PromiseHowever, it would be incorrect to assume that Moltmann believes in the myth of progress; that the world is getting better and better. To the contrary, Moltmann believes that there is an inherent discontinuity between the world that is and the world that is coming. We would do well to remember the one of Moltmann’s early theologically formative experiences took place when he was a prisoner of war. In the midst of despair, he found hope. Further, it was precisely in the midst of despair that hope mattered. For this reason, Moltmann prefers to speak in terms of “promise” rather than “revelation.” Moltmann thus explains:
“… ‘promise’ does not in the first instance have the function of illuminating the existing reality of the world or of human nature, interpreting it, bringing out its truth and using a proper understanding of it to secure man’s agreement with it. Rather, it contradicts existing reality and discloses its own process concerning the future of Christ for man and the world. Revelation, recognized as promise and embraced in hope, thus sets an open stage for history, and fills it with missionary enterprise and responsible exercise of hope, accepting the suffering that is involved in the contradiction of reality, and setting out towards the promised future.”
In other words, “revelation” itself is eschatological in nature, and functions not to give individuals clarity regarding their existence, but rather as the promise of God to the community of believers. It serves to highlight the discontinuity between the world that is and the approaching future of God, and thereby to empower and mobilize the community of believers to partner with God in bringing his promised future into the present.
Left Behind-style eschatologies of despair tend to engender in their adherents a disengagement from the world, particularly in terms of social justice and ecological concerns. The sentiment seem to be, “Since this world is going to be destroyed anyway, what does it matter?” On the other hand, one might be tempted at this point to make a similar criticism of Moltmann’s eschatology; i.e. “If God’s future is inevitable, then why should we pour our lives and energies into something that will happen anyway?” Though such a question smacks of a repulsively selfish ego-centrism, Moltmann seems to anticipate it. He explains:
“…a promise reaches out beyond what is existently real into the sphere of what is not yet real, the sphere of the possible, and in the world anticipates what is promised. In so doing it opens up what is existently real for the futurely possible, and frees it from what fetters it to the past: if things are fixed and finished…reality can be reduced to a concept, and defined; if they are in process…they can be influenced only through anticipations of a possible future.”
So, for Moltmann, the promise of God opens up the possibility of the divine future in the present. It thus stands to reason that the community of believers would lay hold of these possibilities and potentialities for the in-breaking of the future reality of God. In Moltmann’s thought, it is not so much that the future is a fixed point that God is somehow pulling history inescapable toward. Rather, he seems to picture God as being located in the future beckoning us, with our conflicting history/reality towards Him.