Jürgen Moltmann – The Crucified God (Part IV)

In the last chapter Moltmann talked about the historical trial of Christ; in this chapter he talks about the eschatological trial. Here he seeks to understand the life and death of Jesus in the context of his resurrection from the dead and of eschatological faith. After all, one can hardly do theology without giving thought to the act that began the Christian faith – the resurrection. Or as Moltmann says, “if one calls the cross of Jesus the ‘nuclear fact’ of Christian faith, one must call his resurrection the primal datum of that faith”.

Whereas the historical title ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ binds Jesus to his past, the title of ‘Christ’ binds Jesus to his future. The eschatological faith talks of the Jesus whom God raised from among the dead, “and of Jesus as the Christ of God, the one who reserves a place for the God who is to come … because his future determines and explains his origin and his end his beginning”. Moltmann begins by discussing the issue of eschatology and history, then gets into the resurrection of Christ. Regarding the appearances of Christ in the NT, he says that they were not “mystical transportations into another world beyond, nor were they inner illuminations” but were instead “a sight and a foretaste in the countenance of the crucified Christ of the God who was to come”.

This section on the resurrection in this chapter was one of the highlights of the book for me. It contains a lot of nice quotable snippets, such as:

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead by God does not speak the ‘language of facts’, but only the language of faith and hope, that is, the ‘language of promise’.

And:

The new and scandalous element in the Christian message of Easter was not that some man or other was raised before anyone else, but that the one who was raised was this condemned, executed and forsaken man. This was the unexpected element in the kerygma of the resurrection which created the new righteousness of faith.

Moltmann then gets on discussing the significance of the cross of the risen Christ; we must not forget the risen One is also the crucified One, lest the resurrection faith become a means of detaching Christ from the crucifixion.

The following chapter is the heart of the book carries the same title as the book – The Crucified God. While one may have thought the crucifixion did not serve a huge importance in Moltmann’s theology from reading his initial book Theology of Hope, this book and especially this chapter undercuts that notion. He says:

The death of Jesus on the cross is the centre of all Christian theology. … All Christian statements about God, about creation, about sin and death have their focal point in the crucified Christ. All Christian statements about history, about the church, about faith and sanctification, about the future and about hope stem from the crucified Christ.

In this section Moltmann begins investigating the implications of what the crucified Christ means regarding the concept of God: “What does the cross of Jesus mean for God himself?” Moltmann lambasts the likes of Barth for not having an adequate Trinitarian understanding of the suffering of Christ. He says: “Anyone who really talks of the Trinity talks of the cross of Jesus, and does not speculate in heavenly riddles”. I found the following quote compelling and a succinct summary of what Moltmann is pushing at:

When the crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplesssness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity. The nucleus of everything that Christian theology says about ‘God’ is to be found in this Christ event. The Christ event on the cross is a God event.

Moltmann then discusses ‘protest atheism’ (this is the type of atheism that stems primarily, not from a lack of evidence for a deity, but from the problem of evil and suffering and how this destroys the notion of a benevolent deity). Moltmann says that this “crude atheism for which this world is everything, is as superficial as the theism which claims to prove the existence of God from the reality of this world”. I love that jab against the theists! I’ve run across too many (Christian) theists who pretend as if atheists are merely sulky children throwing their toys out of the cot in defiance against God, acting like immature and impatient children, whereas Christians are the mature ones who can undergo suffering whilst maintaining faith. This type of thinking just reeks to me of self-congratulatory bullshit (pardon my French).

Naturally, Moltmann asserts that this protest atheism is resolved in the cross of Christ, for God himself has protested against suffering in the death of the godforsaken Christ. Moltmann discusses the two-nature Christology and rails against the (docetic) idea that it is only the human nature of Jesus that suffers while the divine nature of Jesus remains detached. While “Aristotle’s god cannot love” (as Moltmann quips), the fully divine, fully human, Son of God who suffers takes death up into the divine life, can indeed love. Moltmann is definitely no fan of the classical thomistic view of God.

Moltmann then continues by talking about having a sufficiently Trinitarian theology of the cross. Here are a few snippets from this section that provide good insight into where Moltmann goes with this:

In the cross, Father and Son are most deeply separated in the forsakenness and at the same time are most inwardly one in their surrender. What proceeds from this event between Father and Son is the Spirit which justifies the godless, fills the forsaken with love and even brings the dead alive

[…]

What happened on the cross was an event between God and God. It was a deep division in God himself, in so far as God abandoned God and contradicted himself, and at the same time a unity in God, in so far as God was at one with God and corresponded to himself.

[…]

‘God’ is not another nature or a heavenly person or a moral authority, but in fact an ‘event’. [i.e. the event of the cross]

[…]

If one conceives of the Trinity as an event of love in the suffering and death of Jesus … then the Trinity is no self-contained group in heaven, but an eschatological process open for men on earth, which stems from the cross of Christ.

[…]

The divine trinity should not be conceived of as a closed circle of perfect being in heaven … one should think of the Trinity as a dialectical event, indeed as the event of the cross and then as eschatologically open history.

It isn’t so much that Moltmann sees the death of Christ as the ‘death of God’ as he sees it as the start of the God “event” in which the life-giving Spirit transpires from the death of the Son and the grief of the Father.

More to come…

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