Seize the Moment: The Good News and Bad News of the Gospel
The doctor reluctantly dialed the number. A patient had suffered terrible injuries playing baseball, and he needed to inform the young man that his prognosis was grim. As the phone rang, the doctor searched for a gentle way to deliver the news. He decided to tell a joke:
Patient: “Doctor, will I ever play again?”
Doctor: “Well, I have good news and bad news.”
Patient: “What’s the good news?”
Doctor: “I heard they play baseball in heaven.”
Patient: “That’s unbelievable! What’s the bad news?”
Doctor: “You’re next up to bat.”
In hindsight, this was probably not the best approach, but, as people called to proclaim the Gospel, we can relate to those who have good and bad news to tell.
THE BAD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL
It seems counterintuitive that the Gospel would contain bad news. Doesn’t the word “Gospel” mean “good news”? While the Gospel is certainly an announcement of goodness, it also has a flip side, a warning to go with the promise.
The bad news of the Gospel has to do with the tragic realities that make the good news necessary: Evil is real. It destroys truth, happiness, peace, order and life. It creates deception, suffering, division, chaos, disorder and death. It wreaks havoc in the hearts and minds of individuals. It spreads to communities and infects the natural world in which we live.
There are also lesser evils, things like mediocrity, laziness, selfishness and half-heartedness. But, even these must be taken seriously. Lesser evils pave the way for greater ones. They ease the way towards our destruction. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one, the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
WHY THE BAD NEWS IS NECESSARY
The Gospel message acknowledges that sin is real, Hell is real, and our sins have consequences, both in this life and in the next. This bad news is necessary because many, including Christians, have trouble facing the realities of sin. In the culture we live in, there’s often no room for repentance and confession. The primary value is saving face. This means we go to great lengths to maintain appearances and avoid confronting the consequences of sin, both for ourselves and others.
If that weren’t enough, many of us don’t want to give up our sins. We like them too much. They bring us “comfort.” Sometimes, they are our only mechanisms for coping with the anxieties of life. We are attached to our sins and we can’t let go.
So we deliver the bad news to awaken people to these realities. It’s a somber message, it’s not easy to preach and we certainly don’t lead with it. But, it’s the truth. Thankfully, there’s much more to the Gospel than that.
THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL
If the Gospel was only bad news, then Adam and Eve’s story would have concluded with curses: “Snake, slither and eat dirt. Woman, feel pain in childbirth. Man, toil in the fields. The end.” But, that wasn’t the end. Instead, God made a promise, which He put squarely to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)
Theologians call this “the first Gospel,” and when we unpack it we can see why. Who is the “seed of a woman” who will crush the head of the serpent? Jesus. This means that God always desired to send us His Son, to defeat sin, suffering, death, and every evil. In Jesus we have the courage to confront our sins and the grace to overcome them. In Jesus we have the strength to do good and resist evil. In Jesus, we have the hope of eternal happiness.
Nicholas Hardesty is the associate director of Adult Evangelization and RCIA for the Center for the New Evangelization, an archdiocesan initiative that empowers parishes and schools to equip the laity for missionary discipleship. [email protected]
This article appeared in the April 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.