Why Do We Love Bad News?


We have an appetite for bad news.

Such an appetite, it turns out, that newspaper publishers understand good news just doesn’t sell. A Pew Research survey conducted in 2007 concluded that Americans, for instance, were still most interested in reading about war, bad weather, disaster (man-made first, then natural), money, crime, and social violence–in that order. Roy Greenslade observed in The Guardian a few years back that “people’s interest in news is much more intense when there is a perceived threat to their way of life.” Bad news wakes us up because it shakes us up.

Bad news wakes us up because it shakes us up.

I’ve never been what one would call a news hound, but I am interested in what’s going on in the world. We don’t take a paper–I got sick of paying an outrageous amount for page after page of godless drivel–poorly written and even more poorly edited. Despite its great musical programming (especially Tempo, with Ottawa’s fabulous Julie Nesrallah), our national broadcasting system is so far out in left field it appears to have climbed the fence, run up the steps, and leaped off the top tier of bleachers. Even when I can find a more conservative news agency, I notice there is indeed something conspicuously absent from the stories.

Good news.

From a spiritual standpoint, much of the world is also fixated on bad news. Despite the abundance of professing infidels, most people embrace religion in some form. And the religions of the world, like the news outlets of the world, thrive on bad news. Not a single one offers hope, joy, assurance, freedom, or purpose.

Good news at this time of year–one of the few times people are interested in it– revolves around such things as little children thinking of people other than themselves, a major retailer ending the year in the black, the quick arrest of a perverted Santa in the men’s room of a mall, renewed funding for body piercing research, or families adopting ferrets with crippling emotional issues. All uplifting, to be sure, but in light of the really bad news that’s out there, lacking in protein.

But many years ago, some poor shepherds out in a field got some good news in the middle of the night that changed their lives forever. Theirs and mine.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’

This biblical text from the Gospel According to Luke* (a first-century Greek physician) records a newscast from heaven that frightened the viewers out of their wits. Did you catch that description, “filled with great fear?” They were scared spitless. But the angelic messenger reassured them that he had great, joyful news–not just for them, but for everyone.

The gospel of Jesus is good news. In fact, that’s what the word, “gospel”, means–good news. And it’s simple: God the Creator, who is holy and eternal and just and gracious, took it upon Himself to solve the problem of sin by giving Himself a human body, entering history as a baby born of a virgin, living a sinless life, and then dying the cruelest death imaginable as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Three days later, having satisfied the righteous wrath of God, He rose from the dead, conquering the power of death and hell, and left this world as miraculously as He entered it.

But the news gets even better. By faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the God-man, anyone can appropriate His righteousness–the only righteousness God will accept–and know beyond even the slightest doubt that he or she will spend eternity in heaven with the very God who made us. We need do nothing–because we can do nothing–but receive the gracious gift of salvation God offers us. News just doesn’t get any better than that!

Ordinarily one would hardly die for a righteous person; but still for a good person someone might perhaps bring himself to die. But God proves His own love for us by Christ’s dying for us when we were still sinners.**

If you are a religious person, you need to ask yourself a question: “In my religion [pick a religion–any religion], what is the good news?”

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll make a disturbing discovery. There isn’t any.

*Luke 2.8-10, ESV                                                                                     **Romans 5.5-8, The Modern Language Bible

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