When the Gospel Seems Like Bad News
February 1998By Preston Jones
Preston Jones teaches in the Department of History at Sonoma State University in California.
The Bible has become a hot property in recent years. There is no end of news about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of J, the Gospel of Q, the Jesus Seminar, and the Bible Code. "Inclusive language" is promoted, specialty studies abound, and Genesis has its own television series. The Scriptures are dissected, interpreted, claimed, and quarreled over, but -- are they being read? Where in all this commentary is the text? The prophet Amos said: "Behold the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor of thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." I fear we live in such a time. "They shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12).
The Bible can be difficult to read on its own terms -- as the inspired word of God, His words of life, His good news. One reason perhaps is that there is something hard about the life it portrays, about the news it offers. A God who places Adam and Eve in a seemingly impossible position from the start? A God who is sorry that He made man -- as if He didn't know from the beginning that men would run riot -- and destroys all of mankind except Noah's family in a flood? A God who wagers with Satan that Job will remain faithful even in the teeth of the severest adversity? A God whose best idea is to send His own Son to be crucified? A God who warns those who serve Him that they must be prepared to suffer for His sake? Some life, that; some "good news."
King David (2 Samuel) was told that his son Absalom, a rebel and would-be usurper of his father's throne, had been executed by loyal soldiers. "Good tidings, my lord the king," said Cushi the messenger, "for the Lord hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee." But King David "went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son Absalom! Would to God I had died instead of thee, O Absalom, my son, my son." For David, these were not good tidings. Even Absalom's armed rebellion could not overcome the love his father had for him.
One difficulty the reader of Scripture must face is that good tidings are so often followed by what seems to be bad news. We read in Luke, for instance, that Jesus "went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God." Yet the first words to come out of Jesus' mouth following this preface are parables unintelligible to the masses and a declaration that only a few can ever receive the word of God. Some glad tidings!
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