The “Gospel” is designed to be “good news”; that’s what the word means. In the modern world, however, how the Gospel is “good news” can be confusing to many. Suffering and death leading to some nebulous future hope: it certainly does not sound like good news, and definitely does not seem as good as what the apostles of science and technology are offering.
The past 250 years have been marked by great changes in technology which have, in turn, greatly enhanced the quality of life for people who live in the Western world. It was not too long ago when children were fortunate to survive to age five and adults past fifty; these days we expect children to grow up and enjoy long, productive lives, and think of fifty-year-olds as still young. Not many years ago the needs of basic survival occupied the majority of people’s time; today we consider them as irritants taking up time we could spend doing other things. Plagues like syphilis, tuberculosis, smallpox, and bubonic plague wreaked havoc on our ancestors; we tend to fall prey to difficulties caused by our behavior, diet and environment with heart disease, car accidents, and certain forms of cancer.
These changes have impacted our way of thinking as much as how we live; it is almost as if we have become the victim of our own successes. From the life of Christ until 1750 it could be said that people took for granted the challenges of evil and sin and found the offer of salvation and hope through Jesus to be difficult to believe; since 1750 salvation and hope have been taken for granted and the challenges of evil and sin are now more difficult to accept. This helps to explain why the Gospel seems irrelevant to so many in Western society: they are not able to see the Gospel as good news because they have yet to perceive the bad news which required the good news!
The astounding thing about the past 250 years is just how effective people have been at marginalizing the problems of sin and evil. We enjoy a standard of living beyond the wildest dreams of most people throughout time. Yet our standard of living is a double-edged sword, since life in the modern Western world is so comfortable that people no longer seem to know how to handle adversity! People are raised to expect a comfortable lifestyle with their basic needs met, the opportunity to raise a family, and to enjoy life. Yet if anything goes wrong, or even if it all goes right, they do not know how to handle the difficulties and/or emptiness. People learn too late how the “American dream” cannot be the ultimate dream, and are ill-equipped to endure the challenges and trials of evil and sin in life.
We must remember the bad news of sin and death if we will not fall victim to our own success! As Paul explains in Romans 5:12-18 and 8:18-25, when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden in Genesis 3:1-23, sin and death entered the world, and with it corruption and decay. This means, as the Preacher laments, that all will die, nothing on earth will last, and existence understood only in terms of this life “under the sun” is emptiness, futile, vain, and absurd (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:1-26). Even though we may have marginalized evil and sin, evil and sin still manifest themselves. Humans commit atrocities against other humans in different parts of the globe. Babies and small children are sometimes abused by sinful adults; others will get sick and die of disease or on account of some natural disaster. Civilization and law and order break down in the face of natural disasters or by the hands of terrorists. Even if we find a measure of success and prosperity in life it will not last and it will not satisfy. No matter how good we may think we are, we all know that we have thought and done bad things (Romans 3:23); thus, the line between good and evil goes through the heart of each and every one of us. In the end, we will all die, and we cannot take any thing with us (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
We do well to remember that we are incredibly blessed and that our standard of living is almost as ideal as it can be “under the sun.” Most people today, let alone in the past, have toiled and suffered in far more dire conditions; their lives are more “normal” than ours. Nevertheless, even with our quality of life, life is not ideal or perfect. Bad days will come. We will suffer physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, whether on account of our own evil or because others have done evil against us (Titus 3:3). We may be spared from many evils, but we will never be spared from all evil, since we ourselves have participated in it.
When we recognize this bad news, we can see how the Gospel of Christ is indeed good news. Jesus has gained the victory over both sin and death through His death and resurrection (Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57). We will not be spared evil but can overcome it through suffering it with Christ (Romans 8:17-18, Revelation 12:11). This is certainly good news, but it can only be good news because it overcomes the bad news of our reality. Let us come to terms with the bad so that we can obtain the promise and hope which comes from trusting in the good news of Jesus Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry