Happy Moltmann Monday! Today’s excerpt is coming from a unique place- a hand-typed letter from Moltmann to Wyatt Houtz, known also around the interwebs as @PostBarthian. Can we talk about how unbelievably kind and amazing it is that Moltmann responds to so many people who write him? You can read the entirety of the letter on his blog, but here are a few sentences I loved:
In our suffering of love and in our sorrow we participate in the suffering of Jesus, the son of God, and in the suffering of God, his and our father in heaven. And this keeps us in the tragedies of our lifes (sic) alive and upright. We don’t give ourselves up!
We- in the reformed church- believe that ‘we are thrown upon God from our mother’s womb on’ and that Christ was born for us, before we are born.
And then Moltmann shares a verse of a Paul Gerhardt Christmas hymn, called I stand beside thy manger-bed which is translated:
When I was not born yet
You were born for me
And chose to be mine
Before I knew you
Before I was made by your hand
You had already thought
How you would become mine
I have to say, whenever Moltmann quotes hymns or prayers or even mentions icons, pay attention. My favorite icon of all time came from a Moltmann mention, as have a number of previously unknown hymns that I now cherish.
To the other sentences above, don’t let their simplicity fool you. Give those words some thought. I love how he describes our shared participation in suffering as something that keeps us alive and upright. Without God participating with us, we would be dead and sunken down into despair; but since God is with us, we can stand up and remain awake and alive even in the midst of our deepest suffering. That doesn’t mean we like it, but it does mean we can endure it, and we can find some peace in it. I think this is what he means when he says we don’t give ourselves up. I wondered if that was just perhaps poor English, and he meant to say we don’t give up. But giving ourselves up seems exactly what despair is, at its heart. It’s not a general giving up, but a very specific one. We give ourselves up, and the world no longer sees the alive and upright “ourselves” we were designed to be.
As for the second sentence, this to me is the beautiful heart of reformed theology. I couldn’t tell you why on earth it’s gone so far afoul in some of its current versions (don’t get me started) but the heart of the reformed theological conviction is this utter dependence on God, not out of how low we are, but because of how incredibly trustworthy and good and steadfast God is. We are thrown upon God from our mother’s womb on. We are utterly in God’s hands, but they are good hands. And Christ was born for us, before we ourselves are born. That is to say, God has thrown himself in Jesus upon a mother’s womb as well, which will never stop being unfathomably beautiful to me. If you’re going to preach this Advent, that’s something worth pondering. Not that Jesus died for us (don’t make me soapbox talk you about not rushing Jesus to death in Advent again) but that Jesus was born for us, and thrown upon the womb of a human mother so that we would know in all circumstances, even our deepest suffering, that he is with us.