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In the End-The Beginning: The Life of Hope Paperback – May 1, 2004
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About the Author
Jürgen Moltmann is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the University of Tübingen, Germany. Among his many important and award-winning works are The Coming of God (1996)2000 Grawemeyer Award winner, The Source of Life (1997), God for a Secular Society (1998), and Experiences in Theology (2000), all published by Fortress Press.
Margaret Kohl, who lives near Munich, has translated works by Ernst Käsemann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jürgen Moltmann, Klaus Koch, Willi Marxsen, and others, in addition to two other books by Hans Walter Wolff.
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My first Moltmann read, and probably his most basic text/oriented for popular audiences. Here's a detailed summary:
Christ makes every ending in human life a beginning still. Somewhat practically, Moltmann examines personal human experiences to illustrate in every scenario how Christ's mediation in history has endowed us with the ability to re-focus our understanding of limit, ending, and death through efficacious lenses of restoration: new life, re-birth and resurrection. Here he makes a go at re-casting the theological vision of Christian life by re-conceiving traditional interpretations of these thoroughly biblical themes. According to Moltmann there is great reason for hope, for everyone.
His doctrine of hope presents a portrait of life characterized by persistent rememberings of the truth, significance, and practical reasonableness of active Christian hope, one which has the potency to alter our perceptions of nearly every experience or aspect of reality. Moltmann shows our traditional understandings of Christian hope in need of reform. After radically critiquing modern interpretations of orthodox theologies he reinterprets incisively filling out doctrinal implications in creative, vivid, and tangible new ways. `Christian faith is faith in the resurrection,' the purpose of the book is to reveal how the resurrection should, can and ultimately does have a ubiquitous effect over all of existence and experience.
In chapter one Moltmann asserts that God's `whole being is faithfulness,' the remainder of the book seeks to demonstrate how He has, is, and will fulfill his faithfulness to `all things.' There is promise in each beginning, as believers we are `the eternal beginners.' As with the messianic promise of the child Jesus, in each moment and each birth lies a promise of newness. In the face of modern societies that extol progress at the expense of being, Moltmann calls for `balance between experience of the present and expectation of the future.'
In traditional societies of the ancestor cult, conversely the past dominates the future. Modernization occurs when the emphasis shifts from ancestors and history to children and progress, with this tradition is replaced by liberty. `In every end a new beginning lies hidden.' During Babylonian exile, scriptural and messianic Judaism were born. Christ's death and eschatological resurrection are a victory over the power of death and transience. Classical western doctrines of justification and atonement, though varied, are reductionist in only calling attention to human guilt and the cross, not the victims, the resurrection, nor God's justification--Moltmann presents a more comprehensive and more thoroughly biblical position, indeed in one sense one even more thoroughly Augustinian. He goes on to present a transcendent eschatological view of justice eclipsing the human conception of justice, one which employs the creative power of God's righteousness, reconciliation and love to thwart the power of evil both in the oppressor and the oppressed, even in death.
Jesus life shows a radical orientation toward the marginalized, the lost, the victims and the sinners. Only through love can we grasp and appreciate something's uniqueness. As humanity `develops' we become more fully human. Moltmann's theology of the cross is one of solidarity, Christ's `active love for sufferers becomes his suffering love with sufferers.' `Christ brought God to the God-forsaken.' As Bonhoeffer wrote, `only a suffering God can help.'
It seems for Moltmann, God's justice is not a human justice of damnation and torture for those who somehow fail (as more evil) to accept Him, but instead a justice for all of creation (perhaps good and evil) and God together, `all things,' put to rights. Moltmann calls his readers to pray `wakefully', seeking in prayer the reality of God beyond our illusory wishes, and in so doing becoming more attentive, awake and sober, watching and waiting with open eyes to the reality of God's world. One aim of this is to see Christ's face in the least of these, `the unimportant', brothers and sisters, endowed with the capacity to do the right thing at the right time.
Christianity is unique among religions, nowhere else is God associated with human hope for the future. This hope is reasonable. It is a hope that affects everything not only in the future but also now. Before revolutionary Christianity can change the world, we need to be changed ourselves. Only the power of the Spirit of the age to come, which when rightly appropriated, can `come out of the promised future of Christ into our present and fill us with new vitality. But in Moltmann's view many have lost hope, emptied into despondency and despair. Lack of faith in humanity has fueled the flourishing of evil; it's less that we do wrong than we fail to do right. But when life has lost meaning, meaningless violence soon follows.
We experience our dying but only the death of others we love, not our own. Moltmann explores the many theories of what happens once we die. He rejects Luther's doctrine of soul sleep, in favor of Calvin's wakefulness of the soul in which it experiences its healing and completion in being reborn into "eternal life of the world to come." The dead and the living are together in community, kept safe in the same hope, on the way to God's future. Following is an exploration of mourning and consolation. In modern cultures `death and mourning have been radically privatized and banished from public life.' Our inability to face death and suffering keeps us reciprocally from experiencing life fully. "The old familiar mourning rituals which crystallized the experiences of past generations have disappeared from our `culture of narcissism'." Only love can grieve. And `only grief which is accepted and suffered through' restores the love for life after death. Only solidarity in one's suffering, preferably an enfolding in community can help us ourselves transform into a new type of community with our dead loved ones. God weeps with us.
In contrast with traditional ancestor cult societies, modern societies have lost community with the dead. The dead, of course, are the greater side than the living side. `We need a new culture of remembrance.' `The rediscovery of the community of the living with the dead can . . . also lead to an awareness of the community' with the past and the future, one which ensures our stewardship of the planet for future generations and give us a better perspective in the present. All generations must be reconciled.
According to Moltmann, modern `theological interpretations' of the last judgment often boil down to `humans as masters of their own fate, or their own executioners.' God's role is reduced to that of merely `executor or accomplice of the human being's free choice . . . whether the judging God or the responsible human being is a the centre, nothing Christian can be detected in these ideas.' Instead these erroneous interpretations are also found identically in other religions, such as Islam. In contrast, at the last judgment, `the justice Christ will bring about for all and everything is not the justice that establishes what is good and evil, and the retributive justice which rewards the good and punishes the wicked. It is God's creative justice, which brings the victims justice and puts the perpetrators right. As the coming judge of victims and perpetrators . . . Christ will do away with the suffering' and burden of both
"and will bring both out of the dominion of evil into the community of God's righteousness and justice . . . this victory does not lead to heaven or hell but to God's great day of reconciliation on this earth. On that day `every tear will be wiped from their eyes', the tears of suffering as well as the tears of remorse, for `there will be no more mourning, nor crying nor pain any more' (Rev. 21.4). Judgment is not the last thing of all. It serves the new creation of all things It is therefore not last but penultimate. What is the last and final is the new word of creation: `Behold, I make all things new' (Rev. 21.5) . . . What will be annihilated is Nothingness, what will be slain is death, what will be dissolved is the power of evil, what will be separated from all created beings is separation from God, sin. The ground is then prepared for the new creation of all things." (pg. 143, 45)
Moltmann views hell as the `religious torture chamber,' except unlike earthly torture chambers in these `cruel apocalyptic fantasies' their victims can't escape through death, they never end. For Luther and Calvin hell was God-forsakenness, which Christ endured on our behalf and both defeated hell's power and destroyed its gates, while in his death He proclaimed salvation to the dead. Death, which our Lord defeated `can set no limits to the saving gospel of Christ.'
"If as in Paul's vision, God will in the end be `all in all' (2 Cor. 15.28), then nothing present and nothing past is excluded. We are told that in the fulfillment of the times all things will be united in Christ, things in heaven and things in earth' (Eph. 1.10) and `all things reconciled to him, whether on earth or in heaven' (Col. 1.20), because `all things were created through him' (Col. 1.16); and if this is so, we have to talk about the universality of God's grace. `Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father' (Phil. 2.11). Then `universal reconciliation' can no longer be a heresy and a reproach. It is an expression of hope and of trust in God's goodness. But the decision is God's alone." (pg. 150)
Finally the planet isn't burnt as we Christians are carted off into the heavens; we instead will belong to the new earth, the restoration of all things is for the purpose of `the transformation of this world into the future world of the eternal creation.' Eschatology thus becomes not about the end, but only the penultimate.