There is no room for the word “gospel” in the title above, any more than there was room for Jesus in Bethlehem. No room remains for hope and certainly not for happiness. Fredrick Buechner writes, “The weight of these sad days all but crushes the life out of the gospel.”
I sat with a sad young man this week. At age thirty, hope has been wrung out of him. Following a degree from a Christian college, he and his young wife went to Africa to serve the poor and promote justice and development. But the war, genocide and resultant trauma sucked the life out of them. This was exacerbated by personal crisis with the loss of a young child. Although they continually cried out for God, they saw little evidence of the kingdom advancing. What they saw was war, genocide and few gospel results. Trauma resulted.
Recently, a 19-year-old man entered a shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska (USA), and shot and killed nine people before taking his own life. He had just been fired from his job and recently separated from his girlfriend. From what we know, he was not a victim of war or genocide; however, his trauma—compounded by a childhood bereft of loving parents—has left families, a city, and in some ways, a nation, paralyzed. How do we speak the gospel in such sadness?
This Just God who hates, wars against and punishes all perpetrators of evil, surprises the universe by taking the evil onto himself, bearing the penalty and punishment.
The Bad News of the Gospel
There is bad news in the good news (gospel). The bad news is that persons, societies and even creation itself is infected with evil. The bad news says that all earthly attempts to eradicate this evil have failed. War, genocide and trauma are the effects of such evil. The bad news says that the Creator God is not pleased with the evil and is wholly committed to war against it. He will punish all evil and evildoers. The Christian gospel starts with such bad news.
The Good News of the Gospel
But good news follows and, in a sense, consumes it. This Just God who hates, wars against and punishes all perpetrators of evil, surprises the universe by taking the evil onto himself, bearing the penalty and punishment. This is the shocking truth we speak in gospeling. God himself steps into the evil and conquers it by letting its full weight of sadness befall him. It befalls him, but it does not destroy him.
In truth, this all-powerful, sin-bearing God will break evil’s power and curse. In fact, since this historical process occurred in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, evil’s grip has been slowly loosening. We do not always see its effect, because evil still strikes and we shudder under its enormity. But it IS breaking. We see the in-breaking of good in small and ever-larger ways—in unearned smiles, shelters for the poor and societies adopting good and just policies. A bit here and a bit there, but we’ll take good, bit by bit. We read the promises of evil’s final collapse in the sacred prophecies:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” (Revelation 21:3-4)
And hence, we find hope seeping into our sorrows.