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Theology of Hope by Jurgen Moltmann

April 21, 2015

TOHI have never fully come to terms with apocalyptic. Much of it is left to ‘the end is nigh’ fanatics. My eschatological world view has probably owed more to Marx than to Christianity and I have despaired to see that most churchgoers do not share my view. I have held that Jesus came to preach the kingdom and then left it to us to carry on building it. This has been the impetus for my getting involved in social and political causes. Meanwhile, for most Western Christians, the kingdom of God is equated with ‘heaven’ and an after-life and they seem to be gnostics escaping from the reality of this world. I believe that my emphasis is a counter-balance to the spiritualising of many Christians but this book makes me think that my view is as crude as that of the end is nigh types and as that of the escapists. It is the first ‘heavy’ book that I have read on the subject and the translation of the German makes it difficult to understand fully, but there is plenty here that has set me thinking.

It was written in 1965 during the period of West German Reconstruction. Moltmann attempts to articulate the Christian hope as a challenge to both the desperation and the official optimism of a Reconstruction that sought only to return to the glory days of the past rather than live in the hope of a completely new future that comes from God, who lives not so much above us but in front of us, drawing us into God’s own future for the world.

Peace with God results in conflict with the world, not escape from it. Because we see the hope of God’s promises being fulfilled, we are impatient in unrest until we see the promise fulfilled. This unrest is quite different from despair, which my world-view tends to cause because it lacks confidence. Moltmann points out the the medieval sin of accidie is the opposite of belief in the eschaton. Chrysostom identifies despair as that which plunges us into disaster. Rev. 21:8 puts ‘fearful’ before other sins like idolatry. Despair can lead us into revolutionary millenarianism, which is a tendency I have. Unrest must be a Christian trait because God leads us to new things all the time, going on before us. Faith torments and stimulates us whereas cynicism and resignation destroys us. The Judaeo-Christian view of history is opposed to the ‘epiphany religions’ that see divinity revealed in the midst of a transient world and enables us to escape from it to reality. The stress on this world, however, mustn’t lead us to steal fire from the gods and build the kingdom ourselves, as I tend to see Christianity being called to do. Millenarianism has its roots in an 18th Century view of the world as machine – we become parts of the machine moving on and gaining momentum until all is accomplished. Reject that, and we are likely to existentialise the gospel and see it as a subjective ‘becoming what I am’, whereas Moltmann’s Christianity is about ‘becoming what I was made to be’, which isn’t the same thing. Creation of man in God’s image has yet to be realised. In the resurrection of Jesus we see the first fruits of the process, but sin and death are still around for us. Our path to self-realisation, like Jesus’s, involve the cross because we share Jesus’s hope in the divine promise and we too feel ill at ease in the world and, thus, the world feels ill at ease with us around and tends to make martyrs of us at different ages and places.

In a section that contrasts prophecy and apocalyptic, Moltmann disagrees with the view that the prophets believed in a national destiny only and, when those hopes were dashed with the exile, apocalyptic developed, moving the promise on to the next world or the whole cosmos. He sees apocalyptic as a development from prophecy which widens its scope. Bad apocalyptic tends to see the process of blind fate but there is much in apocalyptic generally that is exhortatory, so man is still called to repentance as he was by the prophets. The picture that emerges as I reassess my eschatological world view is one where history has a purpose and where God will ensure that this purpose is realised, but he will does this in co-operatic with us. We are free to become agents of the kingdom-building or not. It is not that the kingdom will come automatically, nor that we have to build it. Rather, God builds it and we are amongst his agents. We achieve self-realisation when we align ourselves to his will because that is the path to becoming fully human, to be what we were created to be. To think we have to build the kingdom all on our own is to become gods, not to be fully human.

The Christian hope is based upon the resurrection of Christ as the first fruits of the end-process. It is a ‘real’ event, not a subjective faith-experience as some form critics would suggest. To speak of the resurrection in existentialist terms is to foist our ideas back on to the 1st Century, which is ignorant of history. Something happened which was entirely new and for which no language existed to express it. That event calls into question our scientific world view – there is a reality which is not envisaged in our thought and picture of reality. The Christian hope, thus, exceeds ‘secular’ hopes like Marx’s classless Utopia. If and when Marx’s world is reached, the eschatological hope will still be leading us further ahead.

The importance for the Christian view of history that eschatological perspectives give is that the Christian is swimming in the tide of history but has his head out of the water. Salvation is not attempting to escape out of the water, nor is it abandonment to the flow of the eater; it is a knowledge of the tide’s direction and the living of a life-style, of concern with issues to do with the humanization of mankind and the peace of society, by membership of the church which sacramentally embodies these insights in its community life and by living and working in secular society – this makes for our being more fully human because we are no’, to change the metaphor, going against the grain.

I like particularly Moltmann’s statement that secularisation is not an apostasy frm but a fulfilment of the Christian hope insofar as the ‘state’ has taken and over and promoted many of the church’s functions w education, medical care, social work &c.

Quotations:

“The following efforts bear the title Theology of Hope, not because they set out once again to present eschatology as a separate doctrine … Rather, their aim is to show how theology can set out from hope and begin to consider its theme in an eschatological light. For this reason they enquire into the ground of the hope of Christian faith and into the responsible exercise of this hope in thought and action in the world today.”

“Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving … A proper theology would therefore have to be constructed in the light of its future goal. Eschatology should not be its end, but its beginning.”

“[Faith] sees in the resurrection of Christ not the eternity of heaven, but the future of the very earth on which his cross stands. It sees in him the future of the very humanity for which he died. That is why it finds the cross the hope of the earth.”

“Christianity stands or falls with the reality of the raising of Jesus from the dead by God. In the New Testament there is no faith that does not start a priori with the resurrection of Jesus.”

“What actually happened during the experience of his crucifixion and burial and his Easter appearances, is left in the darkness of the still unknown and still hidden God.”

“his resurrection must then be understood not as a mere return to life as such, but as a conquest of the deadliness of death—as a conquest of god-forsakenness, as a conquest of judgment and of the curse, as a beginning of the fulfilment of the promised life, and thus as a conquest of all that is dead in death, as a negation of the negative, as a negation of the negation of God.”

“As a result of this hope in God’s future, this present world becomes free in believing eyes from all attempts at self-redemption or self-production through labour, and it becomes open for loving, ministering self-expenditure in the interests of a humanizing of conditions and in the interests of a the realization of justice in light of the coming justice of God. This means, however, that the hope of resurrection must bring about a new understanding of the world.”

“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.”

“That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.”

it is not so important to understand history from the perspective of the end, as it is to transform it, as we live in hope (anticipation) of God’s future for it

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