That’s what they mean by the love that passeth understanding: that pride, that furious desire to hide that abject nakedness which we bring here with us, . . . carry stubbornly and furiously with us into the earth again.
Peabody has these thoughts about the dying Addie Bundren at the end of Section 11. A seasoned doctor, Peabody approaches Addie’s situation with an objective, hard-nosed realism. Here, Peabody comments on Addie’s love for her favorite son, Jewel, who has refused to come to her and bid her farewell before setting out on a short trip, even though there is a good chance she will be dead when he returns. In Peabody’s mind, Addie’s love for Jewel is unrequited, and her determination to continue loving him with such force is a sign of stubbornness, irrationality, and pride. From our perspective, there is some irony in Peabody’s statement. Peabody does not know, for example, that Jewel is the product of Addie’s illicit, passionate affair with Whitfield and thus that her devotion to Jewel may not be as irrational as it seems. Additionally, Peabody says that Addie is no more than a “pack-horse” to Jewel, unaware that the living creature to which Jewel shows more devotion than any other happens to be a horse.
In making reference to the “love that passeth understanding,” Peabody invokes a reference to the biblical book Ephesians, in which the same phrase is used to describe the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:19). Peabody’s use of a biblical reference to describe a very human relationship demonstrates the degree to which the characters in the novel understand their experiences along religious lines. As I Lay Dying is not itself didactic or moralistic, and Faulkner’s aim is not to suggest that God is exercising judgment upon the Bundrens. However, this passage reveals the extent to which the characters themselves consciously and unconsciously interpret their lives using the values and explanations provided by the Bible.