Longing for good news

“No news is good news.” We are being overwhelmed by bad news. We are fed it 24/7 on TV. We hear instantly of the struggles of society, friends and family through social media. Some have stopped listening to the news because “no news is good news.”

No good news
As a pastor I am in the good news business. However, religious pronouncements often do not sound like good news to others. So much so that many have stopped listening because they hear bad news. They hear how wrong the world is and they are. They hear moral judgment and feel unwelcome for believing in evolution, feminism, co-habitation or gay marriage; or for taking a different political position on an issue; or for being warmongers or peaceniks, greedy or lazy . . . you can add many other items to the list.

It seems that Paul’s phrase in 1 Corinthians 13 has become “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is truth.” The Gospel is in danger of being redefined. The message seems to be, “We are right, and you are wrong.” The proclamation becomes a debate, another argument in an already contentious society.

You may say that the truth is important, and it is, but just winning arguments is not good news. Some may appeal to the often misunderstood and misused John 8:35, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This is not truth as we define it. This is not having the right position on the issues and full knowledge of the facts. This is Jesus as the truth. Jesus as the one who restores us to a right relationship with the Father. This truth is relational. It is much closer to the very old word “troth,” or trust, than to our modern definition of “truth” as correspondence with the facts or being right.

I am preparing to be a representative of the good news on a secular university campus. Part of the challenge is that some in this setting see Christianity as a threat. They see it as wrong – an opportunity for debate. A greater challenge is that many have stopped listening or caring about Christianity. It is irrelevant to education, to occupation, to life. How does good news come into this setting?

Bad news
Scripture uses many different words and stories to show the bad news. How do you see the problem? What words best express the bad news?

“Sin” is a long used word, but does it communicate in our culture? Sin is falling short of the standard, but what is the standard? Are there any standards? Sin leads to condemnation, but does that word speak any longer in a culture of self-esteem and self-standards? “Selfishness” seems to be a virtue in the growing “Ayn Rand,” autonomous, individualistic world. Some go in this direction because they feel enslaved by the system. Our world has a real problem of enslavement, especially of women, but most do not name this as the fundamental issue. The old word “depravity,” corruption of all aspects, does not seem to be used much anymore. Maybe the image of sickness still works in our health conscious world, but I am not sure it gets to the heart of the issue.

Although the word “alienation” still sounds alien, it gives expression to our experience today. Many do not feel at home. Our economy, the running of the home, is distressed – and leading to actual homelessness. Our homes are broken. Houses become fortresses of fear for some. Many feel homeless and lost. We do not know which way to go, which way is home. We are wrong headed and hearted.

Re: Good news
How do we express the good news in this situation? I made a quick list of Christian good news words. Forgiveness meets sin. Redemption fits enslavement. Healing, victory and freedom all express aspects of the good news, but do they communicate well in our culture?

“Re-” words communicate well. We want to return and need it again and again. Restoration addresses corruption and brokenness. Reconciliation is peace, walking and working together to find a way, even when there are differences. Yet I have seen reconciliation done wrong. Reconciliation without truth and trust is coercive and corrupt. We need to be restored.

We are renewed and revived. We can renew our communication, community and cooperation, to return home and revive love, “the greatest of these,” news – good news.

  • Rev. Tom Wolthuis is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church and the Director of Geneva Campus Ministry at the University of Iowa.

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