"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Catching Up On My 2011 Reading (Pt V): Moltmann, "Sun of Righteousness, Arise!"

Jurgen Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness, Arise! God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2010)

This is ultimately a book about hope. Moltmann writes a lot about eschatology (how God’s promised future affects our lives now, not Kirk Cameron-style), the Holy Spirit (though I wouldn’t call him charismatic), the Trinity (I’m sure he’s influenced Franke), and creation care (not just weeding, but I’m sure including weeding).

But beyond all the brilliant theology here, it’s a book that ultimately leaves one with a great sense of hope. Optimistic enthusiasm, yes, but tempered with a realism that suffering and waiting precede relief and fulfillment. He gives me hope that God is in control.

Not “in control” as in God’s going to provide me a job or a baby or good weather tomorrow; I don’t mean it that individually. I mean “God is in control” as in God will one day blow us away when we more clearly see the rightness of God's justice, the extent of God's grace, the goodness of God's choices and actions.

God is trustworthy. And even if we can’t comprehend what could possibly happen after we die, how God could possibly make things right and honor those who’ve suffered, how God could possibly win over those who seemingly want nothing to do with their Maker...even though we see through a glass dimly, we can trust in God’s “God-ness” and know that what is best will be accomplished by God, and we’ll maybe understand why it was the best. I think that’s the kind of hope I have, only aided and deepened by Moltmann’s writing.

I share here two quotes with minimal commentary. If one’s “hope” for the future is for their own security and happiness, these statements might be lacking. But if one’s hope is for a much broader vision of a healed creation—the end of all war, conflict, oppression, suffering—these words may offer some inspiration.

It also may help to know that Moltmann is writing from the view that God is committed to the redemption of all, and so this picture is one of the salvation of the human race as a whole, not a matter of individual faith and choice.

First, a criticism from Moltmann directed toward all who preach the importance of human free will in determining our own ultimate destiny:

“The picture of God who judges human beings in wrath has been the cause of much spiritual and psychological damage. It has poisoned the idea of God instead of leading to trust in him. Among the dying it has intensified fear of death through fears of hell. The picture of God’s punitive judgment was always a threatening message. It has plunged some into profound self-doubt and has led others to incensed rejection of belief in God in general.

“As a result, modern theological interpretations of judgment have ceased to put the God who judges in wrath at the center. It is now the human being who takes responsibility for himself. No one will go to heaven or be sent to hell against his will. It is a person’s own decision, which is followed by the one or the other consequence. So the picture of the last judgment is nothing other than the final endorsement of human free will...

“If this is the case, then human beings are masters of their own destiny, and God is only the executor or accomplice of the person’s own decisions. If he believes, God will take him to heaven; if he does not believe God will send him to hell. So doesn’t this make God superfluous? Belief in the freedom of the human will replaces belief in God.” (134)

And second, a powerful, hopeful vision of healing justice:

Israel’s psalms of lament are an eloquent witness to the conviction that ‘to judge’ means to establish justice. God’s supreme justice will ‘create’ justice for the victims of wickedness, will raise them up out of the dust, will heal their wounded lives, and put to rights the lives that have been destroyed. The victims wait for God’s creative justice, which will bring them liberty, health, and new life…

“The divine justice which Christ will bring about for all human beings and for all things will be not be the justice that establishes what is good and what is evil; nor will it be retributive justice which rewards the good and punishes the wicked. It will be God’s creative justice, which brings justice for the victims and puts the perpetrators right.

“The victims do not have to remain victims to all eternity, and the perpetrators do not have to remain perpetrators forever. The victims of sin and violence will receive justice. They will be raised up, put right, healed and brought to life. The perpetrators of sin and violence will receive a justice which transforms and rectifies. They will be already transformed inasmuch as they will be redeemed only together with their victims.

“They will be saved by the crucified Christ, who will encounter them together with their victims. They will die to their misdeeds in order to be ‘born again’ together with their victims to a new, common life. Paul expresses this transforming grace with the image of fire: ‘if any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire’ (1 Cor. 3:15).

“The image of end-time ‘fire’ has nothing to do with the stake or with the apocalyptic destruction of the world through fire. It is an image for God’s love, which burns away everything which is contrary to God, so that the person whom God has created will be saved.” (135, 137)

Even if one does not agree with Moltmann (and I basically do, to the extent which I’ve understood him and personally reflected on such matters), it’s a pretty compelling, exciting, hopeful vision…isn’t it?


Ron said...

Just because a theologian is German and famous doesn't mean his logic is any good.

I don't buy it. His dichotomy is false; either human beings are free, taking responsibility for themselves and the masters of their own ultimate destiny's and God is superfluous, OR the reformed perspective (roughly, in my not-too-charitable estimation, God is a glorious Geppeto and we are engaged in a preordained kabuki dance, and that dance involves hell for some.) is true.

Seems like there are other options. These include free humans who rely on God for their creation, existence, their constitution (that humans can make choices), God's promise, and the resurrection. Indeed, our will is the only thing we have anything to say anything about.

Ron said...


Matt Boswell said...

Hi to you! :)

I didn't sense a strong either-or, but maybe that's because this is a poor excerpt when removed from context. I don't hear him saying that the "Gepetto" approach is the alternative to our freedom to choose heaven/hell. But maybe he's just being a bit excessive in making his point.

I actually think your "alternative" is close to what Moltmann believes. I don't think he discounts our capacity to choose this or that, and make of our selves and lives what we want. At least up until judgment day, when I think he would probably say one of two things:

A) God knows what's best for us and thus mercifully trumps our will, a will that is injured or hindered or limited by sin, or lack of perspective, or whatever, and "fixes" us...like a petulant child who needs the corrective help of parents to become healthy

B) That postmortem we'll finally "get it" and freely choose God because God is just so compelling--thus we're freely choosing, but maybe really not choosing, like how I feel I don't have much choice whether or not I have coffee in the morning. But maybe our choice will be aided by God, so that, for example, the person who doesn't believe in God because of angry, abusive preachers/parents might have his or her ability to choose well more fully functional and able to choose what is good and true--God.

I think Moltmann believes God gets what God wants, and that God wants the salvation of all, so while I think he holds God's will and our will in tension, he might tip the scales toward God's will. But he also seems to think we really do want what God wants, we just might not know it yet or be fully capable of wanting it yet.

Ron said...

Boz--very, very helpful context. Thanks. I think this is much more persuasive.

Thomas lessing said...

You wrote:

"Even if one does not agree with Moltmann (and I basically do, to the extent which I’ve understood him and personally reflected on such matters), it’s a pretty compelling, exciting, hopeful vision…isn’t it?"

That may be so but what is it that sets men free - compelling, exciting and hopeful conjectures or the Truth?