In the defeat of our plans by God He creates the victory which, in conquering, we ourselves would have failed to gain.

I’ve started reading Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom again this week, as I’m preaching on Absalom’s death this Sunday evening and remembered having read the book in 10th or 11th grade but didn’t remember why Faulkner titled it with David’s plaintive cry. Rereading the first chapter brought back so many memories – I remember that it was the most difficult book I had ever read to that point in my brief 16 years, and that finishing it felt like I had completed a marathon. Well, it’s still a very difficult book to read, although Spark Notes has a great book summary that makes sense of the plot so that I can make sense of Faulkner’s page-long sentences. 

Last evening in chapter two I came across one of the most striking sentences in the English language that I can recall reading in awhile; and it so easily translates into the spiritual principle that titles this post. Faulkner is telling of the French architect who built Sutpen’s mansion, describing what a wondrous figure he was to work for two years on a house he would never see again, and to work with and for Sutpen:

Only an artist could have borne Sutpen’s ruthlessness and hurry and still manage to curb the dream of grim and castlelike magnificence at which Sutpen’s obviously aimed, since the place as Sutpen planned it would have been almost as large as Jefferson itself at the time; the little grim harried foreigner has singledhanded given battle to and vanquished Sutpen’s fierce and overweening vanity or desire for magnificence or for vindication or whatever it was…and so created of Sutpen’s very defeat the victory which, in conquering, Sutpen himself would have failed to gain.

In reading those last words, I could not but help think of all the plans, all the desires, all the fierce and overweening vanity and desire for magnificence or vindication or whatever it was in my own life, that God, the grand architect and artist, has defeated – and yet in my defeat He has created the very victory which, if I would have gotten my way, I never would have attained. What a glorious reality! He works life out of death, triumph out of defeat, joy out of sorrow.

Lord, keep me from getting my own way; conquer me and my pride daily; give battle to, defeat, and vanquish my overweening vanity; crush my kingdoms and aspirations for self-glory – that in my defeat I might gain the victory that you would have for me in Jesus Christ.

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