Bearing the Bad News

Author Name: 

After Absalom’s death, Ahimaaz asked Joab’s permission to carry to King David what he thought was good news, “how that the LORD hath avenged him of his enemies” (2Sa 18:19). Apparently Ahimaaz was recognized as a good-news messenger, as the king later said, “He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings” (v27). so Joab, knowing the king would receive the message as bad news, told Ahimaaz, “Thou shalt not bear tidings this day, but thou shalt bear tidings another day: but this day thou shalt bear no tidings, because the king's son is dead.” Joab then sent Cushi to bear the tidings.

Ahimaaz still wanted to run. “And Joab said, Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing that thou hast no tidings ready [convenient]?” Finally, at Ahimaaz’ insistence, Joab let him run. He outran Cushi and was first to deliver the news. “All is well... Blessed be the LORD thy God, which hath delivered up the men that lifted up their hand against my lord the king.”

David asked the burning question, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” Ahimaaz knew the answer; Joab had just told him the king’s son was dead. But he would not bring bad news, either because he was not supposed to, or because he could not bear to. So he evaded the question. “When Joab sent the king's servant, and me thy servant, I saw a great tumult, but I knew not what it was.”

Moments later Cushi arrived, also with good news. “Tidings, my lord the king: for the LORD hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee.” David repeated his question. Carefully but clearly, Cushi brought the bad news, “The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is.”

Not what David hoped to hear, the news plunged him into heart-wrenching grief. Yet he needed to know. We wonder how Cushi felt when he witnessed David’s response. No good-hearted person enjoys bearing bad news. But sometimes it has to be told. There are times when a good-news-only messenger cannot do the job.

What really is bad news? If a message is false, it is “bad” news; in the same sense we might refer to bad journalism. However, usually bad news means news that, though accurate, brings grief to the recipient. It is not what he hoped to hear.

Not all bad news needs to be told. Much is better left unsaid. But when bad news could spare the hearer much greater grief, sharing it is good. Examples abound in the natural realm. Your collar is doubled up. Your account is overdrawn. Your cows are out. You have appendicitis. Your house is on fire!

In the spiritual realm, what kind of news do we bear? By definition, the gospel is good news. When we think of the many glorious themes in the gospel message—forgiveness of sins, adoption into God’s family, fellowship with Christ, eternal life—what news could be better! And it is all true, so it is good in that sense as well. Truly the gospel is the ultimate good news.

Yet not everyone considers the gospel good news. Some reject it as bad news because they do not believe it. Many consider it bad news because it contains elements they do not like to hear—repentance, surrender, self-denial. They are grieved because it convicts them of sin.

Reactions vary. Some turn away sorrowful. Some stop their ears. Some mock. Some physically attack the messenger. John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Stephen, and countless others gave their lives for bearing “bad” news.

Fearing such negative reactions, plenty of good-news messengers preach a partial gospel today. They teach remission without repentance, faith without works, a crown without a cross. They speak to please their hearers’ itching ears, like Ahab’s 400 rubber-stamp prophets.

The rare Micaiah who has the courage to tell the truth becomes the target of negative reactions. Ahab said, “I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (1Ki 22:8). Further, his audience pressures him to say what they want to hear. “Let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good.”

But what good is a prophet who says what he is told to say? He is like a doctor who cannot give bad news. “Hmm, this patient must diet or die. But I can’t bear to hurt his feelings. I’m afraid it would jeopardize our relationship.” A good doctor says what the patient needs to hear, whether good news or bad. When someone is on a deadly path, “good” news is bad, and “bad” news is good.
No matter what pressure he is under, the true prophet of the Lord says, “What the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak.” That is a prophet’s job. And that is our job as messengers of the gospel, whether it is received as good news or bad.

Yes, there is a place for tact, for communicating effectively, for speaking the right words at the right time, all as the spirit directs. The news must be shared lovingly and carefully. But we must never yield to pressure to make people feel comfortable with sin. When someone asks a question like, “What does your church teach about remarriage?” or, “What do you believe about homosexuality?” we must give them the truth from God’s Word.

Good news that gives a false hope is actually bad news. So is bad news that gives no hope. Jonah was a bad-news evangelist. Because he did not love the souls in Nineveh, he wanted to bring the bad news of condemnation and judgment but not the good news of forgiveness and mercy. For bad news to be good, it must be coupled with genuine hope. This is the beauty of the full gospel. Like a good doctor, it awakens an individual to his need, and then provides the cure.

Years ago while travelling in the deep south, I kept seeing little gospel signs planted in front yards. Framed with PVC, each white plastic sign had a Bible verse printed neatly on each side. Curious, I called the sign ministry to ask how their program worked. One of the principles the man explained was that each sign had a positive verse on one side and a negative verse on the other. The purpose, he said, was to “declare the whole counsel of God.”

This is what Christ commanded His disciples in Luke 24:47. “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.” Many like to hear about remission of sins. Few like to hear about repentance. But Christ has sent us to preach both.

The apostles obeyed Christ’s command. Paul could say with clear conscience, “I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:26,27).

As messengers of the gospel, let us run with the eagerness of Ahimaaz, but carry the whole story. Let us be known as good-news messengers in the true sense—those who declare all the counsel of God.
August 2012