When Bad News is Good News
We are predisposed to doubt that there are silver linings in bad news. No matter how hard we try to spin the news of losing a job, a marriage ending or a chronic health diagnosis, others encouragement to “look on the bright side” seem hollow. And yet, without hope in the midst of trials we are left in despair!
While we can lose a job due to a failure to perform, a marriage can end because of our neglect and our bad health can be due to poor choices, even there we need hope. We need something greater than a happy pill that tells us that everything will work out. Sometimes we can find that the good news we desire comes in the bad news.
Recently my mother in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson. This diagnosis would have devastated her 3 years earlier thinking that a Parkinson diagnosis would be bad news. However, as her tremor got worse, the diagnosis gave her hope for a future that she thought was gone. Now, with changes in her medication, she hopes to sign her name and navigate her phone. While the news does not completely end the tremors, the bad news gives her hope.
I think that this is an apt illustration of what we face when we consider who we are in view of who God is. When we merely compare ourselves to those around us, we can feel pretty good about ourselves. We don’t lie (if you don’t count white lies) we don’t steal (at least not big things – maybe a glance or a paper clip but that’s it.) However, while we may look alright when compared to our neighbor, when we compare ourselves to God, we may want to run and hide.
This is what Isaiah felt as he encounters the Lord in a vision; we are told that he was undone. He was undone because seeing God’s holiness caused his self-righteousness to condemn him, “I said, “Oh, no! I will be destroyed. I am not pure. And I live among people who are not pure. But I have seen the King, the Lord of heaven’s armies.” (Isaiah 6:5) Standing before the holy and righteous God, Isaiah understood how unholy, unworthy he was.
The bad news that “I will be destroyed” is the same diagnosis that we who are not pure face as we stand before the Lord. In the Lord’s presence, all our pretending is stripped away and how short we are of the Lord’s mark of righteousness is revealed. If you have already realized the diagnosis, what remedies have you tried? Many will either deny it or try to fix it through hard work. However, both will let us down.
The right response may be less attractive because it glorifies God and not ourselves. It requires us to humbly confess that because we are impure, we are without hope and that the only place to find hope is to trust in the Lord to make us righteous as he has promised. Until we stop trusting in ourselves, in our own righteousness and in what we can do, hope will continue to slip through our fingers.
For a season, my mother in-law sought work arounds to treat her tremors. While they helped, they could not stop the digression. It was only when she got the right diagnosis that she could find hope. Until we accept the diagnosis that we are sinners who stand condemned before a holy God and see we face destruction because we are not pure, only then can we to receive the cleansing as Isaiah does.
Fortunately, Isaiah’s story continues to show us that while he could not cleanse himself, the Lord could. “On the altar there was a fire. One of the burning heavenly creatures used a pair of tongs to take a hot coal from the fire. Then he flew to me with the hot coal in his hand. The creature touched my mouth with the hot coal. Then he said, “Look. Your guilt is taken away because this hot coal has touched your lips. Your sin is taken away.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)
The promise given to Isaiah, to be made righteous, is given to us as well. For when we come to the Lord, recognizing that we are a hopeless sinner before a holy God, only then can we be cleansed and made right with God, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)