In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. - Judges 21:25
This is how Judges ends.
It calls to mind a poem you may have heard over the years called Invictus.
Written by William Ernest Henley in 1875, its last two lines have gained popularity in recent decades:
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
And indeed, some champions of freedom and justice have uttered these words, seduced by their promise of self-mastery. Winston Churchill quoted it often. Nelson Mandela discovered this poem in prison and frequently shared it with his fellow prisoners. The Burmese Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi stated, "This poem inspired my father and his contemporaries during the independence struggle, as it also seemed to have inspired freedom fighters in other places at other times."
But there are others who have been transfixed by this idea of self-mastery as well – whose definitions of freedom and justice were precisely the opposite. After all, Invictus is Latin for unconquerable.
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh chose this poem as his final statement before his execution. Pekka Eric Auvinen read the entire poem on his YouTube channel before the devastating Jokela school shooting. The perpetrator of the recent Christchurch mosque shootings included the poem in his manifesto.
Invictus is the modern retelling of Judges 21:25. It is a reminder that although time passes, our seduction by and obsession with self-rule is still alive and well. Like the Israelites, all of mankind searches for a king (because we were made for the King), and more often than not, in a delusional and ill-advised move, we crown ourselves. Though our society holds up the self as the greatest source of strength and truth, Judges – and the Gospel – tell a radically different story!
In the early part of the 20th century, Dorothy Day responded to Invictus with a poem called Conquered. It seems a fitting end to Judges, too. You can read the full text here, but for now, here are the last two lines:
Christ is the Master of my fate!
Christ is the Captain of my soul!
“To have an invictus soul is not heroic. It is unbounded foolishness. But to have a soul conquered by the greatest love that exists (John 15:13), that then by God’s grace can withstand the worst that evil can throw at us and be more than conquerors, and then know eternal joy, that is a life worth living.”
Father, since we do have a perfect, holy, and loving King, and His Name is Jesus Christ, may we do what is right in Your eyes. May we delight in You, be loved by You, and love You. We humbly ask for your forgiveness for the moments in which we try to steer our lives, and we so deeply desire to look to You as Master and Captain. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.