The doctor reluctantly dialed the number. A recent patient had suffered terrible injuries playing baseball, and the doctor 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:
Baseball player: “Doctor, will I ever play again?”
Doctor: “Well, I have good news and bad news.”
Baseball player: “What’s the good news?”
Doctor: “I heard they play baseball in heaven.”
Baseball player: “That’s great! 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 great 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 even 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 people, including many Christians, have trouble facing the realities of sin. In the “shame culture” we live in, there’s 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, these sins 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 must be told.
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.” (Genesis 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.
That’s worth at least some pitch-and-catch with St. Peter.