Happy Moltmann Monday! In honor of the official book release date for Where Jesus Prayed (October 1, though I’m so delighted it arrived early!) I’m sharing an excerpt from the preface to The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology. That’s right, friends. Before you even get to the numbered pages in a Moltmann book, you find things worthy of an underline. Since I’ve spent the last number of months pondering and meditating on the Lord’s Prayer, not only in my experience of praying it across the Holy Land but in my experience since of bringing it into the rest of my daily life, I really loved hearing Moltmann talk about this.
If the Christian hope is reduced to the salvation of the soul in a heaven beyond death, it loses its power to renew life and change the world, and its flame is quenched; it does away into no more than a gnostic* yearning for redemption from this world’s vale of tears…
We shall only be able to overcome the unfruitful and paralyzing confrontation between the personal and the cosmic hope, individual and universal eschatology, if we neither pietistically put the soul at the center, nor secularistically the world. The center has to be God, God’s kingdom and God’s glory. The first three petitions in the Lord’s Prayer make this clear. What do we really and truly hope for? We hope for the kingdom of God. That is first and foremost a hope for God, the hope that God will arrive at his rights in creation, at his peace in his sabbath, and at his eternal joy in his image, human beings…
So in eschatology it makes sense to begin with the personal hope, then to advance to the historical hope, and finally to pass onto the cosmic hope, so as to end with God’s glory for God’s sake.
*gnostic means emphasizing the spiritual while undermining the physical. It comes from a group called, you guessed it, the Gnostics, who refused to believe that Jesus had an actual physical body. They believe the physical is not the most real…which complicates things for a Messiah who came in a human body, which is why they were declared heretics by the Church.
So, look. I actually debated posting this excerpt because this is a topic that is so, so, so easily misconstrued. These days when you say things like “it’s all about God’s glory” or “the center has to be God” people can assume that Moltmann is meaning to say things he IS NOT, in fact, saying. Since it’s hard to know what I mean by that, let me put it this way: If you are singing “It’s all about you Jesus” with your eyes closed in a church that wants you to consider your body to be a force against you, you are not meaning it in the same way that Moltmann means it here. You are, in fact, doing the exact opposite of what he means, because you have shut yourself off from other people in a worship gathering that is designed to bring you together with other people, and you have made it actually all about your own relationship with Jesus which is, to add one more kicker, veering toward the gnostic in the way you see yourself as against the world and your body and other people’s bodies in the world. Okay? Moltmann is not advocating that. And I’m certainly not either, just to be clear. He would be advocating for something like a community of faith gathering to pray the Lord’s Prayer together in such a way that puts God and God’s kingdom at the center of things, but in the process- because God designed it that way- also puts you closer together with the people in your church and the people in your world and all of creation and in fact your very own soul. After such a prayer, and during it, what you would get is eyes wide open, a grounding in your own body, and a love for God’s world that doesn’t leave even the worst parts of it out.
Moltmann absolutely means it when he says we must center on God. But here is what is the most important part about that: we do not lose ourselves when we center on God. We become fully ourselves there. Indeed the most important thing you can do to self-actualize, to use a psychological term for it, is to begin not with yourself but with God.
I cannot emphasize enough what a big idea this is, and how important it is, and I say that because nearly everyone gets it wrong. It is not a choice: does God get the glory or do I get the glory? It is a matter of order. When God gets the glory, we reflect nothing short of the very glory of God in our own bodies and selves and lives. The whole point of Moltmann writing this book about eschatology (the theology of what happens at the end of all things) is to clear this up. Eschatology is not only about personal salvation. It is about the exact thing the Lord’s Prayer calls us to petition God for: God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
That is so much bigger than you and your relationship with God. It includes you, but if you stop there, you’ve basically resigned yourself to spiritual infancy. But- and hear this- if you make it only about God, and you try to somehow dust yourself or your body under the rug of God’s glory, you are confining yourself to spiritual lethargy. Because you cannot be all that you are supposed to be in God when you do that. God doesn’t give you points for benching yourself, no matter how much you talk about God’s glory while you sit there.
As Moltmann says, there’s a natural movement of eschatology that begins with centering in God. We are hoping for God, which is what eschatology really is. This is why he named it “The Coming of God” because it is a hope, a waiting on a promise. As we hope for God, we understand this first in our own lives as a personal hope. God has saved me (or more specifically God is saving me). Then we understand historical hope- God is saving the world. Then we move to cosmic hope- God is recreating the world so that God will be all in all, so that “the earth is filled with God’s glory” as Isiaiah says.
What is so beautiful about the prayer Jesus taught us is that it structures this very kind of thinking. In our prayer, we begin by centering on God. Our Father… We acknowledge God’s symbolic place. Who is in heaven... We give honor. Hallowed by your name. And then we pray in such a way that stretches us into the fullness of God’s hopes for the world by helping us to become the people God has designed us to be. Thy kingdom come. Give us this day. Forgive us. Deliver us from evil. And then we end by re-centering ourselves, because that’s the only way any of this becomes possible. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. At the beginning and the end, we hope for God. And our hope is not unfounded, because we trust not only in God but in Jesus, who brings those hopes into the fabric of human history.
So. Another way of putting this Moltmann Monday is this. If you want to get some good eschatology, read The Coming of God. But also, and more importantly, make it a spiritual practice to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and you will find that the theology of the prayer itself will inform you in exactly the ways you need.