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Creative Hope and Political Theology

Since this future is anticipated in hope and obedience, it is understood as coming. We are not only interpreters of the future but co-workers of the future whose power in hope and fulfillment is God. Without faith, hope cannot laugh and without hope, faith cannot love.

By Jurgen Moltmann

[This excerpt from: "Umkehr zur Zukunft," 1977, pp.164-167 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Jurgen Moltmann is an emeritus professor of systematic theology and author of "Theology of Hope," "The Crucified God," and "God in Creation. An Ecological Doctrine of the Trinity."]

How is the messianic mission realized for the future of the world?

For the messianic hope, the future, God's future or God's city, does not simply lie finished in the future so one only needs to wait for this future. One must seek this future to find it. Christian hope anticipates the future in Christ's spirit and realizes it under the conditions of history. Since this future is anticipated in hope and obedience, it is understood as coming. We are not only interpreters of the future but co-workers of the future whose power in hope and fulfillment is God. This means Christian hope is a creative and combative hope in history. The horizon of eschatological expectation always produces a horizon of ethical intentions that gives meaning to concrete historical initiatives. If one hopes for Christ's sake in God's future and the definitive liberation of the world, one cannot passively wait for this future and withdraw from the world like the apocalypticists but must seek after it and correspond to it here in the active renewal of life and living conditions, realizing it according to existing possibilities. Because this future is the future of the one God, the future is a uniting future. Because it brings eschatological liberation, it is the salvation of all enslaved creatures. The messianic future for which Christianity hopes is not a special future only for the church or for souls. It is a comprehensive future. As a comprehensive future, its power of hope can impart faith and lead to real life amid earthly distresses.

After the humanist hope ethic of the 19th century and its powerlessness in the catastrophes of the 20th century, many in Europe and America developed an ethic of faith. We need a new ethic of the hope of faith today. With Johann B. Metz, I call it political theology to emphasize that faith itself has a messianic context. Ethics is not an appendix to dogmatics or merely a consequence of faith. Theology always stands in a political public in which it becomes relevant.

The field of politics is our name for the wide field of constructive and destructive possibilities of the appropriation and application of natural forces by human societies. Nature and human history meet in the process of civilization. In it cosmology and anthropology are no longer distinguished. For the person and nature, politics becomes a common fate. We adopt the ancient term theologia politica or theologia civilis to describe the fundamental situation in which people ask about God today and Christian speech for God is relevant. If the old cosmological theodicy question of wickedness and evil has become a political question today, the Christian faith in God's creative justice and in liberation and faith cannot leave the field of politics to the godless and inhuman forces.

On the other side, the theology of the believing person or the esoteric I-you relation has reached its limit. When one comes out of the private problematic of the realization of the self and the question about identity, one can see one's life in connection with larger circles. The identity question of people can not be solved without knowledge of the human call to concrete engagement and living commitment to a larger cause in social and political life. The person only finds his inner certainty when he finds certainty about his task. Whoever forgets himself in devotion to Christ's mission for the liberation of the world finds himself. The New Testament community spoke of such callings in connection with charismas and virtues. The New Testament realized this in its time in the missionary proclamation of freedom, the messianic community of the free and the new obedience in liberation from physical misery.

Since politics in our time becomes more and more the destiny and fate of people, a political theology of Christian virtues has to be developed. Political theology holds together the old cosmological theology and modern existential theology in the eschatological understanding of history and the messianic tasks of people in the world. However anticipating and building the future is unreal if this future does not come to meet us. The future for which one hopes is never identical with the successes of our actions because our actions are as ambiguous as we are as historical beings. The future must come to meet us so action is "not vain" as Paul says in the chapter about hope and resurrection against the paralyzing force of the mortality and transitoriness of all things.

Revolutions that bring about a better future with force necessitate the reconciliation of their attained reality with the hoped-for future. Messianism with view to the liberation of the world from its misery also needs permanent reconciliation through the medium of faith. The hope that mobilizes for renewal of life needs faith to find certainty. God's liberating future comes in two ways in the possibilities and impossibilities of our history: as a promise of redemption from the pressures that bind us to the past, plunge us into transitoriness and claim to actively renew life. The surplus of the future over history appears in the permanent surplus of hope. Without faith, hope cannot laugh and without hope, faith cannot love.

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