By Guy Brandon
Bad news travels fast, goes the saying, but lately good news has scarcely got a look in at all. The rise of the so-called Islamic State in the Middle East; the crisis in Ukraine; continuing economic woes in the Eurozone; the ongoing child abuse scandals…
Bad news sells better. Even supposedly impartial outlets like the BBC display this bias. Good news stories are usually relegated to the quirky or ‘human interest’ items just before the weather. It’s worse when news effectively takes the form of political propaganda, not least because focusing on one party often makes another look incompetent in comparison.
Is this news really newsworthy?
The term ‘good news’, often translated ‘gospel’, occurs frequently in the New Testament – particularly in the first three gospels, Acts, Romans and Corinthians. ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom...’ (Matthew 4:23) The Greek word is euangelion, from which we get ‘evangelise’, or preach the gospel.
The same noun was commonly used in the pagan world at the time, in the context of an emperor’s celebrations or a military victory. However, it almost always occurred in the plural, euangelia: ‘good tidings’, whereas it appears in the singular almost exclusively in the New Testament.
Good news vs The Good News
The word euangelia was very likely borrowed and subverted from its original Roman setting. For Jesus, who alludes to Isaiah’s prophesy that the messiah would ‘preach the good news [verb] to the poor’ (61:1), it may have been lent additional meaning by Pontius Pilate’s first act on coming to power in 26 AD, when his soldiers brought their standards, with idolatrous ensigns, into Jerusalem. It gained fresh relevance for the early Christians, when Caligula – who claimed to be a god – ordered his statue to be set up in the Jerusalem Temple. These ‘glad tidings’ were contrasted ironically with the real Good News of the gospel.
For us, the war of words isn’t just what passes for ‘good news’, but what we consider newsworthy at all. N.T. Wright compares the list of worthy things to think on in Philippians 4:8 with the stock-in-trade of the news media, which tends to broadcast ‘anything that is untrue, unholy, unjust, impure, ugly, of ill repute, vicious and blameworthy.’
What do we consider to be the real News, and do we discuss that with others, as opposed to what the media determines is the news today? Can we train ourselves to see more of what God considers Good News in and among the stories in the headlines?