Moltmann’s Crucified God in light of the recent death of my wife

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian about whom I’ve written a couple of posts looks at God not from on high, but from the perspective of a God broken on the cross.  God is a God who suffers for us and with us. 

I think this is the best way to think about God, but I’m not sure how much comfort it provides.  I write this post within several weeks of the death of my wife after a long and painful illness.  I’m sure it makes a difference in my attitude toward Moltmann.

The Crucified God, the work Moltmann claimed as his favorite, wrestles with Christ’s cry of abandonment, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani).  It is with these words, and the image of a dying Christ on the cross, with which all serious thought about God must begin.

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The Resurrection

The Resurrection.  Many liberal Protestants seem slightly embarrassed about the resurrection, as if it were part of the magical mystery world of the New Testament.  Or at least this is what Wikipedia says.  For most Christians, however, resurrection remains the central doctrine of Christianity (Evans, p 29).  Believing in the resurrection is tantamount to being a Christian.  I suppose I come closer to being a liberal Protestant, but the resurrection is more complicated than reflected by these two categories.

Resurrection in the time of Jesus

Among the elite at the time of Jesus, physical resurrection was abhorrent.  The elite, mostly Sadducees, were Hellenistic (Greek) in their attitude toward the body: that it was the prison of the soul.  Death meant the liberation of the soul from the body, as Socrates and Plato taught.

Among the less cultured Greeks, as well as the Philistines, belief in the resurrection of the body, today’s official belief among most Christians, was more common (Vermes, loc 612).  During the years (forty of them) during which I taught Plato, I thought the Platonists were right.  If there is an afterlife, the soul would be free of the burden, demands, and desires of the body.  Physical resurrection seemed weird.  But the more Christian theology I read, the more sense physical resurrection makes to me.  Not as a statement of fact (I don’t know what the facts are), but as a statement about how humans are fundamentally embodied creatures.  Life without the body would be less, not more, than it is on earth.  Jürgen Moltmann’s argument is particularly persuasive.

Paul states the theological significance of resurrection

It is in Paul that the central theological significance of the resurrection was laid out.  Many readers of the New Testament will be familiar with this passage.

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . . If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

Evidence for the resurrection

The search for historical evidence of the resurrection seems misguided.  The historical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion is sound. However, it  puzzles me that such a brilliant scholar as N. T. Wright could conclude that the evidence for the resurrection provided by two far from certain facts, the empty tomb, and the posthumous appearances of the risen Jesus, make the resurrection as historically certain as the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, or the death of Augustus in 14 AD (p 710).

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Jürgen Moltmann’s ecological God

Jürgen Moltmann’s ecological God.

In Theology of Hope, Jürgen Moltmann’s most well-known work, he argues that the man who hopes will hope to transcend this earth, including death.

All this must inevitably mean that the man who thus hopes will never be able to reconcile himself with the laws and constraints of this earth, neither with the inevitability of death.  (Hope, loc 272)

As I argued in my previous post on Moltmann, this means that the eschaton (end of this world and beginning of the next) will be realized on this earth, on which immortal beings will dwell.  I find this seriously weird. 

More than weird, it denies what it is to be human, which is to be finite and mortal.  Heaven there may be, but it will not be here (as if heaven were in time and space), and it will not be populated by immortal earthlings.  More than this I do not know, and even about this I am far from certain. 

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Jürgen Moltmann: heaven on earth and my heresy

Jürgen Moltmann: heaven on earth and my heresy

Jürgen Moltmann is 92 years old.  He is of the same generation as the well-known theologians I have posted about recently, such as Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr.  Like them, he was born in Germany and came of age in Nazified Germany.  Unlike them he stayed, served in the Wehrmacht (Nazi army, not the SS), and seems to have experienced profound guilt and remorse when he learned about the concentration camps after the war.  That’s his story, and I have no reason to doubt it.

In some ways he is the most interesting of the five German theologians I have posted about (Barth, Niebuhr, Bultmann, Bonhoeffer, and Tillich).  I wish I understood why the most influential Christian theologians in the United States grew up in Nazified Germany, but I don’t.*  Moltmann is interesting not because he is right, but because he is different. Moltmann is different not only because he believes in heaven, but in heaven on earth. 

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