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Theology of Hope. The Whole of Theology in a Focal Point

Jurgen Moltmann, evangelical professor of systematic theology and prolific author, insists that hope distinguishes humans from the rest of creation. With the light of hope, we can go beyond everything past and present in the power of the coming, the power of the promise. .This theological profile is translated from the German. Rightwing fundamentalism confusing faith with triumphalism can be overcome with truth!
Theology of Hope. The Whole of Theology in One Focal Point

By Hagen Faust

[This theological profile of Jurgen Moltmann is translated from the German in Evangelical Zeitung-Online on the World Wide Web,
 http://www.evlka.de/extern/ez/archiv/profile_12.html. "Thinking theologically from hope means gathering the whole of theology in this focal point and seeing all things anew in this light of hope." (Jurgen Moltmann]

At the beginning were the horrors in which the dreams of a whole generation were scorched. Hamburg was destroyed in a firestorm at the end of July 1943. Jurgen Moltmann was an air force relief worker in the downtown center. A bomb tore to pieces a school friend next to him but spared his life. "On that night I cried to God the first time: Where are you? Why am I alive and not dead like the others?" The na´ve idealism of his parents' house was crushed for the 17-year old. During the three-year captivity in a prisoner-of-war camp, he sought an answer first in the psalms of lamentation and then in the Gospel of Mark. "When I came to Jesus' death cry, I knew: This is your divine brother and redeemer who understands you in your God abandonment."

The courage of hope against resignation

Imprisoned lecturers taught imprisoned students in the Norton Camp, an evangelical camp of theologians near Nottingham, England. Moltmann began his study of theology in that camp in 1947. "The existential experiences of a prisoner affected him intensely: the suffering and hope that strengthen one another. When one seizes the courage of hope, the chains begin to hurt. Still pain is better than the resignation in which everything is indifferent."

For Moltmann, the Christian faith is bound with private and public experiences. "Whoever must cry to God given so many torn persons, his comrades, friends and relatives can have no elevated or separated individual approach in his or her theology. How one can speak of God after Auschwitz is his or her problem. How one cannot speak of God after Auschwitz is also a problem. What should be proclaimed if not God?!"

Intensive theological dialogue influenced him

Moltmann returned, determined to study theology to understand that power of hope to which he owed his life. From 1948, he studied in Gottingen with Hans-Joachim Iwand, Ernst Wolf and Otto Weber. He met his wife Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel at that time. She came from a community of the confessing church in Potsdam and was much closer to political resistance than Moltmann's idealistic Hamburg family.

In this environment Moltmann was aware of the political conditionality and political responsibility of theology. The "dialogical community" with his wife who was intensively engaged for women's rights and women's interests in theology and society and the theological dialogue with partners of different theological and national origins influenced his theological thinking and writing.

This was certainly one root for Moltmann's later emphasis on the "social" character of theological work. Personal reflection is a contribution to the common whole in which everyone builds on his or her social and confessional background according to personal abilities. His "social" doctrine of the Trinity is the third prominent characteristic of Moltmann's theology alongside the political effects of theological thinking and the theological concerns of people in the "Two-thirds world".

In 1960, Moltmann read Ernst Bloch's "The Principle of Hope" during a Swiss vacation. He was so fascinated that he didn't notice the beauty of the mountains. "My spontaneous feeling was: Why did Christian theology miss its very own theme? Where is the primitive Christian spirit of hope in today's established Christendom?"

Bloch regarded modern atheism in the form marked by Feuerbach and Marx as a reason for hope. Moltmann started from the exodus and resurrection. He supplemented Bloch's social utopias for the "burdened and heavy laden" and his legal utopias for the "humiliated and insulted" with the "resurrection of the dead and eternal life" as the end-timer horizon and saw "home and identity" in the destruction of death in God's eternal present.

Following Immanuel Kant (What may I hope), Moltmann saw the religious question of modern times formulated after the "theology of love" in the Middle Ages and the "theology of faith" in the Reformation age. Moltmann understood his own approach as speaking from hope, not about hope. "Thinking theologically from hope means gathering the whole of theology in this focal point and seeing all things anew in this light of hope." This was his method in the following two books "The Crucified God" (1972) and "Church in the Power of the Spirit" (1975): concentrating the whole theology in a single focal point. In the "Theology of Hope", historical liberation and eschatological redemption are joined together in the perspective of "creative discipleship".

"Eschatology doesn't mean only salvation or individual deliverance from the evil world, and comfort of worried consciences but realization of the end-time legal hope, humanization of people, socializat5ion of humanity and peace of the whole creation. Creative discipleship in lover is made possible eschatologically through the possibility of Christian hope for the future of God's reign and humankind." These ideas marked the political theology developed by Johann Baptist Metz in the sixties and were accepted in the black theology of James Cone and the theology of liberation of Gustavo Gutierrez. In Korea, Minjung theology discovered Jesus' people as the people of God in this perspective.

The sixties were years of upheaval from the restorations of the post-war time: Vatican II in Rome, the civil rights movement in the US, socialism with a human face in Czechoslovakia and great advances in the ecumenical movement. As a member of the ecumenical commission for "Faith and Order", Moltmann took part in the evangelical, catholic and orthodox dialogues and in the Christian-Marxist dialogue.

The church should seek solidarity with the humiliated

After 1968, Moltmann took up the threads of the theology of the cross again. After substantiating Christian eschatology in the resurrection of the crucified Christ, the other side also had to be stressed: the cross of the resurrected. Recollection of God's presence in the crucified can open eyes in a culture that glorifies health, success and happiness and is blind for the sufferings of others. If God raised the crucified, churches that call themselves after him must break off their alliances with the powerful and seek solidarity with those living in the shadow of the cross.

Moltmann saw the whole of theology in a focal point in the theology of hope. The question about the salvific significance of the crucified for us was discussed enough. Therefore he turned the question around: What does Christ's cross mean for God? Is an apathetic God in heaven silently unmoved by the suffering and death of his child on Golgotha as claimed by the old metaphysical assumption of God's impassive and unemotional grandeur? Or does God suffer these pains and this death?

Moltmann started from a passion anchored deep in God's being. If God is love, he is also capable of suffering and shares in the sufferings of his creatures. Thus Golgotha is the revelation of the suffering of the passionate God for us.

Agreement with Jewish thinking

Unexpected agreements with Jewish thinking were encountered. Abraham Heschel interpreted the message of the prophets with the idea of God's pathos. With Franz Rosenzweig and Gershom Scholem, he found the doctrine of the Schekina, God's indwelling in the persecuted and grieving people of Israel and discovered its great nearness to the Jewish theology of God's passion history in Israel. In 1976 Moltmann joined the Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Moltmann experienced another turning point in his life in October 1977. At a conference in Mexico City with liberation theologians, black theologians and feminist theologians, he discovered: I do not belong here. "I am not oppressed, black or a woman." He resolved to limit himself to his normal work as a systematic theologian and published a series of systematic articles on theology from 1980 to 1995.

The "God rich in relations" prompted a social doctrine of the Trinity with the title "Trinity and God's Kingdom" (1980) in which Moltmann represents God's revelation history as the history of three different subjects in a living unity. This unity is living because it is open to people and inviting to people. Community appears in the foreground in the understanding of God and relativizes rule or domination emphasized one-sidedly for centuries.

A doctrine of creation in "God in Creation" (1985) followed in the face of the threatening ecological crises. Reflection on the doctrine of the Sabbath aims at that rest and non-encroaching passivity through which the creation is perfected by God and celebrated by humanity. In 1989 a christology of the way appeared, "The Way of the Jesus Christ", followed by a book about the "Spirit of Life" in 1991 and finally a Christian eschatology about the beginning in the end "The Coming of God" (1995). In "The Coming of God", Moltmann unfolds the birth of the future from the spirit of promise in our present. The circle of Moltmann's theological creation that began with "Theology of Hope" in 1964 was completed with this work.

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