As I kept talking with my wife, I realized, at some point, how her first definition of the Good News was perfect, as it was somehow containing Thomas’ answer, without explicitly phrasing it as he did nor using the words he himself used to name it. In a sense, we can say that Thomas’ answer is an explanation of Jn 3:16, or a distillation of its core message. I will share this message in a moment, but before doing so, I’d like to talk about another very common response we get, when we ask the question “What is the Good News?, namely, that “God loves us”.
Make no mistake. This is also a very very very good answer. It stresses the first part of Jn 3:16 : “For God so loved the world” and leads us to the greatest mystery of all: that God is Love (see 1Jn 4:8) because he is trinitarian. Compared to the classical answer focusing on the salvific deeds of Christ that I consider “too narrow”, I would say that this one has the downside of being too general or too vague. God’s love is the efficient cause of everything, including the Good News. If we want to know what is the Good News, we need not only to remind people that God loves them, but to zero in on the reason why this love operated our salvation through the Incarnation of Jesus, is redemptive sacrifice and the sharing with us of his divine sonship through the outpouring of his Spirit. The success of Christ's mission on Earth was entirely played out during these three pivotal moments, that are referred to somehow in Jn 3:16: incarnation, redemption and partial divinization through the outpouring of the Spirit (in preparation and for the complete divinization in heaven). But all three had the same one and only purpose. They aimed at the same effect. This is why we can’t say that the Good News is first and foremost that the Word became flesh or that man is saved or that man is divinized in Christ.
Incarnation and divinization are two aspects of the Good News that Orthodox theologians and believers tend to stress more than Catholics (or Protestants) do, when it comes to defining what is the Good News. More than Catholics, Orthodox are aware of the fact that salvation began and somehow was achieved already with the Incarnation of the Son of God, because in Jesus, God and man were reunited for good. With respect to "divinization", it is a very important word in the orthodox spirituality. Much more than in our Catholic mainly Latin mystical tradition, where the more common word is "sanctification". The end result is the same (the partaking in the divine life), but where Catholics focus maybe more on the process of becoming a saint (i.e., being consecrated to God, and therefore separated from worldly realities so as to commune to the divine) the word "divinization" points more towards the “becoming like God'' aspect of the process. But in the end, both traditions include an ascetical dimension (separation from the profane) and a mystical dimension (becoming like God).
Now, the question remains: What is the purpose of the whole mission of Christ on Earth? What is the purpose of the Incarnation? What is the purpose of the Redemption and filial adoption in baptism? What is the purpose of our entering into Heaven thanks to the divinizing process of becoming holy? The answer to these questions is the answer to the question we've been asking ourselves since the beginning: “What is the Good News?”. Thomas Aquinas defines the expression “Good News” in his commentary on the first verse of the letter to the Romans, where the great evangelizer presents himself as: "Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God". In Thomas’ Latin, "Gospel" or "Good News" is "bona annuntiatio". And here’s what he says about that annuntiatio :
“"Gospel" means good news. For it announces the news of man’s union with God, which is man’s good: "It is good for me to cleave to God" (Ps 73:28).”
There you go. Here’s our answer. For Thomas Aquinas, the good news is a news about the good that is happening to man. What good? His union, in an unprecedented way, after the fall, with God. And Thomas goes on to explain that this process of reuniting man with God is a three-step process :
“Indeed, a threefold union of man with God is announced in the gospel. The first is by the grace of union: "The Word was made flesh" (Jn 1:14). The second is by the grace of adoption, as implied in Psalm 82(:6) "I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.’" The third is by the glory of attainment: "This is eternal life, that they know you" (Jn 17:3)”
The three great mysteries of our faith related to Christ's mission are great because it is through them that the plan of uniting man with God is achieved. And you have already noticed that it is precisely these mysteries that are contained in Jn 3:16 (besides the very first one through which the identity of God is declined, "God is love", and which simultaneously declines the identity of man which is to be a creature capable of God). See how incarnation, redemption and divinization can easily be found in Jn 3:16 : “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (Incarnation), so that everyone who believes in him might not perish (redemption) but might have eternal life (divinization).” The Good News is that, between the God of love and his beloved creature, a bridge was built, that is made of the very being, life, deeds and Spirit of Jesus Christ. That’s the reason why, apart from saying that the bona annuntiatio is referring to man’s union with God, Thomas Aquinas also says that Jesus Christ himself, and all what we say about him, is the Good News. For he is the one through whom the process of unification is achieved and the plan of God accomplished. In sum, God is the Good News: his coming among us, his fighting for us, his sharing of the divine life with us.
Those who taught Christianity to my wife did a good job at passing her on the core message of our religion when they based their proclamation of the Good News on Jn 3:16. Just as the priests and pastoral agents are doing a good job on a daily basis when they center their message on the importance of building a personal relationship with God, through Christ, in the Spirit. For through that relationship, the union between God and man becomes ever more a reality. Something that shows. And this is how the life of a Christian can truly become good news to others.