Today’s Romans reading is perhaps the most counter-cultural in the entire book. Paul introduced himself in the book’s first verse as a slave of Jesus Christ; here his argument ends up saying that everyone is a slave, but with a choice re whom to obey.
Really? What about our national myth: the voyage across the Atlantic so that we could do whatever we wanted? What of the desire (a sign of privilege?) to sit this God-Satan conflict out, to watch it from the sidelines? What of William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus,” (which, perhaps surprisingly, does not appear in the best manuscripts of the New Testament)? What happens when we read it together with Romans 6:12-23?
William Ernest Henley
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.
“Who am I?” and “Whose am I?”: if we want to wonder more about that, here’s a possible soundtrack.