Moltmann Monday: Immovability, Relationship, Faithfulness and Truth

Happy Moltmann Monday! I’m back with a new post after my blogging hiatus over the past number of weeks. Thanks for your patience as I finished up my manuscript for book #3! :)

Today’s selection comes from Moltmann’s newest book, The Living God and the Fullness of Life. He’s talking about the attributes of God, and I want specifically to highlight a few sentences from his section on whether God is immovable or not. Here’s the first one, and it’s a doozy:

It is impossible to consider God as being unchangeable and immovable without declaring God to be dead.

I admit, it’s a little unfair to throw that out there without giving you snippets of his argument up to that point. Basically, he describes the principle of life as movement. A living being, therefore, is one who moves. If a living being doesn’t move or stops moving, it is either dead or was never alive in the first place. So the idea that God could be immovable and unchangeable is to declare God dead. No living being acts like that, so why would the Supreme Living Being be any different? Moltmann certainly describes a distinction between God and other living beings, but he firmly denies that what distinguishes them is God’s assumed immovable nature. Those distinction eggs are in the wrong basket, in other words. He continues,

The living God is free to move and to change… If we understand the living God as subject, then the divine immutablis of ancient physics is replaced by God’s faithfulness, a faithfulness on which we can rely… God’s faithfulness is so overwhelming that truth, emuna, is even viewed as God’s faithfulness to Godself.

Since we need to move the eggs of God’s distinction to a different basket, Moltmann places it (rightly I believe) in the basket of faithfulness. God’s fidelity is the centerpiece of God’s character. It’s the lens through which we understand everything else about God. And when we think about what God’s faithfulness means, we realize of course that it has nothing to do with some idea of God as far away and separated from us. God is faithful in the context of relationship with us, and with all of creation. And even when we think of God’s faithfulness to Godself, we don’t end up in some sort of divinely despotic navel-gazing. We arrive at the essence of truth. Truth is what happens when the faithfulness of God aligns- within Godself, with us, with systems, with nations, with practices, with actions, with words.

We’re so used to seeing truth as some philosophical “other,” like it sits out there with its capital T waiting for us to be smart enough to find it. But when we envision truth as God’s faithfulness to Godself, where harmony of the highest order rings true, it becomes somehow more powerful and potent while feeling more relational. We are part of this, if only because God’s faithfulness extends even to us, wonder of wonders.

Moltmann concludes,

Anyone who rejects all these actions and sufferings on God’s part on the ground that they are anthropomorphisms* fails to take seriously the human subject’s likeness to God. Immutability is a nonhuman metaphor… God is God, and not part of the changeable world. But by merely negating the world’s attributes, what we arrive at is not the divine but merely–nothingness.

(*Anthropomorphism is just a fancy way of describing the act of giving something (God, animals, objects) a human attribute.)

I’ve been thinking a lot in recent years about being made in God’s image. And believe me, I know there are so many people of faith who are very nervous about reading too much into it, like we will somehow mar God’s own image if we allow too much of God’s to be reflected in our own. And I see the danger, but I guess I disagree on the degree to which we should steer clear of it. We ARE made in God’s image. We didn’t ask for that, or demand it; God willingly designed us that way. So I love that Moltmann just goes with that with gusto here, saying, hey, when we describe God as moveable, or as capable of suffering, and theologians tell us God can’t do that because God isn’t human, maybe that’s wrong. Maybe WE do that because we are made in God’s image. As he says, it’s not as simple as giving God the opposite qualities of what we see in the world. We aren’t playing a philosophical opposite game. Just because we suffer, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t. Just because we change, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t. We can’t make God into a big immovable detached nothing just because we’re afraid of God being perceived in human terms. What other terms do we have, anyway?!

I deeply resonate with Moltmann’s description of God in unapologetically relational terms. It does tend to get him in hot water sometimes with his critics, but I for one think he’s got his eggs in the better basket.  We have seen the glory of God, and it has come in the bodily, human form of Jesus, who lived and moved and suffered and died.


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