My Musings

“Carpe Spero!”
(Dead Poet’s Society in Hindsight)

“Carpe Spero!” <br>(Dead Poet’s Society in Hindsight)

Back in 1989, I took a date to see Dead Poet’s Society. We watched as a boy, tyrannized by an overbearing father, committed suicide. We were duly horrified by the abusive parenting portrayed on the screen and we sympathized with the fictional boy.

After the movie, we went to a restaurant in the real world where a small boy (about age 5) was having an ongoing temper tantrum at the table next to ours. The father begged and pleaded for the child to stop and eat his food. After a long time, the exasperated father finally threatened a spanking outside. The little boy immediately dared him saying, “You will not and you know it!” The spineless father melted away in meekness and the boy continued his fit.

We were horrified again, but for a different reason.

The message preached in Dead Poet’s Society was fine in and of itself. However, in reality, we live in a culture bingeing on the mistrust of and resistance to authority, not to mention permissive or absent fathers. My review of Dead Poet’s was: Right message, wrong time, wrong place and wrong culture.

Dead Poet’s also preached an attractive message, summed up by the ancient Latin motto, “Carpe Diem!” (seize the day). A Chinese proverb puts it this way, “Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.” For some, this means not giving up even though life is short and ultimately meaningless. Have fun anyway, grabbing gusto with all your might!

“Gather Ye Rosebuds,” by John William Waterhouse (1909)

“Carpe diem” originated with a Roman poet named Horace (65 – 8 BC). Here’s a literal translation of the full sentence in which this motto first appeared in his Odes: “Pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” On the surface, “carpe diem” comes off as an exciting call to live life for all it is worth. I say, “Amen!” However, real life moments, like feelings, have a way of flying by like the wind. Life lived under the “carpe diem” banner still slips through our fingers unseizably. Thus, there is a fundamental emptiness in that phrase. You can gather rosebuds “while ye may,” but they will not be rosebuds for long.

A century later, the apostle Paul cited a similar motto: “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32). But he added that, for believers, “tomorrow” includes the resurrection from the dead. If we trust God’s promise and power to raise the dead, we can trust the future. This hope helped early Christians endure severe persecution looking forward to “tomorrow” for relief. As for living day to day, Paul challenged believers to offer their bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” (Romans 12:1). Can “carpe diem” inspire that?

Gusto grabbing is great for good times. However, gusto has a way of evaporating in our hands and hearts. When hardship hits you hard, “carpe diem” falls painfully short. The boy in Dead Poet’s understood the challenge to seize the day and make his life extraordinary. But in the face of great disappointment, he was hopeless when something more than a moment-seizing motto was needed.

In graceful contrast, Christians believe that humans were not merely made for time; we were made for eternity. Paul wrote, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12). So, don’t just seize the day; seize eternal life. The eternal God of the universe has made Himself personally accessible to us through Jesus who opens the door to eternity to all who follow Him faithfully.

The stark fact that life is fragile and time is short challenges Christians not just to seek enjoyable moments but to come clean inside and out, surrender our self-centered hearts to God, live pleasing to God and trust Him forever. Seize that!

So let me suggest another motto to learn and live: “Carpe Spero!” (translation: “Seize hope”). Christian hope is something you can keep for yourself by giving it away!


About the Author:

Joel graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A., completing two majors: Art and Religion. He went on to earn the Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. The views expressed on this blog are personal and belong to Joel Solliday unless otherwise stated. They are not, intended to characterize the views of the Lewiston Church of Christ or other organizations to which I may refer.