Prolific theologian Jurgen Moltmann is known for his unyielding emphasis on hope as a central theme of Christian theology and also for the hopeless experiences from which his faith and theology emerged. Drafted into the German army during World War II as an Air Force auxiliary, he was sent to the Reichswald, a German forest at the front lines. There, he surrendered in 1945 in the dark to the first British soldier he met. And for the next few years (1945–48), he was confined as a prisoner of war and moved from camp to camp. Moltmann was first confined in Belgium, where he and his fellow prisoners were confronted with pictures of concentration and extermination camps at Belsen and Auschwitz. Moltmann describes it as a moment of despair and hopelessness. The remorse was so great that he often felt he would have rather died along with many of his comrades than live to face what their nation had done. As he would later recount his book The Source of Life, “The depression over the wartime destruction and a captivity without any apparent end was exacerbated by a feeling of profound shame at having to share in this disgrace.”
But Moltmann was confronted by an unexpected source of hope when a chaplain gave him a Bible. He later claimed, “I didn’t find Christ, he found me.” This encounter with Christ took place through the psalms of lament and the narrative of Jesus crucifixion, by which Jurgen was transformed by the hope of the cross. As he read about the suffering of Jesus on the cross, he encountered a God who could identify with his own suffering. “I began to understand the assailed Christ because I felt that he understood me,” he recalls. “This was the divine brother in distress, who takes the prisoners with him on his way to resurrection. I began to summon up the courage to live again, seized by a great hope.”1
Nearly half a century later, Moltmann wrote his Theology of Hope, in which he offers these words:
“Hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering, but also the protest of the divine promise against suffering. If Paul calls death the ‘last enemy’ (1 Cor. 15:26), then the opposite is also true: that the risen Christ, and with him the resurrection hope, must be declared to be the enemy of death and of a world that puts up with death. Faith takes up this contradiction and thus becomes itself a contradiction to the world of death. That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but it itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.”2
For Moltmann, hope is not a fleeting optimism, something we conjure up within ourselves in order to feel better about the future. Rather it is a way of living life “in Christ” which calls us to enter into the suffering of the world and stand against the powers and principalities that promote chaos, sin, and death.
Consider the circumstances of your life, ministry, and community.
- Would your congregation find Moltmann’s view of hope to be challenging and/or encouraging? How might it grant a deeper understanding of hope in Christ?
- In what ways has hope in Christ not calmed your heart but prompted “unquiet” or discontent with the world
- Are there any steps you or your congregation can take to begin to suffer under the realities of your community and contradict them with the gospel?
1Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life, Fortress, 1997, p.5
2Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, Fortress, 1993, p.21