Worrying about the news... Recovering faith in the Good News
What are Christians called to do in the face of so much bad news? By Jim Gordon
"To the darkness I speak light"
The other day someone said something that I am beginning to hear with some regularity. The exact words don't matter all that much, but the feeling with which they were said exposed a vulnerability and anxiety that is becoming increasingly common. My friend said she could no longer bear to listen to the news. I knew exactly what she meant; I've felt much the same this past year or two.
Now two things immediately knocked at the door of my attention. Actually the first knocked on that door, the second kicked it down in order to be seen and heard.
First, the woman is a thoughtful, committed and long time follower of Jesus, a Christian active in her church and with as healthy a view of life and herself as you're likely to meet these days. What does a Christian mean when they say they can no longer bear to listen to the news? Isn't switching off the realities of the world in all its brokenness the last thing a Christian should do?
Second, I felt such a surge of agreement with what she said I realised it was time to sit down and ask, and think through just what the Hell is happening in our world. I don't use that word Hell much. It's too serious a word to bandy about as a lazy expletive.
But as I began to think about the news we listen to day in and day out, and the drip feed of information selected by a media industry whose main mission is to hook our attention, engage our emotions and shape our view of the world, I realised that much of that cycle of news was about Hell going on all around us. So the question I'm now pondering is, 'What in heaven's name are we to do with what the Hell is going on around us?'
Of all people, Christians are equipped to look on the world without despair, to face the realities of its brokenness without giving up, to confront evil with hope and hatred with love and enmity with forgiveness. So if that's even halfway true, what difference might it make if Christians did what Christians are called to do, in the face of so much bad news? What if Christians like myself, and my friend, gave ourselves to a different kind of listening to the news?
Christians are good news people. But the constant flow of up to date information and graphic images of human suffering, global disaster, brutal conflict, economic doom, political instability and social disintegration come at us from all directions and without interruption. Online immediacy of latest information, intrusive television from restaurants to supermarkets, the mobile phone attached with an umbilical cord to the ears, large civic digital screens in stations and city locations - it is hard to escape a world where connectivity is now a necessary norm.
So, What in heaven's name are we to do with what the Hell is going on around us? We are coming to Advent season, a season of contrasts such as darkness and light, fear and hope, emptiness and fullness, waiting and arrival, anticipation and fulfilment. My question begins to find its answer in Advent. Listening to the news for an Advent people will mean listening in stereo to two news streams.
What in heaven's name I do with the Hell that is going on around me is listen to the good news which is the counter-balance to the bad news. To the darkness I speak light; to the cynicism of political agendas I trust in the God of the Magnificat; to the suffering of the migrant, the refugee and those bereaved and wounded in war, I sing a song of hope in Emmanuel, God with us; to the poor and hungry and marginalised and lost I enact the Beatitudes, become one of those who sees Christ in the naked, hungry, imprisoned and broken-hearted.
This Advent that will be the theme of my preaching. It's not the most politically correct or politely constructed title, but it is born and borne out of being with a friend whose sigh and sadness first prompted the question, "What in Heaven's name are we to do with what the Hell is going on around us?"
Candle vigil: Jovi Waqa/Unsplash
Church: Charlee Maasz, taken inside Thomas Coats Memorial Church (Baptist) in Paisley. Jim was minister in Coats Memorial from 1980-84
Jim Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, and a former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. This article first appeared on his blog Living Wittily and is used with permission