It was the day after receiving the bad news from the surgeon that the stage of cancer diagnosed was more extensive than originally believed from the biopsies. David, Maria and I met with the medical oncologist for the first time to discuss what was ahead for the next 4 months. The experienced straight-shooting physician explained the nature of the cancer and the absolute necessity for chemotherapy. After 30 minutes of technical descriptions of chemicals and possible side effects the oncologist paused and offered the equivalent of a drink of cold water on a parched dry throat.
“I read your report and I know that for the last 30 days you have received one piece of bad news after another. Listen to me, the bad news ends today. The tumors have been removed. There is no sign of cancer elsewhere in your body. This day on we focus on treatment . The bad news ends today.”
What is it that makes good news so good?
Is it not that there is the possibility or the reality of bad news, I mean, really bad news that must come before it? Would the physician’s pronouncement been wonderfully felt and appreciated if there had not been a period of taking in some really bad news? I doubt it. For example, what if the scenario had previously gone like this:
The first time I am diagnosed with cancer all the cancer specialists say something to the effect, “Oh, it’s not that bad. The good news is that by having a mastectomy on one breast, followed by 4 months of astringent chemotherapy, followed by 6 weeks of radiation you will be slightly better Actually you will be ok without treatment except for a few episodes of burping throughout your life and a little twinge of discomfort from time to time.”
Now, does that sound like Good News? I don’t think so! It sounds more like a pronouncement meant to irritate. The fact is that really good news comes after and when juxtaposed to really bad news.
The spiritual application………….
The comfortable time:
I was 21 years old before I thought much of the expression, ‘the good news of Christ.’ It meant little to me. I could not comprehend or even bother to comprehend what was so good-newsy about Jesus. I was given a pocket New Testament by a college coed that apparently thought I needed it. Till that time I had never read through the Gospels or any other part of the New Testament. I was not completely ignorant of Christianity, just not reflective enough to consider its implications. I was annoyed that this college coed gave me a New Testament. Who was she to imply my life needed redirection? My attitude was anything but grateful for what she called a vehicle to good news about my life.
The very uncomfortable time:
One evening alone in my university dorm room I read the New Testament; not in its entirety but enough to know that the bad news was worse than I thought. You are probably thinking at this moment that I made a mistake and meant to say that the good news was better than I thought. But actually I wasn’t hearing good news – not then. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis describes the time when the apostles would not have needed to explain to their listeners – whatever their religion, philosophy or ethnicity – of their dire position before the Divine. Lewis writes,
“It was against this background that the Gospel appeared as good news. It brought good news of possible healing to men (and women) who knew that they were mortally ill. But all this has changed. Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis -in itself very bad news – before it can win a hearing for the cure.”
I am grateful for that time at university when I became painfully aware of the need for a big cure for a life mutated off course. As I write, Lent begins its “assent” to the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world, followed by the vindication of that sacrifice with the Resurrected Christ. Good news follows Bad News. The Bad News ended that first Easter.