Moltmann and Hope
It was after reading Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope that Moltmann was left wondering, “Why has Christian theology let go of its most distinctive theme, hope?” (How I Have Changed, 15). From this question arose the momentum for his innovative and influential work, Theology of Hope. For Moltmann hope is the most significant element of human life and experience. Quoting a Rabbinical commentary, he says that “God created all things with finality . . . but he created man in hope” (The Experiment Hope, 27). Elsewhere he says: “That is why it can be said that living without hope is like no longer living. Hell is hopelessness, and it is not for nothing that at the entrance to Dante’s hell there stand the words: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’” (Theology of Hope, 32).
Hope is a grossly abused word in today’s culture, but Moltmann’s vision of hope stands in a drastic tension with the secular hopes offered up elsewhere in his day, whilst also opposing accusations leveled against hope by thinkers like Spinoza and Freud who argued that hope is an infantile and illusionary deception. Unlike others before him who advocated for an optimistic secular hope without faith in Christ that winds up becoming merely “a utopia and remains hanging in the air” (ibid., 20), Moltmann’s hope is founded upon the resurrection of the crucified Christ, saying that Christian faith and hope “stands or falls with the reality of the raising of Jesus from the dead by God” (ibid., 166); Moltmann does not see the resurrection faith of the apostles as merely a nice feeling in their bowels having been liberated from the tribalist concepts of cult and law. Neither does Moltmann see hope as simply an optimistic outlook in progress of the Enlightenment, a deferred escapist hope of being raptured out of this world, nor as an individualized post-mortem hope for another world—the “pie in the sky when you die.” Instead, for Moltmann, in Christ’s resurrection God has embodied his ultimate promise to us, giving us the foundation for a “living hope” (1 Pet 1.3) in the kingdom of God that is announced in the Scriptures and found in the life and teachings of Jesus.
Moltmann’s hope for the future draws upon Hegel’s forward-moving dialectic of history, seeing the past (thesis) as misery and the future (antithesis) as hope, which requires us to work in the present (synthesis) to effect the change. It is because Moltmann sees the resurrection of Christ as a guarantee of the new creation that he also views the future as having an impact on the present, rather than the typical way of thinking which postulates that the present leads to the future. By doing so, Moltmann is attempting to give hope the gravitas it needs in order to affect our present lives by seeking to restore to the Church its hope for God’s new creation as a driving force for societal transformation.
Moltmann considers hope (based on the resurrection of Christ) as a source of courage to truly enter into history, rather than a heavenly hope which seeks to escape it. Yet it is critical to note that while Moltmann sees hope as a tangible means of enacting this future kingdom of God in the present, he does not think humanity can fully bring in this new creation; instead, it can ultimately only come about by the direct intervention of God himself in the world. A notable commentator on Moltmann, Richard Bauckham, agrees, saying: “It is not that human activity in the present builds the future kingdom, but that the future kingdom by arousing hope and obedience in the present creates anticipations of itself within history. These are real anticipations of the kingdom, forms of God‘s presence . . . within the contradictions of a still unredeemed world, but they are precisely anticipations of a kingdom which itself remains eschatological, transcendent beyond all its historical approximations” (The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, 104).