Moltmann Monday: On Not Leaving

Happy Moltmann Monday! Today’s selection is from The Power of the Powerless, Moltmann’s collection of sermons. (I say this every time, but if you don’t have this book it’s one worth getting.) This is from a sermon on the story of Jesus’ transfiguration:

Anyone who really lives his life with conscious awareness probably cherishes in some corner of his heart an undefined longing for deliverance: deliverance from tension, from uncomprehended suffering, from the daily demands of work and the claims made on us through our living together with other human beings. We want to escape from the emptiness of existence and attain a full life. We want to stop being irresolute and become clear about things. The more profoundly a person loves life and suffers it, the more strongly every day shows him that we are never finished. We are overtaxed. We are overburdened. We are unable to discover what the right thing is, and even when we discover, we are still unable to do it. Whatever decision we take, we fall short. We are imprisoned–nailed to our own omissions and incapacities…

So we continually seek for moments of happiness, the highlights of life–heights that tower up like mountain peaks above the sombre, toilsome plains of everyday life…Moments like this ‘transfigure’ life, give it a meaningful solemnity which it otherwise lacks…

[Moltmann then explains that this is what the disciples felt up on the mountain, and they wanted to hold onto it.]

But what do the disciples really experience on the mountain?…What they have longed for is a flight from the difficulties and failures of life, to the mountain of bliss. But now they go back to the world, with Jesus. Their path does not end up there on the mountain. It turns back, down from the peak, away from the satisfying fulfillment of their own desires. It is a path that leads them to Jerusalem with Jesus, to suffering, beneath his cross.

What they longed for was to escape from the pressures of life, to be released from the problems and pains of this world, and to live a solitary existence away from other human beings. But what they are called to do is to live in the midst of this world: in its pains and problems, beneath the cross. They climb the mountain of their desire- and turn back to the place of their responsibility, which is beneath the cross, in the solidarity of love for human beings.

Part of me just wants to leave this selection without comment at all. It really speaks for itself, and, because it’s a sermon, it’s so relatable. If I am to say anything at all, I’ll begin with this: YES. So many of us today are struggling with feelings of overwhelm. And it’s natural and sometimes even healthy to take a step back and to tune out and to take a break. We’re only human. But I appreciate Moltmann calling us to the carpet on this as people of faith, too, calling on our deepest humanity that simply won’t allow us to be escape artists.

We come from a long line of escape artists. In fact, I have been thinking a lot lately about how in many ways Christianity begets escapism in ways that run entirely counter to the life and witness of Jesus. It is a matter of grave repentance, this assumption that we should wait around for Jesus to deliver, and this general sense that Jesus wants to be happy. To quote Joe Biden, that’s a bunch of malarkey. Jesus wants us to be faithful, righteous, good. Jesus wants us to serve one another in love. We absolutely find abundant life when we do that, but it doesn’t come about when we run for the hills and wait for Jesus to come fix it for us. We need to be grownups and walk back down the path and do the work. Meaningful life is waiting there.

One of my mentors continually reminds us to resist seeking illusory comfort and stay present to the world. That is a one-two punch of practice that is going to take a while, and take dedication. Some days will be better than others. But life is about finding the flow between climbing the mountain of our desire and turning back to the places of our responsibility. It is in that flow, that rhythm, that we find nourishment and purpose, both.


  1. Glenn CatonFebruary 5, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    The ultimate transfiguration, in my opinion, is the sloughing off of judgment.

    When we forgo judgment, then loving all of our lives becomes easier, and inevitable.

    I do not believe it is possible to make accurate judgments unless you can see all of time at a glance, so there is nothing is gained by making and acting on inaccurate judgment, and so much joy and loving is squandered, by acting on them.

    I just heard your interview on “To The Best Of Our Knowledge” and I wanted to suggest a notion that has occupied my thoughts for years. You said, in that interview, that you had long contemplated Genesis 3. I would like for you to think about Genesis 2:17, where God tells Adam the name of the Forbidden Tree. It is the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and, in order to support the fallacy of original sin, that name is frequently glossed over by the Church.

    My notion is this: as we are unable to accurately judge, we are also unable to discern that we are not sinful, just sick with the knowledge of good and evil, and without the tool with which to use that knowledge.

    At best, I believe that we are able to discern loving from unloving, but that is about it.

    When you look at all the rigors that Moltman puts himself through with harsh self-judgment, you can see why he suffers his beloved life.

    I believe that our flawed judgement is at the root of all suffering as we constantly judge everything and find it more or less wanting. For men, we move to the next stage of suffering in our perpetual quest to fix all that we find wanting.

    Allow me to suggest another notion: all that exists is a part of God, and, therefore, is perfect.

    This leads me to another reason to abandon judgment: when we judge anything, we judge God. This in turn, leads me to one of the most important pieces of advice from Jesus: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

    I always think that, in the grip of passionate love, we find our most Godly self in that we suspend judgment of the object of our affection. As we are called by Jesus to love God with everything that we have and are, and all that exists is God, shouldn’t we be avoiding judging God in all God’s forms, including ourselves?

  2. Hi Glenn,
    Thanks for listening to that podcast, and for commenting here! I thought you might find it interesting that I do spend quite a bit of time in the book talking about the knowledge of good and evil as vital to our life of faith, and specifically our journey toward wisdom. I think it’s a crucial misreading of the text to see it as something bad rather than something inevitable (in the act of growing up) and also perhaps necessary. In this world, we have to learn to make decisions that can be both good and evil. How do we tell? Well, that’s the pursuit of wisdom.

    I do think we see the role of judgment a little differently, but I do hear you and understand what you’re saying. One of my mentors is Buddhist and much of this is in line with Buddhist thought about releasing from judgment. I think that’s a healthy course corrective for a Western culture too steeped in original sin. But I do think a form of judgment has a place.

    Lastly I just wanted to mention that I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard Moltmann or seen him, but he’s not at all an unhappy person. He’s suffered, but he’s very filled with joy. :) I think he’d disagree with you, as would those close to him, that he’s suffered his beloved life. He’s a pretty big fan of enjoying life to the fullest.

    Thanks so much for taking time to read and comment, Glenn!

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