Isn’t it funny that we have a tendency to want to shoot the messenger? Someone tells us something that we don’t like, and it automatically becomes that person’s problem. It may not even be that person’s decision, but we don’t like the decision, and we have to take it out on someone. It’s kind of funny when you think about it. To extend the figurative nature of the phrase, it would be like me getting upset with the mailman because he brings me bills I have to pay. It’s not his choice. He is literally just bringing them to my house.
Even if that mailman was going to disregard everything, never give me my bill and pretend like nothing happened, that’s not going to change the fact that my electric company, for example, is going to find a way to get money from me or will kill my power and I will be sitting in the dark.
Believe it or not, sometimes the messenger is delivering things to us that are unpleasant, but they are simply letting us know something that has consequences if we don’t follow through or fulfill our responsibilities. The consequences actually can be less pleasant than the news that they are delivering.
The messenger remains on the front line though, and he or she is going to deal with our immediate reaction to unpleasant news. I think about how hard it must be to be a doctor who has to deliver a bad diagnosis to a patient. I’m sure they get blamed, yelled at and criticized all the time. Patients doubt their knowledge, question their prognosis and blame them for missing something. It is not a job I envy, but the doctor has to deliver that diagnosis. Why? If the doctor didn’t do that, then there’s no way that the patient would ever look for treatment. Without being made aware of the problem, the patient would never seek treatment. Whatever condition he or she has would continue to get worse and would eventually potentially be terminal. The consequences are worse than the message being delivered. We don’t like the message, and we don’t want to hear it, but sometimes we have to hear it.
This is the end of the story though because a few things need to be true. First, the messenger needs to be trustworthy and reliable. If the mailman brought me a fake bill that told me that my power was going to be shut off, but I called the power company and they told me there was no problem and they don’t know where that bill came from, I would question the messenger. If the doctor gave an inaccurate diagnosis to me in the past, I’m going to question his or her reliability.
The messenger has an even more important responsibility in this situation, and I think this is why we have this propensity to shoot the messenger. Sure we might get mad at the messenger, but most of us fundamentally understand that it isn’t the mailman’s fault for bringing me a bill or the doctor’s fault for giving me a bad diagnosis. Any type of anger that we have in those situations is normally short-lived, and it doesn’t seem to really come from a place of deep-seated resentment. It is simply an emotional response to unfortunate news. I’m not saying it is excusable necessarily, but we very rarely get incredibly upset with the messenger unless they fail to bring our message back to wherever it needs to go to solve the problem.
Imagine a mailman who delivers you a bill, but he isn’t going to take it back to the power company to pay your bill. Therefore, he lets you know the bad news, but he isn’t able to help you solve the problem. Having a doctor tell you that you need your appendix out but isn’t able to perform the operation or refer you to anyone who can would make you upset. That would make you pretty mad at the messenger.
That’s the thing about messengers. They have to do their job as messengers. They have to be reliable and bring you news, even if you don’t want to hear it. However, they also have to reliably take the information you provide to solve the problem. They are warning you about bad consequences. The whole point of warning you is to help you avoid the consequences.
Again, let’s say that the mailman took your payment and brought it to the electric company. If the electric company lost you check, said you never paid it and turned off your power, you don’t fundamentally blame the messenger. Again, the messenger has done his job. The mailman delivered the letter. You would probably be mad at the power company, and that is somewhat justifiable. Obviously you aren’t happy that you did your responsibility to avoid the bad consequence, and someone still brought that consequence down on your head. However, again, that is not the messenger’s problem. You can’t get mad at the messenger for something like that. It makes no sense. He or she did what was requested in delivering the message back.
This may seem like kind of an abstract example, but I’ve tried to make it pretty simple, and I’ve tried to relate it to our real lives because I think that we do this all the time. There are a lot of people who point out inconvenient truths. You don’t want to hear what they have to say, but they are delivering you something that is for your own good.
I sometimes feel like this is a major problem with our Christian witness today. How many times do we deliver messages, but we fail to take the answers we get back to the authority source? I can tell people about Jesus, and I can explain how He died for the sins of the world to reconcile our relationship with God and provide us the opportunity to have eternal life with Him.
That’s a pretty easy message. The gospel is meant to be simple. In fact, it is radically simple, and a lot of people write it off because it is so simple. It seems insane that something so important can be simultaneously so simple.
However, there are more difficult questions that people have about Christianity. There are things that aren’t quite so easy to understand. Why do we choose to follow one particular God when there have been thousands that people have claimed to believe in throughout history? Why does God, who Christians say is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, allow evil? Why does it seem that science and Christianity are always at odds?
Here is what I have noticed about Christianity. We are really good at delivering the message. We are good messengers more often than not. Our churches are good at putting altar calls at the end of the service. I’m not diminishing that. These are good things, and like the mailman, it’s really important that we deliver the message. Like a doctor, we need to help bring the diagnosis to the world. This is 100% necessary, so please do not think I am diminishing anything. This is not an either/or conversation but rather a both/and.
Now, after we deliver the message, people might not always be very happy with us. You have seen it. How does it go when you confront someone about sin? How does our culture react when Christian leaders say that cultural trends are not good? That is the emotional response that I talked about that is somewhat understandable when a messenger delivers bad news. I’m not excusing it, but it is not a deep-seated type of issue. It is an emotional response.
After that initial rage, I think this is where the church often times comes up short. We don’t have the follow-through. We don’t have the answers that people are looking for. Or, I should rephrase that. The answers are there, but we don’t know where they are, or we don’t know how to articulate them. Is it easy to explain why God allows suffering and evil? No way. I wrote my MA thesis on the problem of evil and suffering. I went on about 90 pages, and I know there is a lot more I could’ve said. By no means did I even begin to address this topic to the extent that it probably should have been. It is a tough problem and one that takes a great deal of study and time to explain.
However, that’s where we have to be the reliable messengers the other way and go back to the source. We need to get back into the answers that Christianity provides. A lot of people feel like nobody will answer their questions, and when nobody will answer their questions, they feel like the messenger is not being reliable in the other direction. It’s like not delivering the bill. You get pretty mad at the messenger if they don’t have enough respect for you to deliver the message. For us, that means taking their questions and trying our best to go back to God’s answers.
If Christianity can’t provide the answers, we have a problem. That’s like the power company that turns off your power even though the messenger brought your payment back. That’s not fair. The great thing about Christianity is that we have a very rich intellectual tradition. The answers are there. That is what makes Christianity different than every other religion and our God different than every other god. We need to be faithful to go and get those answers. Then, the service continues. Like the way it is supposed to happen when your power stays on because you paid your bill, people will continue to develop either as Christians or words Christianity if the service continues.
When we don’t do that, we become unreliable messengers, and no one likes unreliable messenger. Then they are more likely to shoot future messengers because they have been let down by previous messengers. If my mailman failed to deliver my letter 17 times, I’m not sure that I would trust a future mailman. Even though he might be really good at his job, my trust is going to be wavering at best and demolished at worst.
If you ever wondered why I started apologetics, this is the answer. Nobody wants to be the messenger who gets shot, but I also don’t want to be the messenger who causes a future messenger to get shot. I want to do my best to provide those answers and do my job bringing information both ways. You bring the gospel to people from God’s word, and you bring their questions back to God’s word to get the answers they are looking for. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
As we look forward then to the young year, let’s try to be the types of messengers who can be trusted. You want the church to grow? That’s how it will happen.