rejecting good news

Rejecting Good News?

on July 15, 2019

Good news rarely is popular, especially for Christians. It’s much more energizing to receive, relish and pass along bad news, while marinating in outrage.

Recently I was reminded that deaths of children under age five have declined globally since 1950 from 22% to 4.5%. The biggest decline was in Africa, from 32% to 8%. Just imagine if one third of all young children were routinely dying. Of course, that statistic was true in America in the 19th century, not many generations ago.

The ongoing improvement in medical care and diet, with the eradication or control of lethal diseases, is the great unfolding miracle of our time. Everywhere in the world people are generally living longer, less vulnerable to famines, pandemics, and natural disasters.

Such good news, unprecedented in human history, goes largely unremarked. It doesn’t excite Twitter hashtags, attract Facebook likes, or motivate email chains. It won’t gain headlines or garner cable news coverage. No presidential candidates will highlight it. Few pulpits will ask that we thank God for it.

If we’re conservative, we prefer horrors about a spiral of cultural and political decadence, featuring drag queens and Antifa. On the left there is a preference for raging racism, economic grievance, and a firm faith that global warming will destroy us all. Everywhere there are injustices and calamity! Be scared and angry! And spread the fear!

Of course, there’s always legitimate reason for concern and indignation. In our fallen world injustice and tragedy abound. All of us, no matter how relatively privileged, are touched by sadness and loss. Christians are called to alleviate suffering, to commiserate with all who suffer, and share the hope that God in Christ will reclaim all creation.

The world may be a veil of tears, but it’s also under redemption, which we are called to celebrate. More millions have received and heeded the Gospel than ever before. And the principles of love and justice emanating from the Gospel are increasingly universalized. Evidence: tens of millions of children who otherwise would have died this year will instead live to adulthood.

Why the innate human preference to ignore such pervasive good news in preference for chronic bad news? Perhaps it’s human entitlement. No matter how much we have we think we deserve more. Perhaps it’s an escape from duty. If all is collapsing, we can relax in our contented despair, though despair is sin. And denying God’s power is greater than all the world’s evils is also sin.

Christians in America are often the chief practitioners of these sins of despair and complaint, though we are undeservedly among the most blessed people ever to live. Ironically, Christians who really have motive for gloominess are often just the opposite.

If Christians in North Korean labor camps could speak to us, they likely would have more hope and joy than many Americans. They would tell us, even in their suffering, that He who is within them is greater than he who is within the world.

As many of us learned in Sunday school decades ago, He’s got the world world in His hands. He is sovereign, and the advance of His Kingdom is inexorable, irrespective of our own frequent failures to follow.

Christians aren’t called to complaint and pessimism. We are called to hope and to declare with gratitude God’s work in the world now. Children who once commonly died but now live are certainly central to His work. Amid such evidences, we should be providential optimists.

This blog calling for providential optimism likely won’t be well read. If this blog were instead about an Episcopal bishop selling sex slaves from his cathedral it would become one of our best read blogs ever, repeatedly shared many times.

Fortunately, God’s reclamation of the world continues even if we ungratefully refuse to notice. Bad news does tickle our imaginations and confirm our cherished fears. But how much better instead to rejoice always, as we are commanded to do? The bad news of course must be admitted and addressed but it should never be the central focus. It’s only part of the much larger story that is unfolding with and ends in righteousness and peace.

Noting that tens of millions of children no longer routinely die as they did not long ago is one very big reason among many others to “rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and in everything [to] give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

  1. Comment by Richard on July 15, 2019 at 11:30 am

    Mark, if I am reading this correctly, it is a message I believe is sought by a majority. Unfortunately, as I think you are pointing out, bad news and false ideas sell, especially with 24/7 news cycles in the print and broadcast media.

    Some have always sought earthly wealth through unethical and immoral ways, and I suppose always will.

  2. Comment by Dr. Lee D. Cary on July 15, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    The UMC lost the interest and capability to effectively evangelize decades ago. Here’s part of why:
    1. The denomination deferred discipleship initiatives to the general, institutional church.
    2. Hence, evangelism became a “connectional” endeavor, rather than a local church initiative – excepting larger UMC’s that could drive their own international initiatives.
    3. The UMC failed to engaged the vast capabilities of the www, and largely stuck to the old notions of “Sunday School.”
    4. Many congregations invested in “Family Life Centers” (the Greeks called them gymnasiums) as a way to reach the youth. Many gyms sit empty most of the week.
    5. The UMC focused on the GBOGM as its international outreach. (What are the cash reserves there?)
    6. The UMC focused more on building buildings than disciples. Bricks and mortar over skin and bones.
    7. “Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds” is a vacuous slogan that advertises a theological doctrine of relativism that aims to create members, not disciples of Christ. (Minds fully open spill unfocused beliefs and fuzzy commitment. But then that’s PC these days.)

    Independent, non-denominational (IND) congregations are growing like weeds across America. They are more deliberate about evangelism at the local level, and at the international level. They plan and execute their own mission commitments. They aren’t stuck in the apportionment cycle where they buy vicarious involvement in evangelism. If they don’t do it themselves, they can’t claim involvement in discipleship.

    The “connectional system” has been both the strength and weakness of the UMC for a very long time. With the LGBTQ uprising, the connection is disconnecting. The IND congregations, and the long-standing “evangelical” denominations, will gain more than a handful of new members from a split, dysfunctional UMC. The shift is irreversible and underway.

  3. Comment by Dan W on July 15, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”
    Wonderful song that I haven’t heard in church in a long time…

  4. Comment by John Smith on July 29, 2019 at 6:35 am

    When I first saw the headline I thought is was going to be a critique of the magazine.

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.