of being cheated, robbed, or murdered.  Yet at the same time, many of us don’t want to submit to that divine authority ourselves; we don’t want to recognize an external, transcendent source of moral truth that restricts our own behavior.  That would be a blow to human pride and self-centeredness, and a denial that choice is our ultimate right, that we are morally autonomous.  What’s worse, it would mean that when we fail to live up to that transcendent truth, we are in the very uncomfortable position of having not only to admit guilt before the divine tribunal but also to accept the consequences. This is the price we pay for accepting the Christian answer. And yet the price for rejecting it is much higher. When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder.”

“Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything.  Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order—even under an iron fist.  The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler; so did the Italians, eagerly following Mussolini, who promised to make the trains run on time.”

“We must ask people to face the stark choice: either a worldview that maintains that we are inherently good or a worldview that acknowledges a transcendent standard and our accountability before a holy God for our sin.  The first choice eventually leads to moral anarchy and opens the door to tyranny; the second choice makes possible an ordered and morally responsible society” (C. Colson).

Bring it home on personal terms:

“Of course, the notion of sin is not just a worldview issue; it is also intensely personal.  On that level, a realistic grasp of human depravity drives us to God in our search for a solution to our personal guilt. Instead of trying to bury it under layers of psychological jargon—where it never stays buried—we can face our guilt head-on, knowing that God himself has provided a way out.” (C. Colson)

A way out:

The Creator, Lawgiver and Judge—The Master of our fate and Captain of our soul—is also the Redeemer, “There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. “Turn to me and be saved,  all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:21-22).

Steve Cornell

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