Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Theology: Moltmann's Hope (part 5)


Moltmann defies easy categorization. Many would want to classify him as theologically “liberal” because of his concept of “revelation as promise.” This classification gets derailed, however, when one considers his view of the parousia, or eschatological coming of Christ (some would call this the “second coming,” but Moltmann avoids this, as he feels that it is somewhat misleading in that it presupposes a temporary absence). In actuality, Moltmann believes in it quite strongly, although his interpretation is somewhat more nuanced than most popular level interpretations. He explains:

“The expectation of the coming Christ must not become the dream of revenge for people who ‘have had a poor deal’ here. Nor must it be turned into a dream of almighty power for people who are at present powerless. Finally, it has nothing to do with religious compensation for people who have been disappointed on earth. It is only the hope that was born of Christ’s resurrection and is alive in the power of his Spirit which find its completion in the expectation of Christ and the prayer for his coming. The parousia of Christ is first and foremost the completion of the way of Jesus: ‘the Christ on the way’ arrives at his goal. His saving work is completed. In his eschatological person he is perfected and is universally manifested in the glory of God.”

So, for Moltmann, Christ’s parousia is theologically indispensable. Moreover, he chides theologians who would simply do away with it as irrelevant mythology or render it as merely figurative, by asserting that to do so would be (and has been) a sign of Christianity’s conversion to a “civil religion.”


Moltmann does not conceive of the coming judgment primarily in judicial or moral terms. Rather, he sees them in terms of justice or, in other words, when things are set right. Moltmann believes that there was a shift from this original concept of God’s judgment to the moral/judicial view that is prevalent today. As he puts it,

“There is another approach to the idea of the great Last Judgment. Injustice cries out to high heaven. The victims who have suffered from it do not hold their peace. The perpetrators who have caused the suffering find no rest. The hunger for justice and righteousness remains a torment on both sides. The victims must not be forgotten, the murderers must not finally triumph overt them. The expectation of a final universal judgment in which justice will finally triumph was originally a hope cherished by the victims of violence and injustice. It was their counter-history to the world of the triumphal evil-doers.”

Thus, Moltmann contends that to conceive of the Last Judgment in any other way, especially in the ways that have become popular in contemporary culture, is to do violence to the promise of God. In his view, a moral/judicial concept of the Judgment is fundamentally incompatible with hope.

Moltmann believes that he finds further support for his view of the Last Judgment in the Biblical identity of the Judge: Jesus Christ. He explains:

“According to the Christian ideas of the New Testament, Judgment Day is ‘the Day of the Son of man’ who came ‘to seek that which was lost’. It is in fact ‘the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil 1.6). It is to be the day when the crucified Christ will be manifested before him. ‘We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ’ (2 Cor. 5.10). On that day both will emerge from their concealment into the light of truth, the Christ who is now hidden, and the human being who is hidden from himself. The eternal light will reveal Christ and human beings to each other. What is now still hidden in nature will also become clear and lucid, for as bodily and natural beings men and women cannot be isolated from nature, not even before the face of God and at the Judgment.”

Because the Judge is Jesus Christ, and because of Christ’s fundamental nature, Moltmann finds the Last Judgment to me a source of unimaginable hope; not only for some people, but for “all things.” There is more than a hint of universalism, and even panentheism in his thought here. But as with most things it is nuanced by Moltmann’s particular view of hope for God’s future.

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