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.