When it comes to bad news, we must be near saturation point. So, in a world of relentless and unmitigated tragedy let me tell a good news story.
Hatay, Turkey lies close to biblical Antioch from where Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to go and preach the gospel. This week a team from UK International Search and Rescue tunnelled for 19 hours to find a woman and man buried in the rubble of a wrecked building which had collapsed in upon them.
At risk of their own lives, they dug their way through the ruins to be with complete strangers and to assure them, despite the language barrier, that they would be ok before finally managing to dig them out.
That story could be repeated thousands of times as people have been found alive days after the devastating earthquake hit southern Turkey and Syria. The great tragedy remains the thousands more who did not survive, and the great challenge has now become the ongoing effort to provide shelter and food for traumatised survivors.
There is no doubt rescue is risky and costly. Yet it is wonderfully joyous for the rescuer and rescued. Who can imagine hearing the voice of the search and rescue team coming to save you from the rubble of a world caved in?
This Sunday we are thinking about the message that captivated Paul and which he so boldly and expectantly proclaimed.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” Romans 1:16
It is easy to think that Paul’s message and the book of Romans begins with bad news: the description of our human condition, our spiritual impoverishment and moral shortcomings. That, of course, is how we often present the message. In a world with a shared sense of good and evil, there is a consensus about what is wrong with humanity which can indeed be that starting point. However, in the contemporary scene Christian morality can be perceived as regressive, unjust and oppressive and we can be written off as hypocritical and arrogant.
It struck me forcibly recently that Paul’s letter to the Romans begins not with the diagnosis of our human state but with the joyous, unapologetic announcement of good news!
Good news energises us, it trumps self-consciousness and shame. Good news is hard to contain. I remember having to resist telling people at supermarket check-outs when each of our children were born. How wonderful it must be for these rescuers in Turkey and Syria to announce to those trapped in the rubble that their rescue is coming, that they are saved!
At a recent Evangelical Alliance Day, it was suggested that we are living in a “hope deficit nation” swamped in negative statistics and stories. We were encouraged to imagine how we might articulate the good news of Jesus to a people who do not know the Christian story.
Perhaps like Scottish athlete and missionary Eric Liddell we too can find fresh ways to communicate that:
“Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives. But God is not helpless among the ruins. Our broken lives are not lost or useless. God’s love is still working.”