The world, the flesh, and the devil conspire against this every single day. There is a discipline of grace required of every Christian, calling us to actively direct our hearts and minds toward the good, the true, and the beautiful—toward Jesus Christ himself. Show me a Christian who walks closely with Jesus—meditating on his Word, communing with him in prayer, telling others about him—and I’ll show you someone who delights in good news.
Good news. We all love getting it. Our team won. Our loved one made it home safely. A new life safely born. A friend engaged to be married. A clean bill of health. A balance paid in full. A job offer received.
We all love good news.
So why do we seem to have such an addiction to bad news?
Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday yesterday brought to memory a comment from an interview with the New York Times last summer. Part of promotion efforts for his newest album, the legendary artist was full of reflection in his exchange with Douglas Brinkley. But this is the part that stood out to me: “Good news in today’s world is like a fugitive, treated like a hoodlum and put on the run. Castigated. All we see is good-for-nothing news.”
Dylan made the remark in the context of observations on the place of gospel music in American culture. But, as usual, Bob Dylan’s seemingly passing commentary rang true of realities far more transcendent than pop music.
In the past year, Dylan’s assessment of our common condition seems to have proven all the more true. We are addicted to bad news. This is no malady unique to North America, but it does seem to have some rather stark expressions in our own cultural context.
My interest is not merely in American culture, but in what is happening in our churches. Why is it that so many who claim the name of Jesus Christ seem to have an addictive dependency on bad news? I’m not talking about the kind of bad news that punches you in the mouth and makes you bleed. I’m talking about the kind of bad news that seems to pull you in, with an almost seductive power.
Gossip. Slander. Fear. Paranoia. Anxiety. Strife.
We love good news, but we are too often addicted to bad news. It feeds and fuels our outrage. It seems to lay a foundation for our self-righteousness. It legitimizes our worst fears. And now we have social media platforms driven by algorithms quite literally designed to give us more of the stuff, with just enough of a dopamine hit each time to keep us coming back for more. And the more we consume, the more we want. We all love good news. But like any addict, we seem incapable of walking away from the thing that is killing us.
No honest person can deny the reality of bad news. It is inescapable. And Christians understand full well that bad news matters a great deal. In fact, we need to know the bad news so that we will appreciate and trust the good news all the more. There are those that would swat away any bad news, preferring to live in a delusion. What matters is whether the news, good or bad, is true.
The issue is not whether bad news exists or not. Nor is the question whether we need to be aware of the reality of bad news. The malady of our present moment seems to be that our hearts and minds have developed something of an addictive dependency on bad news. We feed on it, seeming to draw some sort of twisted nourishment from it. But in the end, bad news has no nutritive value. It starves the human soul, warping it inward.
So how can we determine if we have succumbed to this appetite? Let me suggest just a few diagnostic questions.
Do I assume the worst of others?
Good news is inseparable from love. There’s more to that statement than we likely realize. Indeed, our very definition of what makes good news good is shaped by what and who we love. But if we do love God supremely and love our neighbor as ourselves, then our loves are actually ordered rightly and we will indeed delight in truly good news.
So what’s the problem? Why do we seem to actually find delight in bad news? Even more disturbing, how do we account for the schadenfreude that seems to mark so much of the human heart and our modern world?
Sin, of course. Our hearts are so warped and bent by the fall that we actually draw disordered pleasure from the bad news about others.
One surefire indication that we are killing ourselves on bad news is that we increasingly are marked by cynicism about others, assuming the worst of their motives and actions. This can be especially tempting and subtle when we’ve been wronged or hurt, when trust has been broken. It can emerge in our hearts when we are afraid. And it can even come to characterize an entire organizational culture.