MOLTMANN'S THEOLOGY OF CONTRADICTION

BY JERRY A. IRISH

"As resurrection hope- liberates believers from death, placing their confidence in God'sfinalvictory over death, so the cross enlists their lives in a constant battle against death in all its forms. . . The believer cannot identify with the promise of resurrection without participation in the cross of the present. . . 'Peace with God means conflict with the world/ "

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STRAIGHT-FORWARD interpretation of the resurrection, an honest acknowledgment of death, and a systematic exL . ploration of their contradiction characterize the religious thought of Jürgen Molt mann. Resurrection and death in contradiction—this tension is at the heart of Moltmann's theology.

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Moltmann's understanding of resurrection and death, and the dynamism of their contradiction, has significant implications for religion in America. His view undercuts any form of civil religion that unites citizens, institutions, and God in a cooperative effort to achieve peace and justice in our time. Evolutionary continuity between America and the promised kingdom is contradicted by Moltmann's interpretation of Christian eschatology. Since a person at peace with God is a person in conflict with the world, any alliance between church and state, or church and university, or church and middle class morality (or anti-middle class morality), is an alliance immediately suspect. The Christian mission leads the church to oppose and transform society, not to protect and preserve it. Christian social activists and personal pietists alike might agree about this without seeing the consequences for their own longstanding debate. But Moltmann's theology of contradiction offers an equally harsh critique of the liberal-conservative, corporate-individualistic, involvement-withdrawal controversy so often generated within and between American churches. One party to the debate may recognize the brokenness of creation but fail to see that Christian faith is in God's new creation, not our mending. The other party may recogJcrry A. Irish is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University, Stanford, California. He is a graduate of Cornell University, Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and Yale University, and his new book, A Boy Thirteen: Reflections on Death, was published by Westminster Press in March. In 1971 he received a Stanford University faculty award for excellence in teaching.

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The liberal is unwilling to accept the resurrection message that salvation for all really will come from God. Hereafter cited as TH. not renovation. Neither side of the debate (and this is what is typically "American") seems willing to accept the contradiction that characterizes this world for Christian believers. The conservative is unwilling to accept the resurrection message that salvation for all really will come from God. The life revealed in the resurrected Jesus is qualitatively new. The conservative is prone to say that a few of us have already arrived.Theology Today nize that healing must come from God. Also denied is any notion that the "Jesus trip" can be a private journey without pain. It is the contradiction one enters into when one hopes in the resurrection. The raising of the crucified one anticipates the transformation of the world through the presence of God in the cross. The liberal is prone to say that all of us have almost arrived.l65. II Moltmann asserts that Christianity "stands or falls with the reality of the raising of Jesus from the dead by God. So it is that the Easter appearances of one who lived and died in the world signal a return to the cross. 158. Just as a person of faith sees beyond the cross to the resurrection promise of reconciliation. Ibid. and that it will far exceed our private vision. not a contradiction. Theology of Hope (Harper. The juxtaposition of cross and resurrection denies any notion that there is a logical connection between present social action and the future kingdom. Otherwise the resurrection is a denial. but the result is transformation. only if we return to the former can we properly comprehend the significance of the latter. Until the fulfillment of God's promise."2 Jesus' unique identity is in the contradiction between crucifixion and Easter appearance. the cross remains the abiding key-signature of Jesus' lordship in the world.p. It is the "abiding key-signature" of Jesus' lordship in the world. It is not the repetition of mortal existence nor the culmination of some immanent processive evolution. and that it will far exceed our social vision. p. Both sides need to recognize that if the resurrection really is the raising of Jesus from the dead by God. Oddly enough.. neither side of the controversy can take the cross seriously because neither side takes the resurrection seriously.1 It is active solidarity with a broken creation that must wait for God's redemption. 1967). but fail to see that the scope of that healing goes far beyond individuals. Cross and resurrection mutually interpret one another. . then the cross is neither a social strategy nor the necessary discipline for a middle class success story. so a person of hope must see beyond or "back to" the presence of God in the cross. 2 Bürgen Moltmann. God takes up the old in creation of the new. of the reality of death.

Another way to speak of God's presence in the cross is to speak of the believer's relation to Jesus. struggling after salvation.Moltmann s Theology of Contradiction The continual movement from cross to resurrection and back to cross involves the believer in yet another contradiction. That is where the believer anticipates the transformation of the world. In the next section we shall see how Moltmann develops this view in this concept of "the crucified God. In this sense Jesus' sacrifice is God's sacrifice. 82-83."6 Instead of seeking God in some vague beyond. those who are weak and hungry. the believer must seek the God who is coming in the concrete agony of the cross. Ibid. 42. He is the source and not simply the first instance of risen life. Jesus' suffering is God's suffering. The cross becomes the present form of the resurrection. Moltmann argues that believers find their future in Jesus. In the cross-resurrection puzzle. In Jürgen Moltmann. The God who accepts Jesus in the resurrection abandons him in the cross. pp. but the crucified one is the visible object and the continuing encounter of faith. Rather it seeks to participate in Jesus' future. Looking at the crucifixion."3 Why must the Messiah suffer such a death? Why must the one who bears the promise of victory over death bear the defeat of the cross? Why must the one whose appearance heralds the coming of God's kingdom first suffer God's abandonment? Moltmann finds one answer to these questions in the missionary sermons in Acts. 4 3 . not merely like Jesus.. and the present concrete manifestation of that source is the cross.5 The church is not waiting for what has already happened to Jesus to be repeated. 6 HP.4 Looking at the resurrection. and the dead are raised. This event of identification in contradiction is. God becomes involved in the theodicy question. The believer finds solidarity with the present unredeemed creation. So God's glory is found in the resurrection. while humanity's evil is found in the crucifixion. In this act of identification. Hereafter cited as HP. But Moltmann finds a more profound answer in the writings of the Apostle Paul. 42-43. the future is pulled into the sufferings of the present. taking up judgment and damnation so that we may live. God raised Jesus from the death meted out to him by his contemporaries. The cross is the God-forsaken suffering and death of the one who promises a kingdom in which God is all in all. Fellowship with the risen Lord is fellowship with the crucified Jesus. It is fellowship with those who mourn. those who suffer persecution or neglect." *TH. an eschatological demonstration of the faithfulness of God. p. "Only with Easter does the cross of Jesus become a puzzle. the believer sees the crucified one. p. pp. the believer sees the one who is coming in glory. 40. for the believer. An eschatological theology must find and show forth the spirit of resurrection in the suffering of mundane existence. Hope and Planning (Harper. 1971). "Easter is the invisible ground of faith.

Religion. . Separated from all his friends. 1973).9 These two statements make basic claims about humanity in general and the Christian religion in particular.p. p. and love are united in active mission. Identifying with the creation that still suffers and dies. 132. Hereafter cited as RRF. 12. love embraces the world. for death is the "last enemy" of God and man. it would be difficult to fault his understanding of death. 129. »Jürgen Moltmann. The brokenness of creation meets us everywhere in hunger. His honest acknowledgment of the negativity of death is a much-needed cultural corrective. Fear and uncertainty mark Jesus' own anticipation of death in Gethsemane. . Confident that the barriers of suffering and death have been bridged in deed and promise. not beautiful. p. not the present human situation. While one betrays.8 The hope of resurrection is a hope against death. hope. The end of death's dominion and the overcoming of all opposition to God is still to come. has dealt with them directly? Moltmann's understanding of the resurrection never operates as a denial or an evasion of death. and warfare. Christ has been raised beyond the reach of death. 133. Man becomes aware of himself and his life because he knows about his death. he is tried and 7 Jürgen Moltmann. 10 Ibid.. the work of God has not been completed. not so his followers. Yet how much modern religious thought. the resurrection initiates a missionary consciousness of history. The present has its relation to the promised future in contradiction. The world and its inhabitants have obviously not been saved.. crime. Faith."10 The period in Jerusalem prior to the crucifixion is characterized by misunderstanding. generated within or without the church. In his interpretation of the passion narratives. The vision of a new creation is rooted in Jesus' resurrection. 9 Ibid. Hereafter cited as GL. hope seeks to transform the world. and it is consistent with much that one finds in both Old and New Testaments.Theology Today the agony of this world the future of God's new creation is present only in Christ's cross. death is seen as irrevocable ending and loss. Even Jesus' disciples cannot cope with his destiny. faith transcends the brokenness of the world. Aroused by the contradiction between resurrection and cross. and the Future (Scribner's. "The death of Jesus is . . 1969). disease. The Gospel of Liberation (Word Books. Revolution. HI Even if one did not find Moltmann's interpretation of the resurrection convincing.7 In the disparity between the promised future and the experienced present. p. others fall asleep.

When we find ourselves in such a situation. Beginning with our identification with Jesus in his God-forsaken death. when we. cry out "My God. When we face the death of a friend and shake our angry fist at God. my God. "The Crucified God. The relation formed with God in the cross depends on no conditions of wealth. God is related to the God-less and the God-abandoned. too. when we. In Jesus. Hereafter 12 Jürgen Moltmann. He recognizes that while the death of a friend or loved one confronts us with our own death. 15:34). too. Finally he is abandoned by the very One he proclaimed. GL. 1974).12 Where is God now? He is there on the cross—and at Auschwitz. and we too must face it as irrevocable ending and loss. my God. are alienated by civic and religious institutions anxious only to preserve their power. or skill. Jesus gives a loud cry and breathes his last. . prestige. rejection by God. "Death . 134. is not first known if man himself dies. p. and at all the unnamed places where death reigns through oppression. sharing our anger and frustration. too. death as isolation in hospitals and homes for the elderly. when we witness injustice and writhe in our frustration at God's absence. death as alienating exploitation through color and sex. why have you forsaken me?" When we. and Memphis. Perhaps this is our most fundamental identification with Jesus of Nazareth. l3 cited as CG." (Mk. his Father. ignorance. 15. ."13 This is what it means to say someone suffers the death of another." Theology Today (April.p. and apathy. then death must be acknowledged. . 1974). He becomes real to us in those moments of anger and aloneness when we.Moltmann's Theology of Contradiction mocked. The universality of this relation is grounded in our common awareness of death in all its forms of ending and loss: death as separation from our children in divorce. Moltmann unfolds his notion of the cross. but where the beloved dies. are misunderstood by our closest friends. This God-less observer follows Jesus' death cry with the words "Truly this man was the Son of God. God dies the death of God-forsakenness. "My God. finally realize we are on the road to death—then Jesus is our brother."11 When we have run out of evasions. we may discover the very object of our anger and frustration present in the situation itself. and My Lai. why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mk. Moltmann finds significance in the heathen centurion's legendary confession. too. 276. 15:39). questioned and harassed. The Crucified God (Harper. Through the crucified Jesus. for we do not experience death in ourselves but in those we love. This profound duality is included in 11 Jürgen Moltmann. "The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment. One does not even need to belong to a particular religious community. p. death as hunger and disease. the two experiences are distinct. there is a duality in our sense of God-forsakenness. Moltmann is aware of the complexity in our shared God-forsakenness.

Ibid. as an event between Jesus and his God and Father.e. but where is God until that ultimate defeat? He is in the event of the cross. "the event of the love of the Son and the grief of the Father.15 Does the resurrection erase all this? No. 277. 246. God is there as abandoned Son. and also as sacrificing Father. In the resurrection the disciples discover that the abandoned one on the cross really is the Son of God. The Father suffers the Son's abandonment. it underlines the inescapable and irrevocable nature of death. the Father suffers the death of the Son. From our perspective this duality leads us to say God is with us in our God-abandonedness. the surrender of the Son and the power of the Spirit. 15 14 . In order to avoid such paradoxical assertions and yet remain true to our experience of the cross. Golgotha. 243. "who opens up the future and creates life. "There is no loneliness and no rejection which he has not taken to himself and assumed in the cross of Jesus. This statement completes Moltmann's concept of "the crucified God. then. From a theological perspective it leads us to say God suffers his own self-abandonment. he speaks of the doctrine of the trinity as a summary of the passion story. i."14 To say that God suffers Jesus' death is to say that God is affected by that separation and loss as we are affected by the separation and loss of our own sons and daughters."16 The raising of the crucified one anticipates the transformation of the world through the presence of God in the cross. sharing the agony of Jesus' few remaining friends. The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son. There are.. "The Son suffers dying. 147. p. for it is the cross that is the beginning of CG. The Son dies abandoned. God is on that lonely hill. p. p.. Surely there is great joy at the promise of death's ultimate defeat. . p. but is nothing other than a shorter version of the passion narrative of Christ in its significance for the eschatological freedom of the faith and the life of oppressed nature . That never means that Auschwitz and other grisly places can be justified. we all know something of his forsakenness in our own loneliness and alienation. 17 Ibid. it is necessary to speak in trinitarian terms of the Son and the Father and the Spirit." from which derives the Spirit. Even Auschwitz is taken up into the grief of the Father. Such language has force and escapes being simply speculation because Moltmann grounds it in an honest acknowledgment of death.." It is the event of Golgotha."17 Moltmann speaks of the event at the cross as an event within God. at least two elements in our identification with the crucifixion. we all know something of his grief in our own separation and loss. The form of the crucified Christ is the Trinity. Moltmann adopts trinitarian language: If the cross of Jesus is understood as a divine event.. In that case the doctrine of the Trinity is no longer an exorbitant and impractical speculation about God. "Ibid.26 Theology Today Moltmann's articulation of the Father's sacrifice of the Son.

As Paul says in I Cor. death becomes deadly.. IV The element of contradiction in Moltmann's thought is most obvious in the juxtaposition of resurrection and death. Where life is close. Man's being comes into congruence with eternal being. only with the abolition of all rule and authority. 209. This forward-looking or eschatological orientation enables Israel to move beyond geographical and temporal barriers and finally results in a universalization of the *Ibid. staying close to the point of revelation. Moltmann's theology continually articulates these two elements in the Christian message: liberation from death. "Where freedom has come near. 15. moving out from the point of revelation. The threat to human existence from the forces of chaos and of annihilation is overcome through the epiphany of the eternal present. and the task of the believer is to cooperate in the creation of the new rather than the preservation or renewal of the old. the deity is understood to be disclosed in particular geographical and temporal locations that become sanctified bastions against the forces of disruption. 61. Jesus' death is the deepest abyss of abandonment and exclusion from the promise. so the cross enlists their lives in a constant battle against death in all its forms. The divine order is yet to be realized."20 The ethical implications are clear. the believer chafes all the more under the conditions of the present.99. Italics added. the chains begin to hurt. and we will examine three of its expressions. only with the resurrection of the dead. rather than a life of residence. 278. p." In the "epiphany religion" characteristic of the Canaanites."19 Viewed in this light.21 The religion of Israel. As resurrection hope liberates believers from death. placing their confidence in God's final victory over death. (1) The religion of promise and "epiphany religion. only with the healing of those in despair who bear lifelong wounds.18 Moltmann shares the Old Testament understanding of death as that which "cuts man off from God by separating him from his promises and his praise. the murdered and the gassed. only with the annihilation of death will the Son hand over the kingdom to the Father. proclaims a God of promise. One seeks to recognize the eternally present deity and participate in its original order.Moltmann's Theology of Contradiction the trinitarian history of God. 7W. His resurrection is the greatest conquest of that abandonment and the dawning fulfillment of the promise. and enlistment on the side of the abandoned and forsaken. 21 77/. 19 20 l . p. But it is present in other ways as well. by contrast.p. understands itself in correspondence and participation as protected by the presence of the eternal. RRF. The life of Israel is a life of exodus. p. By sharing this new life in hope.

28 Ibid. The proofs of God from the world. In this sense.23 It is a short step from the view that salvation is a return to paradise to a religion entrusted with preserving the past and ordering the present. RRF.p. from the dead. Moltmann points out that arguments for the existence of God and schemes of verification for the content of divine revelation presuppose that "truth is experienced in correspondence.22 But this is not the epiphany of the previously established. not demonstrate a God that is here and now.2U."26 The obvious contradiction between Christian revelation and experienced reality can be an argument against the latter as well as the former. p. as all nations are brought under the power of the coming deity. the theodicy question.28 (2) Resurrection faith and historical method. Such a radically new event cannot be contained within the schemes of analogy and 22 Ibid. And if revelation is the repetitive disclosure of the eternally present. as well as from God to the nature of existence."25 Things as they stand "do not yet contain their truth in themselves. then one can argue from the nature of existence to God. p. 22. 23 . "If the event of revelation is found in the resurrection of the crucified one. and agreement.. p. The universal and immediate presence of deity is not the source of Christian faith but its end. 21 Ibid. Arguments for the existence of God and schemes of verification are fragmentary sketches of the universal horizon of Christian mission."24 But the resurrection contradicts experience. a Jew.Theology Today promise. a visionary theology that seeks to transform rather than interpret reality. It refuses to conform to established standards of scientific experimentation. It fails to correspond to our repeated confrontation with death. But the pursuit of this question can only anticipate a God that is yet to come. p.. has often been transformed into a "mythical faith of remembering" in which the end is like the beginning. 141. It is the anticipation of the promised future. or from God himself are pieces of "anticipated eschaton"27 The questionableness of reality necessitates the questionableness of God. 282.. Moltmann contends that "epiphany religion" formed the basis of the Greek philosophy of religion. Christianity. natural theology is a theology of the future. then truth must also be understood eschatologically and dialectically. 26 TH. It disagrees with our attitudes about the prescribed limits of truth. Finally the God of promise raises Jesus. 2b Ibid. 223. 15. conformity. under the influence of Greek thought forms. The resurrection contradicts our modern view of historical possibility. p. from human existence. 24 HP. not its ground but its goal.

it can subjectivize the resurrection and understand it as part of the kerygmatic event that repeatedly transforms human self-understanding. could be shown to be in itself not necessary but contingent. p. 51. Even a historical method that could handle the contingent or the accidentally new could not handle the resurrection: Only if the whole historical picture. Historical criticism is a kind of "negative theology."31 Theology is tempted to avoid the contradiction between the resurrection and modern historical method. the source of hope in this event." the "iconoclasm of hope turned backwards. 30 RRF. is the eschatologically new. p. Before its eschatological horizon. 53. In this view. the resurrection thus remains an open question. p.Moltmann s Theology of Contradiction similarity that ground contemporary historical research. must we not ask why the same principle that justifies giving up the resurrected body to historicism does not also justify giving up the resurrected soul to psychologism? On the other hand. At the same time. The miraculous character of the resurrection. The raising of Jesus from the dead is at once a préfiguration and a provocation. historical research. comprehension from the end of history rather than from within history.. the startlingly new is transformed into something that has been repeated again and again in the last two thousand years. . Here the price of avoiding contradiction is the maintenance of a historical dualism that will be continually threatened unless the church maintains a ghetto-like existence.30 Historical research serves a positive function for theology by keeping the contradictory character of the resurrection in focus. *lIbid. On the one hand.29 The only kind of verification appropriate to this event is eschatological verification. In refusing to be domesticated. the miracle is no longer the raising of Jesus from the dead but the faith of the modern believer. contingency and continuity and all. keeps resurrection faith honest. with its continual criticism of fantasies and illusions.. Theology must accept the contradiction between the resurrection and modern historical method and let it become the starting point for an understanding of the present and the past that is oriented to the promised future. But if this is so. "Ibid. theology can engage in an ecclesiastical or doctrinal interpretation that preserves the Easter appearances for those who remain within the church. offering a special salvation history that runs parallel to secular history. Historical criticism forces believers to recognize that their understanding of the present as well as the past is disrupted by an event that looks to the promised future for its verification. 179. should we come within sight of that which can be called the eschatologically new fact of the resurrection of Christ. the very thing that stymies modern historiography.

but how the end of history is in the present. "Towards the Next Step in the Dialogue. which threatens and cajoles everything that exists and insults everything that wants to live but must die. The contradiction between cross and resurrection stimulates a missionary unrest. and the affirmative action program as provisional. and it pushes on. the cross denies the "idealistic" fantasies of pie in the sky by and Jürgen Moltmann. Moltmann urges the Christian to quit backing through history. ™TH. progress and resignation. pleasant working conditions—these are not the ingredients of the new creation that comes to view in the resurrection. 152-53. like any other occurrence sui generis. What is the abundance of life? The death of death." in The Future of Hope. Frederick Herzog (Herder and Herder. every authority and power. 32 . resurrection hope will not be satisfied until God is all in all. and the knowledge of history is a transformatory knowledge. (3) Missionary unrest and presumption or dispair. Long life. so the promised future contradicts the possibilities of the present as seen from the perspective of the past. Just as the resurrection denies the "realistic" utopias of the status quo. So too. In the meantime it is a limitless resource for the inventive imagination. will be known to others only through the difference it makes in human affairs.32 The fundamental challenge of the resurrection is directed at our practice of history rather than our theory of history. numb to its real possibilities for change.Theology Today historians must take what they hope for as seriously as what they already know. it awakens historical consciousness."35 Grounded in a promise that transcends every present. 89. What is God? The elimination of nothingness itself. pp. If reality is truly engaged in history. What is complete freedom? The elimination of every rule."33 The contradiction between cross and resurrection sustains a critique of both presumption and despair. it has not become a rounded whole. The resurrection denies the identification of the coming kingdom with our Utopian dreams. 33 7W. p. government by the people. ed. And Christian believers must recognize that the resurrection. Just as the resurrection contradicts the canons of historical verification. 1970). p. it overcomes discouragement at the defeats such enterprises suffer. the legal aid unit. provoking new acts of transformation. The question is not how the present reveals the end of history. It sees the victories of the migrant laborer. Arising from the disparity between the promised future and the experienced present. 216. "Awareness of history is awareness of mission. "RRF.34 Resurrection hope always outstrips the successes of social action. 34. p. Resurrection hope understands that "it is not human activity that makes the future.

and the price of protection is bondage. p. the renounced. the contradiction between life and death. The ethics of death is defensive ethics. Moltmann sees baptism as participation in the crucifixion and death of the risen one. Followers of Christ empty themselves into the world. the forsaken. find life."36 Love does not shy away from the pain of suffering and death. How does one get from a theology of contradiction to standards of conduct? The real connection between Christian faith and ethics is the divine contradiction of death. 208. one cannot reconcile oneself to the constraints of the world and the final constraint of death. the weak must seek protection from the strong. But the believer does so as one who prepares for the promised arrival of a friend. and it is only in love that man suffers and recognizes the deadliness of death. "Peace with God means conflict with the world"™ If one's hope is in the resurrection. 38 Jürgen Moltmann. Resurrection faith. 21. 1972). p. They come to themselves. Moltmann refers to the economic. "It is only in the things a man loves that he can be hurt. The expectation of life that comes with Jesus' Easter appearances." CG. struggles to bring the present world into conformity with the vision of the world to come. ™Ibid. It turns to the abandoned. it is the divine protest against a world that accomodates itself to death."38 The believer. p. releases the believer to an ethics of life. "Freedom begins when men suddenly find themselves to be without fear. and love are founded on contradiction and they issue in contradiction. social. and political patterns from which we seek liberation as "vicious circles of death. and the recognition of death that comes with his crucifixion are joined in love. With the Apostle Paul. pp. and brings them under the promise of the coming God. Italics added. the poor must beg survival from the wealthy. and attain to freedom through abandonment. The believer cannot identify with the promise of resurrection without participating in the cross of the present. knowing that these preliminary works will be taken up and transformed in the excitement of their meeting. 14. 329-32. 37 31 .. As resurrection faith and hope transcend and transform the world. death. and servitude. acting in response to the God who contradicts death. Death is the ally of oppression: if this life is all there is. 39 TH. so resurrection love embraces the world. between the coming lordship of Christ and the present world of brokenness and alienation.37 Resurrection faith. Theology of Play (Harper. on the other hand. It accepts solidarity with a yet-to-be-redeemed creation. hope. It signifies the believer's entrance into a movement of contradiction. God's raising of Jesus from the dead is not merely a consolation. Why must this be so? Because the world in which they live stands in contradiction to the new creation in which they hope.Moltmann's Theology of Contradiction by.

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