Moltmann Monday: On Missing God

Happy Moltmann Monday! Today’s excerpt comes from a little collection of essays called A Passion for God’s Reign. Thanks to my Moltmann Facebook group, I was reminded of a quote from one of Moltmann’s essays, “Theology in the Project of the Modern World” and had to go and reread it. SO. GOOD. So very good, you guys. It’s been a few years since I’ve read this book, and, as with all of his writing, I return to it and realize it is so much wiser and deeper than I was able to see the last time I read it. You might want to print this out and stick this on your mirror and ponder it for a good while:

It is simple, but true, to say that theology has only one, single problem: God. We are theologians for the sake of God; if we are not, then we ought not to call ourselves theologians at all. God is our dignity. God is our agony. God is our hope.

But where is God? God is the subject of his own existence. So God is not in our religion, our culture, or our church. God is in God’s own presence, in God’s Spirit and in God’s kingdom. Our churches, cultures, and religions are then in their own truth, if they are in God’s presence. Theology for the sake of God is always kingdom-of-God theology.

As kingdom-of-God theology, theology has to be public theology: the public, critical, and prophetic cry for God- the public, critical and prophetic hope for God…

..For me theology springs from a divine passion- it is the open wound of God in one’s own life and in the tormented men, women and children of this world; from the accusation Job threw at God; from Christ’s cry of forsakenness on the cross. We are not theologians because we are particularly religious; we are theologians because in the face of this world we miss God. We are crying out for his righteousness and justice, and are not prepared to come to terms with mass death on earth.

But for me theology also springs from God’s love for life- the love for life that we experience in the presence of the life-giving Spirit and that enables us to move beyond our resignation and begin to love life here and now. These are also Christ’s two experiences of God, the kingdom of God and the cross, and because of that they are the foundations of Christian theology, as well: God’s delight and God’s pain. It is out of the tension between these two that hope is born for the kingdom in which God is wholly in the world and the world is wholly in God.

I love that Moltmann is honest enough to begin an essay about theology by admitting that the actual work itself is problematic. Theologians try to say things about God, but everything we say is secondary. God is the subject of God’s own existence. We can’t ever speak “directly” about God, only from our experience of God. So humility is not something theologians take up as a virtue- it is something required of us if we are to be at all honest about our work. This is important to remember when we consider how we hold and believe doctrine, and creeds.

When Moltmann says God is not in our religion/culture/church, he is not saying God is absent from those spaces. He is saying God cannot be equated with them. That’s an important distinction, because some theologians do say God is absent or far from these things, and what follows is a view of humanity and creation that seems in a perpetual contest to debase itself further. That’s theologically problematic for a whole host of reasons. (You’ll have to read my next book to hear my entire soapbox on it…) For now, we’ll just note that claiming God as ineffable does not require us to claim humanity or the world as depraved. God is indeed the subject of God’s own existence. But IN God’s existence, God has freely chosen to make space for humanity, for all of creation, to take part in the life of God.

Moltmann proves his point when he continues to describe all theology as kingdom-of-God theology. What he means by that is that any good theologian is not going to spend her time talking about some abstract concept of God’s nature. She is going to spend her time doing public theology- theology for the people. And a Christian theology for the people must, absolutely must, consider the least of these, the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the forgotten. We are public, and critical, and prophetic about the ways the world is not aligning with the kingdom. We enter into shared suffering with God for the ways the world is broken.

This is why Moltmann writes this achingly beautiful sentence- we are not theologians because we are particularly religious, but because in the face of this world we miss God.

Can we just take a moment for that one?

I can actually remember reading that sentence as a seminary student. I remember the visceral feeling I had in my gut- that space, that emptiness, that longing for God- and once again realized that Moltmann was able to put words to it in a way that had escaped me before (and would probably have escaped me forever.)

This longing has at least two facets, as Moltmann points out. One is a facet of longing for justice and righteousness. We want the world to be made whole. We cry out to God from our pain or from the pain we see others experience. We cry out for Syrian refugees, for students in Oregon, for inmates on death row, for war-torn countries. But there is another facet. We cry out also in joy, and in hope, because we long to experience the fullness of life that is from God and in God.

If you want the quickest overview of Moltmann’s Christology (his theology of Jesus), look no further than this: These are also Christ’s two experiences of God, the kingdom of God and the cross, and because of that they are the foundations of Christian theology, as well: God’s delight and God’s pain. 

Jesus knows God through this longing, too. He longs for God through his cries and frustrations, and he longs for God in his love for life abundant. This longing points us toward the coming realm of God, where God is wholly in the world and the world is wholly in God.

So, you see, we are designed to miss God. That longing, that hope, that agony and delight? It is not a problem to be solved, but a journey to begin. It will lead us home.

1 Comment

  1. this resonates. much appreciated.

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