All This Defeat

Last week when all this started happening with Tullian and The Gospel Coalition, I, of course began looking into him a little deeper. I knew very little about him, did not follow him on Twitter, and didn’t think I had read anything by him. Turns out I read a book by him years ago called Unfashionable. I’d forgotten he was the one who wrote it, though I remember really enjoying it. So my exposure to him was minimal and foggy at best.

But then I remembered I had downloaded a free kindle edition of his book, Glorious Ruin, a while back. I began to dig in.

Because of the current controversy over Sanctification, this book probably deserves a thorough review. You will not get that here though. But I do want to tell you about two things I learned. Actually, it’s only one lesson with two implications.

At one point in the book, he says, “The gospel is for the defeated. Not the dominant.”

My first reaction was to be comforted. I know what defeat feels like. For two years defeat has been our staple. Our companion. We have spent the last two years looking at the scoreboard and seeing defeat. I tell you that for honesty’s sake. Not pity’s. I am one of those people who doesn’t like to make others feel uncomfortable, so usually when someone asks how we are doing, I respond with something that will be less than honest because defeat is uncomfortable.

And our defeat has been varied. Thankfully our marriage and our church family has been a refuge for us. But nearly every institution has been marked by a defeat. Some probably of our own making. But much of it feels like it is out of control and could not have been predicted or deterred.

Misery may want company. Defeat wants to be alone for the most part. It wants to sit under the canvas of black and look for stars, listen to the blues, feel the cold. Feel the heat.

It took a while, longer than I wish, but it pushed me to the point of needing some hope. At some point, you look around and get tired of all the things breaking and look for something that will not break. Something fixed and strong and a light to dispel the darkness that not only hides good things but keeps you from seeing things as they really are.

So I began reminding myself of who I am in Christ…who I am because of Christ. You can call it “preaching the gospel to yourself” I guess. That’s what I was doing, I was reminding myself that all the defeat I could possibly experience cannot compare to the riches I have in Christ.

Now, you might be expecting me to say that the dark clouds of defeat are lifting. Nope. Hasn’t happened. It may never happen. Which to be honest is very inconvenient right now, because I’d like to return to the pastorate and I’m not sure there are many churches that want someone who feels defeated. Maybe there are, I don’t know. I’ve looked at the job descriptions and tried to shoehorn it in between the lines and it’s not easy to see it happening.

What I will say is this, the clarity of the gospel of grace for the defeated is before me. You have to get pretty close to the gospel being the only good news in your life before you can see the defeat as a gift. I wouldn’t call it a gift you hold, so much as a gift of sight. The more acute the suffering, the better the good news can be seen.

That’s the first lesson. The book didn’t tell me something I didn’t already know. But it did give me some words to say what I already knew.

The second lesson is this, I am not the only one feeling this way. Pastors and plumbers alike are dealing with defeat. Defeat as parents and bread-winners and spouses and friends and artists and workers and ministers and followers of Jesus. Defeat sits at my desk everyday, sometimes in tears and sometimes in rage. Defeat will put on a proud face too.

There’s a song by The Gaslight Anthem in which the words, “all this defeat…” are sung with all the emotion needed. And I think about those words when I run back over all the stories confessed across the expanse of cheap pressed wood of a desk I sit at all day. Just a lot of defeat. They come to me looking for good news in the form of refunds and loans.

So even outside of all the Sanctification discussion flying around social media and the blogs, I have found help unlooked for. This recognition of the gospel being for us who wake sopping wet in defeat and fight for sweet dreams, pushing against the defeat. This knowledge of a hope when all other hopes have shattered as we were defeated.

All this defeat? I’ll take it.

6 thoughts on “All This Defeat

  1. Mark Vruggink May 29, 2014 / 7:46 am

    Very well put Matt. I have been very refreshed by Tullian as I am out together very similar to you and I also love “God’s One-Way Love” (his latest). He never unflinches from the gospel as being the only proclamation that can liberate us from ourselves and fuel sanctification. Sanctification is moving deeper into the gospel and not away from it. That is the kind of church I want to be a part of.

    You’re right, I need to preach it to myself every day also. You are the type of pastor the church needs and I would love to have! I hope this encourages you today as though we’ve never met I resonate with you deeply and feel we are great friends.

  2. Carmon Friedrich May 29, 2014 / 10:35 am

    The cheap pressed wood desk…made me think about how defeat/sorrow/suffering peels away the fake veneer on our lives, revealing what’s underneath, underneath our own lives and sometimes that of others who disappoint us. How foolish when when try to paste the fake veneer back because we can’t face what’s real underneath. How blessed we can be when we look long and hard at what’s real, what God in His kindness gently shows us. But then, the carpenter from Nazareth transforms that cheap veneered “wood” into strong, beautiful, real wood, fit for His use. It really is worth it.

    (Sorry to torture the metaphor. We have a new house after 33 years of marriage, filled with lots of lovely real wood, and furniture built by our carpenter/friend. When I am in a store and see furniture for sale, I often touch it and marvel at the difference between the solid construction of what our friend has built, and the flimsy stuff that is sold today. It does make me think of real vs. fake, and we often talk about how people seem to really prefer fake!)

    • Mark Vruggink May 29, 2014 / 11:07 am

      Carmon, I love the metaphor. How true this is! Thanks for posting your thoughts.

  3. Robin Jester Wootton May 29, 2014 / 10:53 am

    Funny story… so a friend recently quoted someone (giving credit of course) in a sermon and another friend looked up the quote and passed your blog on to a few of us. The really funny thing is that we all thought he had said Matt Redman who of course is another person altogether. But I like your blog much, much more. (Maybe this is confusing to search committees? They pass you because they think they can’t afford you? … kidding… )

    To the point though, your writing has been so helpful to me and my husband who also has been wandering Pastor Search Committee Land and feeling much of what you write about. Wanting someone who “feels defeated” is yet to be read on a church profile…

  4. Gregg May 30, 2014 / 4:53 pm

    In this modern version of Christianity that tells people they can live their “Best Life Now” and that Sunday mornings are a pep rally to help us be energized for the week, it is refreshing to listen to honest voices admit they are living in defeat. Too often we are told, pray and God will change our situation. If the situation isn’t changing . . . pray HARDER. We are given a self-help gospel instead of a gospel that provides hope as we walk through the defeat.

    I know that there are many of us who feel mired in defeat right now. There are many smiling faces and glad handshakes on Sunday for whom defeat is their constant companion, hidden from me, hidden from you, hidden from the world. The Church would probably be all the better to have pastors who stand and say, “I feel defeat. Yes, I feel defeat . . . TOO.” Maybe they don’t want to admit, but there are plenty of churches who need a defeated pastor.

    “Come in here and have a taste
    Yeah what’s one more hopeless case
    When your short wave dies and there’s no one to listen
    and the stars going cold in your solar system ” – Bill Mallonee

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