Gospel as Event...

I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel:
"Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea,
but the encounter with an event, a person,
which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." (pg. 8)


It is easy to forget that the gospel is the good news. It is not the good ethic, the good idea, or the good system; it is at its very core an event, it's news. This is important, especially in light of the way that too often "the good news" is presented as a number of facts that must be accepted with a proper response clearly outlined and reduced to a bare minimum so as to make entrance into salvation as simple, quick, and painless as possible. 

But what is there in the biblical story that gives us the impression that an encounter with the living God is something that we effortlessly respond to in a moment of surrender? An encounter with Jesus in his resurrected body, or with God in a vision, or a move of the Holy Spirit in the early days of the church was the most disorienting and destructive of life-altering events imaginable. The Apostle Paul loses his sight and fasts from food and water for three days trying to make sense of what has happened, Isaiah declares that he is completely undone by his encounter with God, the Apostles in a locked room are terrified when Jesus comes and wishes peace upon them. This event, this person, this news, is anything but easy to hear and even more difficult to respond with little result.

Perhaps the reason that this is so seemingly uncommon in our churches is that we have reduced the "good news" to the good idea or the good process. The challenge of ideas is that they can merely be rejected, whether they are true or not. The earth revolves around the sun...no it doesn't. (Fill in the blank) is the worst President in history...no he isn't. Scripture clearly teaches...it's not so clear to me. Ideas, rightly or wrongly, can be rejected and once they are rejected, they often have little consequence on the person that has rejected them.

But events are different. Events change the way things really are in ways that although they can be denied by an individual, their impact cannot be erased by their mere dismissal.

Terrorism is a threat. This is an idea. I am free to accept it or reject it as I see fit. I am free to accept it and live in fear and anxiety, and I am free to reject it living in total peace (even if in the long run it is a naive one).

September 11, 2001 is an event. It is an event that even if you deny its occurrence, your life is still implicated. The money that your bank keeps for you is affected, your digital communications are screened by various intelligence agencies, and the days of waiting at the gate for your loved one at the airport is unimaginable to my children. Reject it as propaganda if you wish,