I can’t bear to listen to the news.
A friend shared this sentiment with me recently, reflecting an experience that I am beginning to hear with some regularity.
The feeling with which she spoke exposed a vulnerability and anxiety that is becoming increasingly common. I knew exactly what she meant; I’ve felt much the same this past year or two.
Now two things immediately knocked at the door of my attention. Actually, the first knocked on that door; the second kicked it down in order to be seen and heard.
First, the woman is a thoughtful, committed and long-time follower of Jesus, a Christian active in her church, and with as healthy a view of life and herself as you’re likely to meet these days.
What does a Christian mean when they say they can no longer bear to listen to the news? Isn’t switching off the realities of the world in all its brokenness the last thing a Christian should do?
Second, I felt such a surge of agreement with what she said I realized it was time to sit down, ask and think through the Hell that is happening in our world.
I don’t use that word Hell much. It’s too serious a word to bandy about as a lazy expletive.
But as I began to think about the news we listen to day in and day out, and the drip feed of information selected by a media industry whose main mission is to hook our attention, engage our emotions and shape our view of the world, I realized that much of that cycle of news was about the Hell going on all around us.
So the question I’m now pondering is, “What in heaven’s name are we to do with the Hell going on around us?”
Of all people, Christians are equipped to look on the world without despair, to face the realities of its brokenness without giving up, to confront evil with hope and hatred with love and enmity with forgiveness.
So if that’s even halfway true, what difference might it make if Christians did what Christians are called to do, in the face of so much bad news?
What if Christians like me and my friend gave ourselves to a different kind of listening to the news?
Christians are good-news people. But the constant flow of up-to-date information and graphic images of human suffering, global disaster, brutal conflict, economic doom, political instability and social disintegration come at us from all directions and without interruption.
Online immediacy of the latest information, intrusive television from restaurants to supermarkets, the mobile phone attached with an umbilical cord to the ears, large civic digital screens in stations and city locations; it is hard to escape a world where connectivity is now the necessary norm.
So, what in heaven’s name are we to do with the Hell going on around us?
We are coming to Advent season – a season of contrasts such as darkness and light, fear and hope, emptiness and fullness, waiting and arrival, anticipation and fulfillment.
My question begins to find its answer in Advent. Listening to the news for an Advent people will mean listening in stereo to two news streams.
What in heaven’s name I do with the Hell that is going on around me is listen to the good news that is the counterbalance to the bad news.
To the darkness I speak light; to the cynicism of political agendas I trust in the God of the Magnificat; to the suffering of the migrant, the refugee and those bereaved and wounded in war, I sing a song of hope in Emmanuel, God with us; to the poor and hungry and marginalized and lost I enact the Beatitudes, become one of those who sees Christ in the naked, hungry, imprisoned and brokenhearted.
This Advent that will be the theme of my preaching.
It’s not the most politically correct or politely constructed title, but it is born and borne out of being with a friend whose sigh and sadness first prompted the question, “What in Heaven’s name are we to do with the Hell going on around us?”
James Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Wittily, and is used with permission.