There was a saying that newspaper reporters use to have about their work. “We are here,” they would say, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” It is an admirable work. To dive into the dark places of society and let people know what is going on. To inevitably cause change through reporting.
The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr when hearing this saying claimed, “Such is the work of Christ and his Church. The Church is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” Again it is an admirable work, this work of finding those who are oppressed and beaten, and bringing them comfort and hope. Likewise pointing the finger at the comfortably unjust and oppressive and taking away some of that comfort.
We live in times when newspapers struggle for readership and struggle to survive. We also live in times when church membership is declining and now one out of five people do not believe themselves to be at all religiously inclined. Perhaps people do not think there are those that need to be comforted any longer. Perhaps we have grown weary at all the evil that is out there. What is there to do but to turn away from it, or be driven crazy by it?
In the church we talk about compassion fatigue. We are afraid that people will simply be overwhelmed by all the need and shut down, grow tired of it all, say, “Enough, I’ve had enough, I can’t do this anymore.” When that happens preachers sometimes become instruments of ease. Easy, uplifting, self-care messages are substituted for sermons that will still wrestle with God and leave us changed by the encounter. I speak, of course, of Jacob’s time of wrestling with God. He limped for the rest of his life. He was never the same, and every time he walked he remembered that he wrestled with God. But limping is not easy so let us make the messages easier, right?
“Why isn’t there more good news on the news?” people ask one another. Maybe the answer is we need to know the bad news. Good news is all around us. I am up and breathing and well, this is good news! My children are beautiful and I love the way my little girl runs up to me with arms open in her little toddler way and nuzzles her head into my shoulder, this is good news! My son and I are having fort night tonight. We are building a fort in his room and we will sleep in there after we are done telling scary stories and watching cartoons, this is good news!
A stranger helped me when my hands were full at the supermarket today, that is good news! My neighbor came by with tomatoes from his garden, little ones that my son loves, because he knows my son loves them, this is good news! This is news from just today, and from my own life. You have your own good news, we all do. Our lives are filled with goodness if only we take the time to notice it.
But the bad news is often hidden unless exposed and the people affected from bad news are still in need. We need to hear about it, we need to act, we need to care and know and that God is calling us to look out over a world full of goodness from which we can give comfort, and full of comfortable evil that we must afflict. If you are looking for a place where you can join the good fight of faith look for a church. There are many. I personally invite you to mine. Our services are at 11 am on Sundays and I know that it would be better with you there… ah that is good news too!