Reason #4: He gets suffering. And he believes GOD gets suffering.
You may be feeling, as some of Moltmann’s critics have, that any theologian who can wax poetic about hope overflowing everywhere and the Spirit redeeming everything and the Trinity happily dancing away is clearly someone who is not in touch with reality. You could not be more wrong. Moltmann was a former Nazi soldier who spent two years as a POW in a war camp. He’s had his share of suffering. He’s seen his share of atrocities. He’s experienced his share of death. And the very real suffering present in our world is no side matter to him- in fact, his deep and passionate concern for those who suffer is precisely what makes his theology so robust and missional.
Many people seem terrified of saying that God in any way suffers, so when confronted with the crucifixion of Jesus they do their best to get God out as unscathed as possible while still getting what they need from the “transaction.” Not Moltmann. He opted to call a spade a spade by entitling his second major work of theology The Crucified God and spending over 300 pages describing how God suffered, why God suffered, and he even shamed us for avoiding God’s suffering so much. If we follow the suffering God, if we want to be part of God’s future, Moltmann says we have to begin at the foot of the cross where God-forsakenness took on a whole new level of meaning.
If we don’t think God understands our suffering, we haven’t understood the cross. He writes, “Not until we understand (Jesus’) abandonment by the God and Father whose imminence and closeness he had proclaimed in a unique, gracious and festive way, can we understand what was distinctive about his death” (p.149). If we’re to have proper hope, it’s hope in the One who suffered for us in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine.
As he often does, Moltmann poses a question that the majority of Protestant navel-gazing theologians hadn’t considered. While they had spent considerable time and energy talking about what Jesus’ death meant for us, Moltmann boldly asked what Jesus’ death meant for God. (Go ahead and say it with me- WWF smackdown!) And then he wrote these words that forever changed my understanding: “When the crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God,’ the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity” (p.205).
“To recognize God in the crucified Christ means to grasp the trinitarian history of God, and to understand oneself and this whole world with Auschwitz and Vietnam, with race-hatred and hunger, as existing in the history of God. God is not dead. Death is in God. God suffers by us. He suffers with us. Suffering is in God. God does not ultimately reject, nor is he ultimately rejected. Rejection is within God. In the way hidden in the cross, the triune God is already on the way toward becoming “all in all,” and “in him we live and move and have our being.” When he brings his history to completion (I Cor. 15:28), his suffering will be transformed into joy, and thereby our suffering as well.”
Thank you, Moltmann, for rescuing Jesus’ death from our greedy little individualistic hands and returning it to the hope of the world and everything in it.