Moltmann Monday: From Domination to Community

Well last week was a fantastic one for many Moltmann fans. Our favorite German professor attended AAR/SBL, the Comic-Con of the religious academic world, where he presented lectures, spoke on panels, took lots of very adorable selfies with fans, and signed copies of the 40th anniversary edition of The Crucified God. I really hope to get a copy of some of those things in the near future, and will certainly post them and comment on them if I do. There was also one rad podcast with our friends at Homebrewed Christianity, and when that audio is released I’ll share that, too. For today, though, I’m just sticking to the books. :) Today’s Moltmann Monday comes from Ethics of Hope:

In Western Europe, ever since the Renaissance, God has always been interpreted in an increasingly one-sided way as ‘the Almighty.’ Omnipotence has counted as the preeminent attribute of his divinity. God is the Lord, the world is his property, and God can do with it what he likes. He is the absolute determining subject, and the world is the passive object of his rule. In Western tradition, God moved more and more into the sphere of transcendence, and the world came to be seen as purely immanent and earthly. God was thought of as world-less and so the world could be conceived of as god-less…

As God’s image on earth, the human being was obliged to see himself quite correspondingly as lord and master, as the determining subject of knowledge and will, and had to stand over against his world, which was his passive object, and to subjugate it…God is the Lord and possessor of the whole creation so the human being must endeavor to become the lord and possessor of the earth, in order to prove that he is the image of his God. It is not through goodness and truth, not through patience and love, that the human being will come to resemble his God; it is through power and domination.

Let’s pause there for a minute. So here is the problem: we can see a clear development in Western theology of God’s dominance (ie God’s omnipotence, and sometimes also described as God’s sovereignty, which is way off base but that will have to be a post for another time). God has slowly and steadily become more and more “Other” in a way that does not beckon holiness but rather power. What I mean is that we’ve come to believe power is God’s main characteristic. It’s the engine behind all of God’s other attributes. In addition to the hairy little problem of how this undermines everything Jesus revealed to us about God, it’s also not particularly in line with the Hebrew scriptures either. There is a difference between God being powerful and God being power-hungry. Omnipotence unfortunately makes it more like the latter. It also makes God farther away, what Moltmann calls world-less, which means the world inevitably becomes, as Moltmann says, god-less. There’s not really a way out of this dance when we make God to be a slightly more Judeo-Christian version of Zeus.

The other major problem is that viewing God in this way also affects how we view ourselves, and what we consider to be appropriate ways of living. With theology, there is a direct correlation between what we think about God and what we think about ourselves. Sorry. There is no “objective” way for us to discuss or think of God that does not affect what we decide to do with our lives. So when God is worshipped and honored for God’s power above all else, guess what? Humans are going to decide that power is the most important commodity in the world. It would be great to think that if we believe God is all-powerful that we become more humble as a reflex, but that just does not prove to be true. Take a look at modern history. The more powerful and omnipotent we have made God, the more power-hungry and power-obsessed we have become as a society. When power is what we value most, this is the only possible outcome.

So what do we do? Well, let’s return to Moltmann:

The triune God- the very name makes this clear- is not a solitary, apathetic ruler in heaven who subjugates everything; he is a God rich in relationships and able to enter into relationships, a fellowship God: ‘God is love.’… If this is true, then human beings can correspond to this triune God not through domination and subjugation but only through fellowship and life-furthering reciprocity. It is not the human being as a solitary determining subject who is God’s image on earth; it is the true human community. It is not individual parts of creation which reflect his wisdom and his beauty; it is the community of creation as a whole.

God is a God rich in relationships. You would think this would be self-evident to a group of people who live a story of covenant, and community, who follow a savior who was above all with us and not over us. But we have listened too long to preachers and theologians and world leaders who tell us God is power, and power only, and power above all.

It is time for us to stop listening to them, and return to the story of the God who comes to a barren couple and makes a covenant rather than striking a deal. A God who becomes flesh and lives among us, not full of power and privilege but full of grace and truth.

We follow this God. And because we follow this God, we follow not a pursuit of power but the Bread of Life. Our power comes not from might but from love, because our God is a God rich in relationships. That is what God prizes above all. So if we are to reflect God’s image, we do so by living in love in our relationships.We do so by living in community with all of creation.


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