How do you respond to the afflictions, trials, and suffering that is our lot in a fallen world? So often, we respond by collapsing under the weight of them, even to the point of taking our own lives; by trying to escape the pain in all manner of idols, whether alcohol or sex or shopping sprees or work or 24 hour sports TV or movies; by a stoic resignation; by a fierce bitterness again other people, “the man,” or God Himself; or by a self-courage that pulls itself together and relies upon itself by a mighty act of the will.
Or, by the grace of God, we can respond like Habakkuk. While not denying the pain and confusion of his trials, he confessed his faith in one of the most beautiful declarations in all the Bible: “I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:16-19).
These two responses have been eloquently expressed in poetry, the first by William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus,” and the second by Dorothea Day’s poem “My Captain.” The contrast is stark. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” said Paul in Acts 14:22 – may the Lord give you grace to sing the song on the right as you journey to glory!
Out of the night that covers me, Out of the light that dazzles me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole, Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be I thank the God I know to be
For my unconquerable soul. For Christ the conqueror of my soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance Since His the sway of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud. I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance Under that rule which men call chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed. My head with joy is humbly bowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears Beyond this place of sin and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade, That life with Him! And His the aid,
And yet the menace of the years Despite the menace of the years,
Finds and shall find me unafraid. Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate, I have no fear, though strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll, He cleared from punishment the scroll.
I am the master of my fate Christ is the Master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul. Christ is the Captain of my soul.
— William Ernest Henley — Dorothea Day