Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Coercing the Good News

Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. - Mark 16:15-16

I have always wondered if the second part of this passage was part of the first. Here is what I mean: in proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, is it necessary to say, "Oh, and by the way, if you don't believe you will be condemned." Let me take it apart for a few minutes and then come to a conclusion.

The Gospel is the Good News that God has saved mankind through his Son, Jesus. God has become one with humanity through his becoming incarnate of the Virgin Mary and he has taken the sin of humanity onto his incarnate self, suffered, died, was buried, but he has overcome death in the resurrection. He has fulfilled the law and the prophets in his flesh and established a new and everlasting covenant which makes a path for all people to return to him and live eternally. That is indeed good news.

But if you don't believe, then you are condemned. That's not good news, and to be honest, if you use this statement when you are proclaiming the good news, are you allowing people to freely believe the good news? Are you not coercing them through scare tactics into believing something not because it is good but because of the dire consequences of not believing it?

I don't think Jesus is admonishing the apostles to threaten people with condemnation if they don't accept his message. On the contrary, his message is life giving. I think the statement, "those who do not believe will be condemned" is Jesus' way of telling the apostles, "Let me tell you how important this message is..." In other words, "Don't let me down. Work tirelessly for the gospel so that all people will believe. Never lose heart if you are ridiculed or if people do not accept your words or even if you have to die for the good news."

The Gospel is not something we possess. It is something we proclaim. God's grace is a powerful gift that all are free to reject. Those of us who have accepted the Gospel freely have no right to force acceptance of the Gospel under duress. That is not how Christ would have it. That is not how I will proclaim it.

Holy Father Mark, pray for us.


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