I suppose most people know that the word “Gospel” means Good News (from the Old English word Godspell). It’s a word that’s heard a lot in churches and musical circles, and is properly associated with absolute truth: “gospel truth”, “it’s gospel”. But how many know what the good news actually is? Yes, it’s about salvation and forgiveness and other religious things like that. But, at its heart, it’s about love, a different way to live, peace and fulfillment in this world, and assurance about what comes after. This is the point: it is not pie in the sky, it is not in the least bit vague or churchy. The good news is that God loves you. More than that: God loves you as you are, knowing all about you and seeing into the very depths of your soul, to places you know nothing about.
We know, only too well, that people are looking for something more than they have: something that things and money don’t bring. I’m not saying that things and money don’t make you happy, at least for a while. Of course, its much easier to live with money than without it. But the fear of going without is something that ruins so many of the joys we have. We save up for “rainy days”, for our old age, for security. Why? Because we’re afraid we don’t have enough. Trouble is, we don’t know what enough is, so we can never be secure in our minds, no matter what our situation. The Good News is that we don’t have to worry. It is not a guarantee of wealth or happiness, no matter what some evangelists might sell you. Rather it is the knowledge that God Almighty, maker of all that is, or ever will be, has promised to care for you. That, as Paul said, all things work together for the good for those who love God. Does this still sound simplistic, naive, completely ridiculous? Then you don’t know the Good News yet where it matters. You are not convinced that God is, or is true, or that he loves.
That’s fine: there are so many valid questions to ask, so many things that need to be explained. The truth is that, if something is true, then you can ask any question you like, and there will be a valid answer. God asks you to ask him, not to be shy, not to just accept someone else’s word for it. Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock, and the door will be opened. That is a promise Jesus made. Call him on it.
But one word of caution: make sure you mean it. Be sure you want to get an answer. Too many want to prove something to be untrue, so they simply will not accept a good answer to a good question. If God is real and true and there, then there are answers to every question. Start with the basics: lay a foundation. Then build, question by question, until you find yourself on firm ground. Let’s deal with the real world here: why is there evil? Why do the good suffer and the bad prosper? Why does God allow disasters and disease and war? All good questions, and all ones he has answered, and can answer for you. Are you willing to hear? It will take openness on your part, a willingness to be real about yourself too. But he said: “to everyone who asks, an answer will be given. To everyone who seeks, they will find; to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened”. He said it: so, is he a liar, or is there a truth out there?
Perhaps that’s jumping too far ahead. Maybe we should be starting with a more basic question: is there a God at all? Maybe Jesus is a step too far for some. But where else do you start? Look at all the religions that have been in the world. Look at the history of people, and see how pervasive the belief in god, or gods, or Something Else really is. Is that evidence of there being Something, or just a leftover from more “primitive” times, when people were more ignorant and superstitious?
As an historian, I honestly believe that we are the naive ones: we are so arrogant and convinced that we are the high point of history. No-one has ever known as much as we do, or achieved so much, etc. Many people today accept that, once upon a time, there was a widespread belief that the world was flat. Not true. Do you realise that the architecture of the pyramids, or places like Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland, are so perfectly aligned with the points of the compass that it is impossible for them to have been constructed without a very precise and highly-developed sense of astronomy and chronology?
What has that to do with the Gospel? It shows that we have to have a more open mind about things; that we don’t know it all. In fact, some of our most cherished ideas about the issues are based on nothing more than a desire to explain things away that make us uncomfortable. They are based, may I say, on faith. People think that Jesus never existed. They think that the books of the New Testament are fairy stories written long after the events they record. Again, the truth is quite different. Perhaps we need to take a second look at some of the received “wisdom” we have accepted so readily? Stop taking these things on faith, on the word of others. Think for yourself.