Have you experienced the “deep night”? You know, when that period of darkness comes mightily upon your soul and strives to crush all hope of better and brighter days? When days bleed you completely dry and leave your soul to weep? When no amount of marshaled energy brings personal victory?
The beginning lyrics of The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel (1965) produces a pensive effect upon me. You may recall that the song starts with these unsettling words:
Hello, darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
In my mind, this “darkness” speaks of the cycles of recurrent hardships (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, societal, etc.) that inevitably come upon most human lives. These lyrics remind me of my common humanity and connection to this gloriously created but very fallen and challenging world. We all struggle at times with a plethora of concerns as we walk these dusty and broken roads of existence. Oddly, there is some solace in knowing of the common struggles and sufferings of others.
Moreover, no one can live our life for us, but, equally so, we do not have to do it all alone. No, we do not have to “gut it out” by ourselves. Humanity, as the crowning work of God’s creative glory, was made in His imagine—among other things, made for fellowship with God and with one another. If nothing else, the COVID-19 pandemic should remind all of us of this fundamental truth. Simply stated, most people will not do very well in extended isolation. Even if one should think of oneself as a strong introvert, these demanding times can have a passively negative effect on the soul.
Within this vein of thought, let me share a poem by William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) that I was required to memorize in ninth grade English class. It is entitled Invictus (Latin for unconquered). The poem’s spirited words propel the human soul toward roughed individualism and shameless persistence but also toward a mentality of self-reliance and all-sufficiency. Its words go:
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.
While I love poetry and this particular poem is among my favorites, yet it has one fatal theological flaw. It depicts our world in terms of agnosticism, i.e., not knowing whether an actual God exists or not. Henley pens, “I thank whatever gods may be.” Truly, we as Christians know better! God desires to be a vibrant part of our lives and knows positively that we can never truly “go it alone.” Therefore, this mentality of all-sufficiency and “hypothetical gods” can never be embraced as an archetype for life.
Dear friend—when you begin serenading life again with “Hello, darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again,” take comfort in the fact that God’s word proclaims to all the redeemed in Jesus Christ, “For you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). Aye, the Scriptures continue, “There will no longer be any night . . . because the Lord God will illumine them [believers]; and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).
So, as the barn spider named Charlotte said to Wilbur the livestock pig in the children’s classic novel Charlotte’s Web, “Chin-up!” Yes, indeed, chin-up!