There are all sorts of bad news. None of it is pleasant to have to break to people.
It has to be done just right and it’s so difficult. You have to time it so that you catch them from falling just as you shatter the world out from under them. The part that is the hardest is not always their reaction but the moments before the words leave your mouth. It is the obliviousness which keeps their fragile world turning and the ignorance which keeps the sun in their sky.
In those few seconds you want to encase them in that moment and never let them go.
I will admit that there have been times where I have put down the letter or the phone and stood in the doorway a moment longer, soaking in the last of the laughter, letting it warm my eyes, knowing that I must be the bringer of distress and not wanting to.
There are no good ways to say some things. The tears will wash the smiles away and leave the laughter caked in salt.
The Bearer of Bad News
No one wants to be the messenger of woe. It’s built into our synthetic culture to be always happy, always carefree. No one wants to be the one to dispel the illusion. For every person willing to carry the bad news, there are a hundred more who would rather chase the glory of bringing the good.
Here’s my point: Is the church so very different?
Alright, so there are those mildly terrifying guys with their end-is-nigh sandwich boards who seem to delight in the idea that everyone but them will be cast into fire eternal but for every time I hear a believer warn an unbeliever that they are not right with God, I hear a hundred more saying that Jesus loves them and wants to be their bestie.
It’s on t-shirts, billboards, coffee cups, wristbands, posters, and greetings cards: Jesus loves you!
Do you know what my response to that would have been before I was saved (and I know that there are others who would admit this too)?
That’s great! I love me too. I’m awesome!
Sunday school told me my whole life that Jesus loves me. I needed someone to have the courage to take me aside and tell me the whole truth. Many of my generation have never met a bearer of bad news and you wonder why we leave the church in droves?
Because we don’t need it. Jesus loves and accepts us as we are. We’re fine.
Everyone wants to share the good news but it means nothing without the bad. Without the night sky the stars don’t look half so impressive.
In order to bear good news, you have to bear the bad too. One without the other ends up being sickening whether in its sweetness or its bitterness.
Love Doesn’t Always Let
Mark Dever said that. Granted the context was church discipline but the point was that love doesn’t just allow people to do whatever they like. The principle applies in evangelism too.
You see, evangelism springs from love, a love of God which compels us to share him with others and a love of others which births in us compassion for the lost. I have a wee bit of paper tucked in my Bible (marking 1 Corinthians 15.34 incidentally) with a quote from Spurgeon which articulates my point rather well:
If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.
At this point, I can feel the sinner in me squirming. It all sounds a bit drastic and over-the-top. I’d be surprised if somewhere, deep down, you weren’t feeling the same. Even just a little bit. The ultimate sin in this culture is judging people and so a message which involves the concept of judgement is not an easy one to stomach.
My home church has been distributing a seven tract series over the last seven months and by far the most offensive one was the Guilty one because people just don’t want to be told that they are not ok.
If you share the gospel with people, you’ll find that there will always be one who will say so you think I’m going to hell.
Well, yes. Yes I do but the reason I’m here is to tell you that there’s another way. Sometimes they’ll say that’s not very nice but to be truthful with you, it’s not. But I love them enough to go through the pain of telling them so that they can know themselves that it doesn’t need to be that way.
The problem with preaching only that God is love is that it’s not a very loving message. It’s unnecessary palliative care, holding someone’s hand and telling them it’s all going to be ok when in reality they are dying and you have the medicine to cure them.
I have met too many professing Christians who are horrified at the idea that anyone would mention sin, judgement, or hell to an unbeliever but without justice, mercy is meaningless. There is no delight in telling people that they are not right with God and nor should there be (for that is the other extreme) but love tells the whole truth.
Love does not allow people to blunder ignorantly on, thinking that they are fine until they find themselves standing before God crying out that they never knew. Love does not allow people to carry on with a false sense of security, love warns. It preaches the whole message, hell and all.
A Social Death or a Spiritual One?
It is heartbreaking and it is horrible to have to tell people that they aren’t right with God – as well as what that means for them. Sometimes the temptation arises not to tell them at all so that when they reach the last day at least they have an excuse. If they never knew, they couldn’t reject him right?
It doesn’t work like that. God has given us the responsibility to share the gospel in its entirety and it is for him to deal with people.
If there was no doctrine of hell, no judgement for sin, the Christian message would be pointless. The cross would be a brutal joke. If we all went somewhere nice after we die (or even just into oblivion) then our relationship with God would be irrelevant. How we lived would make no difference. What we believed wouldn’t matter in the slightest.
The gospel hinges on redemption. Without consequences for our rebellion against God, it all becomes vain and meaningless. If grace was anything less, the gospel’s power would be empty.
We have to understand what makes grace grace and to do that the whole message must be preached, even the horrible bits.
I would rather die a thousand social deaths than hold back the truth which leads to spiritual life. It doesn’t matter if people hate you for an honest message (and they will) because give it a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, a few weeks, a few years, and they will have forgotten you entirely. It is worth being an outcast in this fleeting realm if it means that there is even one less outcast in the eternal.
It is all about perspective. The stars are most beautiful at night against the velvet backdrop of the abyss. So also grace shines most brightly when we understand the darkness of our situation without Christ.
x x x
What more can be said? It is not a pleasant message in parts but it is a true one. To bear the good news responsibly, we must deliver the bad alongside. Neither love without justice nor wrath without mercy make for a healthy view of God.
Do not be afraid to tell the whole story but rather rejoice in its truth for salvation has come. Preach Christ and him crucified. Preach sinners saved like brands snatched from the burning. Preach the Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
It will be hard but no amount of darkness can ever hide that spark of gospel light.