Moltmann and Barth on heaven and earth

Happy Moltmann Monday! Since I talked a little about the relationship between heaven and earth (and new heaven and new earth) last night at Journey, and because I recently mentioned how a theologian’s personal life DOES get reflected in their theology, I thought this would be just the passage for today. It comes from God in Creation, in the middle of a long (and wonderful) section about how heaven and earth are related to one another. For some background before I get to the quote, Moltmann is explaining how Karl Barth (German theology guy) wrote that there is a correlation between how heaven and earth and related and how God and humans are related. And this is a categorically, across the board hierarchical one. Barth says this himself. And then in the course of his theology, he uses this assumption to describe the relationship between soul and body (huge problems) and men and women (obviously, huge problems). So, with that said, here’s Moltmann (bold mine):

The characteristics of the analogy which Barth advances- above-below, earlier-later, more-less- do certainly apply to the relationship between God and human beings in a certain sense. But they do not fit the general relationship of their particular ‘dwellings’- heaven and earth. And in actual fact these general characteristics do not really tally with the relationship between God and human beings either. If we look at salvation history as a whole, and consider the becoming-human of the Son of God, and the participation of human beings in the divine nature, we see that the relationship between God and human beings is much richer than those simple marks of sovereignly and obedience would suggest. The love of God is quite evidently directed towards the earth, and the world in which human beings exist. The object of love cannot have a ‘below’ or a ‘later’, let alone a ‘less’…If we wish to relate heaven and earth to God in a trinitarian sense, not in a monarchical one like this, we should have to say that heaven is the chosen dwelling place of the Father, but that the chosen dwelling of the Son is the earth, on which he became a human being, died and rose again, and where he will come in order to fill it with his glory. But then the chosen place of the Holy Spirit must be seen in the coming direct bond between heaven and earth in the new creation, as whose energy the Holy Spirit already manifests himself now, in the present. That is why we cannot talk about a ‘contrast’ in the relationship between heaven and earth; we can only speak of a complementation. We cannot think of the one as over against or superior to the other; we can only talk about the fellowship and community of God’s created beings.

Okay- that might bring up more questions for you, to which I’d say, you do need to read the whole chapter. But here’s why I find this so so so so so very important: God is intimately, radically, relationally connected to earth and all that is in it. There is, clear as day, a very intentional and deliberate intertwining between heaven and earth throughout the whole of Scripture. When Jesus taught us to pray, he focused on this connection and relationship- Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Heaven and earth are not the same, but they are absolutely connected. Which is crazy, in the best kind of way. What it means is that God has cast God’s lot in with creation. Our future and the “kingdom of heaven” are headed in the same direction, because God holds them together in love and deep relationship. So much so that we cannot speak of the trinity without seeing it, as Moltmann described above. Heaven is the realm of God, earth is the realm of the Son, and the Spirit holds the two together. Well, and actually, Jesus does too- it’s not on accident that the cross is both vertical and horizontal. It’s not confusion that has the gospel writers calling him “Son of Man” and “Son of God.” There’s a deep relationship happening.

You may find this obvious, which, GREAT. My fear is that much of American Christianity has this way of talking about heaven that is…not what is described above. It’s way far away, it’s categorically different, it’s maybe a little static, like God never changes or time doesn’t happen or all these other things that may or may not be true. (Well, the static thing is definitely not true; otherwise there would be no need for a new heaven, would there?) But the danger of seeing heaven hierarchically (well, I could go on and on┬ábut here’s my point for just today) is that earth becomes a “less than”, and the minute we do that, this whole gospel project starts to fall apart. We start thinking up all kinds of other “less thans” and believe me, history has had quite enough of that already. We start to think our lives don’t matter, our choices aren’t that big of a deal, caring for creation is no big issue, how we relate to one another is mildly inconsequential.

But if we see the earth as intimately and deliberately interwoven with God’s coming future, if there is no new heaven without a new earth, if there is no one without the other, then what we see is a tiny glimpse of how powerful this relationship is between God and what God has made. It is LOVE, big time, in ways that make crazy little sense. Why would God get so tangled up with this mess? I can’t answer that, but it is crystal clear from Genesis to Revelation that God has done exactly that. God is not outside, guys. There is no outside. This all matters- a lot. We are moving together toward a shared future, and we’ve all got to take that very seriously…which could seem overwhelming, if we forget to remember that the love of God is holding this whole thing together, so it’s more than possible.

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