In 1888, the English poet, William Ernest Henley, published a poem that has been hailed as a literary monument to human pride, achievement, and perseverance. You’ve probably heard and maybe even studied the acclaimed “Invictus” in your English class. It reads,
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,5
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” appeals to our deep-rooted instincts of survival, our high-reaching ideals for what it means to persevere in the midst of hardship, and our pride at achieving the seemingly impossible. The attitude of fierce independence that marks this literary work captures all of our attitudes to some extent. We will be our own person, our own master, and our own decision maker. We clench our fists at any one who dares oppose us. We disregard those people and circumstances in life that would keep us from rising above.
In some senses, this poem is extremely inspiring. Yet when examined in the light of what the human heart truly is, we see that it is dripping with arrogance. The author who, in reality, was a frail human being, attempted to defy whatever higher powers he believed in to stake his claim as his own person. And don’t we all?
Pride permeates all our hearts. It expresses itself in different ways for each of us, but we all are filled with it. Pride invites us to be independent, rebellious, and sure of ourselves. It gives us the right to glory in who we are and what we can accomplish.
We believers know in our heads that the cross is the very crux of the gospel, and that the gospel is what should be motivating our lives. We know Christ should be our authority. We know all this – but it doesn’t automatically take away that pride which is natural to us.
So what becomes of our innate human pride and boasting at the foot of the cross?
If it’s a truth about the gospel, you can count on Paul to have addressed it. He says in Romans 3:27-28,
“Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”
The gospel is the end of our self-glory, friends. The gospel reminds us that our fate, our salvation, came from the hands of a merciful and just God, not by anything that we can do. No amount of obedience or accomplishment could gain us acceptance in His sight. Pride spits in the very face of what God has given us in Christ. Arrogance pounds its chest and insists on being its own self when what we really need is the identity given us in Christ. The very existence of the gospel of Jesus Christ means pride must die.
Because really, when you think about it, pride is preposterous. Since the Fall of Man we humans having been trying to prove ourselves to God and make ourselves acceptable and good, yet we cannot. Pride keeps us running back to ourselves, trying to find an answer to our problems within our own hearts and minds. In an attempt to be good enough, we keep ourselves from the true good God has offered.
And while pride rising up in our human hearts separates us from all that can be given to us in Christ, here’s another piece of good news from the Good News: The very gospel that reveals our pride is the same that can save us from it.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s statement to the world. It is the great manifesto of His love. He has done something outside of us, outside of our pride, outside of our feeble and failed attempts at being enough. It’s not that God doesn’t value us. No, on the contrary, He values us so much that He would not risk us trying to attempt our own righteousness that he knows we could never obtain. As much as we want to be a part of it, we are not part of the equation when it comes to gaining righteousness. Christ has earned it, has embodied it, and now He offers Himself and his righteousness to us.
The question is, will we accept it? Can we accept that we are not enough, that we are not good, and that He must be those things in our place? Can we trust Him with first our eternal salvation, and next with our every day?
Will you allow your pride to die, so that Christ’s life can be lived out through you?