In 2007 I published a book about the environment (I was a professor of Environmental Health) entitled Where We Stand: The Surprising Real State of our Planet”. Like most book titles, this was chosen by the publisher. My original title was “The Good News” since the book was about the fact that the state of our planet, including pollution levels, literacy, disease, infant mortality, even political freedom had been getting better since the second world war. I myself was surprised by this, as was everyone else, because there was no sign of it in any kind of media.
The book was filled with charts and figures, data and other demonstrations of the truth of my point. I also had a chapter mildly castigating my fellow enviornmentalists for their overwhelmingly gloomy outlook on everything, even in the face of facts like the recovery of endangered species, and the continuous drop in levels of hazardous chemicals like lead in the environment, and I pleaded with those responsible for helping the relevant legislation (the Clear Air Act, The Endangered Species Act etc) to get enacted and enforced to at least acknowledge their own success.
The book was a flop, and sold very few copies. As for any book there were many reasons for this. It wasn’t terribly well written, there were too many charts, figures and data, and the publisher took almost no interest in promoting it. But the main reason was the well known fact that the last thing the public wants to hear about is good news.
Does that sound counter intuitive? It shouldn’t. The publisher rejected my working title, because they said it sounded like a religious book, the good news referring to the Gospels. It wasn’t. I was not yet even a Christian, although I was thinking about it. But I think the real reason they didn’t go with it, was they (and everyone in the media business) knew full well that good news just doesn’t sell.
Look at what’s going on now. Even the NY Times has been running a series of online blog posts about how there is too much emphasis on everything going wrong with the COVID vaccines, the various virus variants, the lack of public health measures, the bad side effects, doubts about the future, etc. Hardly a word about the obvious reality that this very serious pandemic is being brought under control, despite enormous odds. The Times reporters warn that this emphasis on doom and gloom, so long the norm in all reporting, might have some negative consequences in terms of undermining confidence in the future, not to mention a further worsening of an already universal crisis in mental health.
I don’t know why bad news is so popular and good news isn’t. But I don’t like it. I didn’t like it before I became a Christian, but now that I am one, I see it as a religious issue. Christians have something that they can always look at with joy, hope and optimism – the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and its significance for all of humanity. They can see the good that is being done by other humans all around them, as expressions of Christ’s command to love one’s neighbor, and to feed the widows and orphans, care for the stranger.
Of course, we know that there are terrible things in this world, who doesn’t, and most of us have no good explanation for how a loving God can allow that to be. But when we think of the coming Holy Week, the suffering and final victory of our Savior, and the hope of that message, we also recognize the reality of a happy ending, or at least the possibility of a happier future. Christians mourn the death of friends (as I am now doing) and weep at the loss. But we do not descend into the hell of unrelieved terror, misery and gloom, but dwell in hope and the promise of eternal joy, even if we cannot fathom what that means.
Perhaps we can all start by thinking about what is very likely to happen in the next couple of months. Schools are opening, and teachers are greeting their students. Every day a couple of million more Americans (and 10 million people around the world) are getting vaccinated and getting out of danger. Barber shops will open, restaurants will begin serving, people will begin to visit each other, grandparents will hug their growing grandchildren, planes and trains will be full again.
And churches will open, worshippers will meet and hug each other with joyful tears, and also mournful tears for those not still with us. Our choirs will sing, our organs will resound, and the body of Christ will raise their voices to give thanks to the Lord. We will emerge from our fear and sorrow, as we have so often in the past, and give glory to our Creator. As Jesus said to Paul when His newest disciple had fallen to his knees “Now get up…”. (CEV, AMP). It is time for us to get up.