After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15, NIV, italics mine.)
Our small group was studying this passage and Mike asked, “What are we repenting of?”
For those who grew up in the church, our immediate response to that question is “from our sins.” And certainly there are ample number of scriptures that call for us to repent of our sinful thoughts and actions. But could repenting also include turning from our idea that God is bad news, and believing instead that God is good?
For many, unfortunately, God is bad news. They have been taught that God is an all-powerful tyrant who is not a big fan of mankind. God watches our behavior and when we cross the line, he beats us with his rod. Others view God as scorekeeper. Our eternal future is dependent upon our good deeds outweighing the bad. Another view is that God is distant and aloof, the creator who set everything in motion then removed himself from any interaction. Others explain crises, illnesses, oppression, hurricanes, or tsunamis as acts of God, the punishment for our sinful rebellion.
I grew up in a tribe known more for what we were against than what we were for. As a consequence, God’s name was synonymous with “no fun.” In trying to make a decision about what to do, we simply asked, “Would I enjoy this?” If we were going to have a good time, it must be wrong. We believed in a God that doesn’t throw parties. Whatever the religious flavor, God often comes across as bad news.
I confess I’m a bad news junkie. There are news channels specifically devoted to feeding my addiction 24/7. They provide up-to-the minute news about such things as the failing economy, the coming global outbreak of a deadly disease, the moral decline of this generation, attacks from another axis of evil, or the incompetence of our nation’s leaders. It’s easy to see all of the bad in the world and translate that bad news to God. As Anne Margaret sang, “I sure could use A Little Good News today.”
Humanity delights in drawing boxes around God. We want to name our deities, describe their character, personality, and what they are for or against. We develop elaborate explanations of what is righteous behavior, how old the earth is, or what heaven and hell are like. Movements, philosophies, and religions that become “isms” draw boxes around God. When we draw boxes around God, we make the great “I am” smaller.
Jesus proclaimed the good news of God to a culture that believed the reason for their oppression was God’s wrath. They expected a Savior to overthrow the occupiers and reestablish an earthly kingdom. The religious leaders put heavy burdens on the people. They couldn’t imagine a God who would leave his throne in heaven and dwell among them. They saw themselves as special: the elect, the righteous. They made God bad news.
The good news is that God loves mankind—not just some of us, but all of us. The good news is that God forgives us, regardless of how badly we’ve messed up. The good news is that God doesn’t play favorites. The good news is that God wants to be present in our lives, to comfort and cheer us on. The good news is that God wants the best for us. While religions put heavy burdens on people, the good news is that God’s burdens are light.
Jesus came along and said, “Repent and believe the good news.” Jesus challenges us to rethink how we view God. What do you believe about God that is bad news? What do you need to repent of?