Life has taught me that sometimes truly good news sounds at first like bad news. The gospel’s good news is that we are sinners, persons who have fallen far short of God’s intentions for our lives. The good news, in that bad news, is that the advent of Jesus Christ offers us the power and the possibility of repentance, forgiveness, change, and new lives. Can you imagine in a day and age when adultery was punishable by death, hearing the angel say, “Mary, you are with child.” C. S. Lewis famously said that the Christian faith is “a thing of great comfort.” Yet, Lewis warned that the Christian faith does not begin in comfort; it begins in despair and grief and there is no use in trying to get to the comfort without first going through the despair and grief.
A few years ago, our nation rapidly slid into a severe financial crisis. A growing sense of fear gripped us all. I had two conversations that surprised me. I happened to be talking with a man after a church meeting and he told me the sad news that his company, without warning, had just laid him off. At 63 he was without a job. “Only two years away from when I could retire and they laid me off. It was really an unexpected blow,” he said.
The very next day I had a conversation with a young woman in her late 20s. The week before she had also been terminated from her high-paying executive position. She too was surprised and devastated, wondering which way to turn next. When you’re making a list of bad news that you don’t want to receive, surely the news that you are being laid off, fired, terminated from your job has to be toward the top of the list of bad news. And yet both of these people reacted to this bad news in somewhat the same amazing way.
“You know,” said the older man, “I have to admit that I had really come to despise my work. My first morning out of the job, I didn’t mind not having to get dressed and go to the office. I’m beginning to think that maybe the company did me a favor. Sure, I don’t know what’s coming next, but I feel strangely young, free, as if I’m sort of glad to be forced to be starting over and trying out new paths.” And the young woman said to me, before our conversation ended, “I think that my generation has had it too easy. We took all this for granted. I know that I am guilty of getting on a treadmill called the ‘American dream’ in which I unquestionably got a high-paying job, worked all the time, accumulated more and more stuff, and thought that was life. I think I’ve been given a chance to refocus, to put things in perspective, and I’m going to do just that.”
We’ll never have different lives without first telling the truth about our present selves. And the good news is that God loves us enough to somehow get through to us the bad news about our true situation. God becomes the mirror of truth held up before us, and then God becomes the way that we can learn from the truth and move toward a different tomorrow.