Even if you never watch the news you would still have to admit that, too often, bad news storms into our lives and upsets the delicate card houses that we build for ourselves.
Some bad news only annoys us, like the news from your barista that there’s no more pumpkin spice syrup left for your latte. Other bad news, like 9/11, can frighten us, and reveals a deep craving for security. Then there’s the bad news that can truly crush you. The call that there’s been an accident and your best friend didn’t make it. The doctor’s bad news in a cold examination room: you have aggressive cancer.
What all these situations have in common is that they enter into our lives complete. They’ve already happened. There’s no stopping the disaster once the plane hits the tower, and to be diagnosed with cancer is to know that you already have had cancer. The doctor’s words only bring the reality substantively into the present.
The great tragedy of most of our lives is that these moments of sickening dread, that you can feel in your gut, seem to outnumber and outpunch their good news counterparts. Things like good grades, better pay, and new relationships never hold up for long. Thankfully, I’ve found that there is real, lasting, and truly transforming good news to be had. First, spoilers and a caveat: it’s the good news of Jesus Christ but you need to hear the bad news first. Stay with me now.
The Bad News
You’re not a great person. Don’t worry, neither am I, nor is anyone else. When we look around most of us tend to agree with the Bible when it says “There’s nobody living right, not even one” (Rom 3:10). What’s more is, if we consider even our own conduct, we find that we rarely keep the standard we set for ourselves. We all know we could do better—be better—but we’ve decided, correctly, that it’s not possible and have, wrongly, adjusted our collective standards so that failure isn’t failure. The reality is this: God has a standard; it’s the one he keeps and it’s called Holiness. All that means is that he’s good and perfect. A good and perfection that is utterly beyond our conception of kinda-sorta goodness. This means that the best of us are out of luck, and even when we pile loads of junk onto the good side of our cosmic scales, we don’t measure up. This is either making you mad or sad, but hang on, there’s good news.
The Good News
God knows all about our frailty and failure. He knows how bad we are by observation, because he’s all-knowing, and by experience, because he came down to live among us as Jesus from Nazareth. In spite of this, he doesn’t happily condemn us; neither does he dismiss our badness, our sin, as you might’ve heard. There’s no free pass, but he hasn’t left us to live short, nasty, brutish lives that end inevitably in damnation. The good news of Jesus is that he, fully God and fully man, lived and died the perfectly good life that we find so impossible to live (Hebrews 4:14-16). Acting as our stand-in, Jesus repaired our damaged relationship with God at his (and God’s) own expense, freeing us from the heavy burdens of religion and the pointless striving of irreligion at the same time. What exactly does this freedom mean? Good question. Timothy Keller, a pastor from New York City, explains this well but he’s not here, so I’ll paraphrase.
Religion demands that we hold perfectly to a standard as a means of proving our worth. “I have value because I do A, B, and C.” But when value is based on performance people tend to compare themselves to others. You’ve seen the results: The girl at the top of the class won’t share her notes; your floor manager never tells the boss about your extra work. This is even more problematic when the standard is perfection. Saying “well, at least I’m better than him/her!” doesn’t cut it when there’s a standard: you can have the top score and still not pass. That’s not exactly success, is it?
Irreligion throws out the concept of the standard altogether, at least it says it does, but it only trashes the objective, perfect standard, and leaves us to create our own. Irreligion let’s you establish the grading criteria but it can’t give your hard work meaning. I can take enough iTunes U courses to earn a degree in Microbiology, in theory, but unless I meet the entrance requirements and submit myself to evaluation, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to consider me a qualified microbiologist.
Living religiously or irreligiously aren’t all that different. Our deep craving for meaning exists in both worldviews, but they both get it wrong. Both would live and die believing they can be their own saviour.
There you have it. The good news of Jesus Christ. The best thing about it is that, like all news, it enters into your life complete. It’s done; there’s nothing left to do but accept Jesus’ gift on your behalf and to tell others about this good news.
This undeserved grace is what God offers, and receiving it has allowed me to find satisfaction for my deepest cravings and a place to rest my hope—on the one whose love will not let you go.