JR Woodward is about 2/3 of the way through his Good News Series, where he puts a question to 50 bloggers, asking them for an article explaining what the “good news” is — but the article is to be about 500 words and written as though for publication in each blogger’s local newspaper. It’s quite a good series with a variety of responses and approaches posted so far. Today’s post is Jamie Arpin-Ricci in Winnipeg, which is also my city. I found it very poignant and compassionate approach to presenting the good news, opening with the account of a suicide that did feature very recently in our local media. Jamie takes an approach which is not theology-first, something I appreciate and attempted to do as well. My contribution was the sixth in the series. It didn’t generate a lot of discussion, perhaps because it appeared on a weekend, but I thought I would post it here as well now that it’s run on JR’s blog for a while. In the disclaimer that ran with my article, I said that I wanted to write early in the series “to get it out of the way before reading what so many astute thinkers would write so I wouldn’t feel the pressure to come up with anything so profound. This way as I follow the series, I’ll only have to say, ‘Gee, I wish I’d written that…’.” As I expected, a number of such approaches and statements have already appeared in the series. In any event, what I said follows below.
It’s always a difficult thing to distill a complex question down to a simple answer, and a question like “What is the ‘Good News’?” is as difficult as any when it’s placed into a spiritual context. I believe there’s a very simple answer, but the explanation of the simple facts is where a lot of things have gone awry in the past to give certain religions — namely, Christianity — a bad reputation. And to be fair, it’s a reputation that has at times been well-earned.
The “Good News” is simply this: there is a God, and he cares about you. That’s it, in a nutshell. Of course there are follow-on implications of these simple facts, which is where the matter gets complicated. But how do we unpack these implications without making the explanation sound condescending, judgmental, or frankly, like someone switched the labels with the “Bad News” cannister? Why is this so? Perhaps it’s because the “Good News” always seems to feature Hell as a — or the — major tenet to be grasped. The “Good News” is that you don’t have to go to Hell. To be sure, this is good news to those who thought they might be so destined, but really, how many of us actually think this? Most of us expect that we’re good enough to garner entrance to Heaven, even if we know that we overestimate our goodness. After all, we may have our faults, but we’re not that bad, right? The traditional “Good News” counterpoint to this reasoning? We’re all bad enough to go to Hell. What happened to the good part again?
This version of the Good News played for many years while our country imagined itself as a “Christian” nation. As this perception slips away, the Good News actually changes. No, the essential facts of orthodox Christianity haven’t changed, but there’s a “re-imagining” of these tenets that impacts the way they are to be viewed and presented.
The Good News as it’s been presented for the past few generations has four basic steps, or laws: (1) God is love and loves you; (2) you sinned and deserve to die; (3) Jesus Christ died instead of you; and (4) if you accept Jesus, his death becomes a substitution for yours.
The detailed explanation of all but the first point seems inevitably to sound like a “Good News/Bad News” setup. Which do you want first? Fortunately, this point on its own hasn’t got a Bad News corollary. God cares about you. That’s it, the Good News in its simplest form. Sure, there are further explanations that detail just how good this news is by outlining the extent of the downside its absence would cause. But the Good News is that God cares, and this fact alone can somehow lead to a relationship with him that ushers you into his presence in the afterlife. Now that’s a version of the Good News that bears closer investigation.