Thursday, June 05, 2008

Um, I'm Sorry, But I Have Some, um, Really Good News To Tell You

Last fall when I found out that I was getting a bonus on my paycheck, I couldn’t wait to go home and tell Husband about it. In fact, I didn’t wait until I got home, but I called him on his cell phone instead. And I didn’t worry about how he would take the news; I knew he’d be glad to hear it. However, a few weeks ago when I got a memo from my department head about how the department has to cut its budget, which consists mostly of salaries, I had to figure out a way to tell Husband the news in a way that wouldn’t make him worry about the possibility of losing my job. I think most people deliver good and bad news in much the same way—we can’t wait to tell the good news, but we dread having to tell people something that is negative.

Why is it, then, that Christians seem to have a terrible problem telling others what is supposed to be good news? Christian organizations offer workshops in how to share the gospel (literally “good news”), and the participants practice on each other the most effective methods for delivering this good news. They even learn ways to counter objections to their good news. Objections to good news? Why in the world would people object to hearing good news?

“I have some really good news to tell you! We are all sinners. This includes you. You are a sinner, and God hates sin because sin is rebellion against God’s perfect sinless nature. Because you are a sinner, you are God’s enemy, and God says that the penalty for sin is death. If you die without being saved from your sin, you will have no hope of going to heaven. In fact, you’ll spend eternity in hell, the place of God’s punishment for sin. You can do nothing to save yourself from punishment in hell. But there is a way you can be saved.”

No wonder people have such a hard time “sharing the gospel.” You’ve got to tell people how bad they are before you tell them anything good. And the good part doesn’t really sound that good when you think about it: God’s son Jesus suffered and died a terrible death. He took on all the sins of the world, even though he himself never sinned, because he loved us so much. And God punished him instead of punishing us. What? God punished his innocent son? I grew up hearing all this stuff in church, and thinking about it now, I find it a little disturbing. Just think how it might sound to someone who’s never gone to church. And what about people who grew up being abused by their parents or other authority figures? A parent took out his anger at the sin of the world on his innocent son? Think about how that sounds!

To the uninitiated, this good news doesn’t really sound all that good. And there’s something else. The way Christians tend to present this “good news” tends to elevate the Christian to a superior position to the person he or she is telling it to: “I have accepted Jesus as my savior, so I know that I will go to heaven instead of hell. If you died right now, do you know for certain that you wouldn’t go to hell?” It almost sounds like “I made the right choice. I’m in the club. Don’t you want to be like me?” And if the person just doesn’t want to hear it, Christians lovingly tell the person something like, “Well, you just need to realize that if you die right now, you will spend eternity in hell. But God loves you and he wants to save you. If you don’t want to go to hell, you need to accept the cleansing from sin that Jesus offers.” Boy, if that wouldn’t leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth: You’re dirty and you need to be cleaned.

Ironically, Christians remark about people who think they need to get themselves cleaned up some before they try to get right with God. “God accepts us as we are; all you have to do is believe in Jesus, that he died on the cross and was resurrected.” Do you see the irony here? Two things: One, he accepts us as we are, yet we’re dirty and have to be cleansed of our sin or we’ll go to hell (but didn’t God already punish Jesus for the sins of the world)? Two, to keep from going to hell, we have to believe that Jesus not only died, but came back to life? I have been taught and believed for all of my life that Jesus died and rose again, but there are days when I question how true it is. Yet Christians expect people who’ve never thought about it to just buy into the story without investigating it for themselves.

Yes, it’s no wonder that most Christians dread being the bearer of this “good news” and why church and bible study organizations offer “Sharing the Gospel” seminars. If the gospel really is good news, then no one would have a problem telling others about it. Perhaps the gospel we have been sharing is not the one that we are supposed to be sharing. Perhaps we already share the gospel without even thinking about it.


Tony Arnold said...

You rarely are going to have any effect other than negative with someone if you evangelize about sin, death, Jesus, and rebirth prior to having any relationship with one you are evangelizing to.

I think the two big impediments to telling the good news by Christians are: 1) reluctance to commit themselves to relationships, especially with strangers who do not live like they do. 2) They don't really feel the good news part of Christ in their own lives. Hard to sell what you believe through conditioning rather than believing with the heart.

The real way to spread the good news is not to talk about it, but live it. Be happy. Demonstrate how you handle problems and pain with grace. Serve and love your fellow man.

This is the Christ model best said by St. Francis: preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.

This leads me to a sort of rant about Christian behavior, but instead of doing it here, I will just create a new blog post. Look for it--or not.

JMG said...

I like the St. Francis quote. I think it expresses exactly how Christians ought to behave: serve more and talk less.

jettybetty said...

I know different people have different ways of sharing the good news--mine is mostly I just TRY live it. Most non-Christians I know don't hold the Christians they know in extremely hight esteem--so that's where I perceive they need to start! If God can do that through me, it will be a miracle.

Hope you are having a wonderful summer.