Home > Ethics, Politics, Religion, Society, Sociology, Theology > THE VISION OF THE WORLD IN GOD


Wednesday, 23 May 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

I found this article helpful as I think about my current involvement, pending involvement, lack of involvement [?] with a fellowship.  How do we really make sense of life in this world?  What does it mean to find meaning and beauty and goodness and truth today? 


By Jurgen Moltmann
trans. Marc Batko & printed here with permission

[These excerpts from Jurgen Moltmann’s writings are translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Jurgen Moltmann, emeritus professor systematic theology at the University of Tubingen, is the author of “Theology of Hope,” “The Crucified God,” “The Church in the Power of the Spirit” and “God in Creation.”]

Mysticism has been reproached again and again for contempt of the world and hostility to the body. Ideas of neo-Platonic idealism and Gnostic dualism can be easily found in the writings of mystical theologians. Surprisingly a pantheistic vision of the world in God
and God in the world is emphasized in many of these theologians. “All is one and one is all,” says the “Theologia Deutsch.” For thepoet-monk Ernesto Cardenal, all nature is nothing but “God’s tangible materialized love,” a “reflection of God’s beauty” that is full of
“love letters to us.”

Mystical theologians certainly acknowledge the Old Testament doctrine of creation as in Barth’s “Church Dogmatics.” But they prefer the terms “pouring” and “flowing”, “fountain” and “well,” “sun” and “shining” for their vision of the world from
God. For their vision of the world in God, they use the terms “homecoming,” “meditation,” “immersion,” and “dissolution.”

In the history of thought, this is the neo-Platonic language of the emanation of all things from the all-one and their re-emanation in the all-one. Understood theologically, this is the language of pneumatology. Unlike creation and God’s historical works,” the Holy
Spirit is “poured out” on all flesh (Joel 2,28ff; Acts 2,16ff) and in our hearts (Rom 5,5). One is “born” again from the spirit (Joh 3,3).  The gifts of the spirit are not created ex nihilo but originate from the Holy Spirit. They are divine powers. The spirit making alive
“fills” creation with eternal life in that the spirit “comes” to all things and “indwells” all things. In the history of the Holy Spirit, another presence of God is revealed than in the creation at the beginning. People in their corporeality (1 Cor 6,13-20) and then the
new heaven and the new earth (Rev 21) become the “temple” indwelt by God. That is the eternal Sabbath, the rest of God and the rest in God. Therefore the history of the spirit aims at that perfection described by Paul with the pantheistic-sounding formula “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15,28). With their neo-Platonic sounding doctrine of creation and redemption, the mystical theologians emphasized this history of the spirit poured out on all flesh and this new world glorified in God.

A new specifically Christian vision of reality is hidden in mystical theology that is marked by the believed incarnation of the Son and the experienced indwelling of God’s spirit. The
ecclesiastical repetition of the Yahwist and priestly doctrine of creation can not be seen as a creative achievement of Christian theology. This doctrine of creation can be Christian and non-Christian. In it, a distance of the Creator and the creature occurs that does not reflect the Christian experience of God. If the Israelite doctrine of creation is a reflection of Israel’s exodus experience, the Christian doctrine of creation must be a reflection
of Christendom’s experience of Christ and the spirit. Seen theologically, mystical “pantheism” is an unsuccessful step in this direction. Gregor Palamas’ doctrine of the energy of the Holy Spirit leads here: “The world overflows with divine power, working and
shining init.”

We come back to the substantiation of this pantheistic vision of the world in God.

In the death on the cross, God takes evil, sin and rejection on himself and transforms them to good, grace and election in the sacrifice of his infinite love. All evil, sin, suffering and damnation are “in God.” These dislocations are endured by him, annulled in him and transformed by him “to our benefit.” His suffering is “the miracle of miracles of divine love” (Paul of the Cross). Nothing can be excluded from that divine love. Therefore everything lives from the omnipotence of his suffering and inexhaustible love. There is no nothingness threatening creation any more. The nothingness destroyed in God; intransitory life appears.  On account of the divine cross, the creation lives from God and is transformed in God.

Paul first sees this dissolved contradiction in the abolition of the opposition of life and death in Christ’s rule: “If we live, we live to the Lord and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14,7ff).  According to 1 Cor 15,28, the future of Christ’s presence – embracing the living and the dead is the presence of God himself filling all things.

Without Christ’s cross, this vision of God in the world would be pure illusion. The suffering of a single child would prove it an illusion. Without the knowledge of the suffering of God’s
inexhaustible love, no “pantheism” in this world of death could be endured. Pantheism would immediately become pan-nihilism.

The knowledge of the crucified God gives foundation and duration to this vision of the world in God. In the rule of the crucified, the living and dead come to eternal community. The sins and suffering of the whole world sink in the cross of the Resurrected. Therefore the vision of God in all things and all things in God arises under the cross. Whoever believes God in the God-abandonment of the crucified sees him everywhere and in all things as life is experienced more intensively after an experience of death.

This vision of God’s world is alive in the experiences of the persecuted and martyrs who feel God’s presence in prison. This vision is alive with the mystics who find God’s presence in the dark night of the soul. It shines in the piety of simple existence. God is present
in the darkness of the lived moment. “In him we live, move and have our being” (Acts 17,28) because “from him, through him and to him are all things” (Rom 11,36). from: Jurgen Moltmann, Gotteserfahrungen: Hoffnung, Angst, Mystik, 1979


This thesis stands in opposition to the foundation of the modern anthropocentric view of the world where the person is God’s criterion.  The age of anthropology, the anthropocentric age, began with the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Anthropology in the modern empathic sense presupposes theology at the mercy of anthropology as its heir. One of the central myths of the modern age is the myth:  “God is dead! We have killed him!” (Nietzsche). The mystery of theology was revealed as anthropology. The person is not God’s likeness. Persons are not God’s creatures. The gods are the creatures of human fear and longing. Ludwig Feuerbach underscored this suspicion of the modern person in his religion criticism.   Feuerbach reversed subject and predicate and reduced all the
predicates of God to the human subject. Consciousness of the infinite is nothing but the infinity of consciousness. The consciousness of God is nothing but the self-assurance of the person. God is a wish projection of the person who breaks down with himself. God is the
better self of the person, so to speak, who then worships himself.  How can the person come to himself? Only in this way can he understand his religious ideals as his own projections, appropriate them and withdraw in himself. Then he is no longer the divided person who transports his better self into heaven. He is a person united
with himself who realizes his better self on earth. In his negation, Feuerbach criticized the religious pictures of human fear of oneself.  In his criticism, he followed the Old Testament prohibition of images.

“You shall not make yourself a graven image or any likeness… you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Ex 20,4). He took up the old tradition of negative theology: “We do not know what God is” (Thomas Aquinas). But in his perspective, he was religious again.  “With inclusion of nature, the new philosophy makes the person… the sole universal and highest theme of philosophy. Anthropology becomes the universal science. “Person with person, the unity of I and you, is God.” Thus Feuerbach believed in all God’s predicates and only transferred them to the person. According to Feuerbach, the mystery
of theology is anthropology. The mystery of his anthropology is anthropo-theism (deification of the person). Therefore he concluded:  “politics must become our religion. However that is only possible when we have a Most High in our contemplation.” But what is the meaning of religion criticism when politics is made religion? If the de-divinization of the heaven of religion leads to the deification of the person on earth, what does anthropology mean?

If God’s dethronement makes the person into the god of himself, there is no sense speaking of anthropology. God is dead and should be buried. But if the heir takes God’s place, the heir is god and not a person any more, “a god in becoming” (R. Garaudy). The misery of modern anthropology on the ground of an inherited theology lies in its
theological and religious inheritance. The person must do what he cannot do as a total person, an ideal person, a possibility person or decision-making person. Deification of the person makes the person more inhuman, not more human. An anthropology inherited in the modern post-Christian sense of theology loses sight of the real person and the real God. Since this anthropology equates God and the person, it cannot speak clearly any more.

The modern age makes the person into the iconoclastic word against God. An iconoclastic movement against religious pictures of God starts from human self-knowledge. However this is only sensible when the real God becomes the iconoclastic word against the person.
An iconoclastic movement against images of man starts from the knowledge of God, in which the person looks at himself in a mirror, justifies, idolizes and worships himself. Knowledge of God and self-knowledge are connected. No knowledge of God is possible without self-knowledge (and without religion criticism) and no self-knowledge
is possible without knowledge of God (and without self-criticism).  An understanding of transcendence that humanizes without estranging or idolizing and an understanding of immanence making possible finite freedom without resigning or tyrannizing only arise in the mutual iconoclasm of criticism.

Anthropology in the empathic sense of the murder of God is no longer possible today. Anthropology must abandon its claimed anthropo-theism to speak more humanly about the person and not strain the person with absolute demands that he can only disappoint.
Auschwitz and Hiroshima must be forgotten to hold the person as a divine being. The person becomes more human when transposed in the situation of leaving his self-deification, idolatry, profits and achievements. But what really transposes him into this situation?  The critical task of theology is to withdraw the absolute totalitarianism and legalism of salvation from anthropology. Theology first comes to itself when it takes pleasure in anthropological religion criticism and takes seriously the image prohibition.
Conversely, anthropology first comes to the ground of reality when it takes pleasure in critical theology and respects the wholly other in whom all human self-knowledge becomes a finite fragment. Without this wholly other, moral happiness and imperfect justice are unacceptable.  Without the longing for the wholly other, the person loses the
dignity of his dubiousness. Without trust in God, the protest against injustice and the struggle for justice grow weary.  From: Jurgen Moltmann, Mensch: Christliche Anthropologie in den Konflikten der Gegenwert, 1979


This question has at least two traps. Firstly, one would like to know more exactly what faith is really proclaimed. As everybody knows, there are many forms of religious faith. There are ways of faith with strong inspirations and motives for political action while
other ways of faith dismiss political action because they are not interested in the world of politics. Both ways of faith occur in Christianity.


Secondly, some would like to know in advance what political action is crucial. Welcoming a faith when it confirms our political views is all too human. But when a faith decries our political ideas and desires, we prefer faith not to meddle in political affairs. To what politics does faith press? We begin with essential doubt in a politics from faith as among
many Christians and non-Christians. “What does this mean for theologians?” Axel Springer recently asked nervously. Springer is editor-in-chief of the Hamburg Abendblattes that published a series on “Rebels in Christ’s Name.” People turn away from God and churches bear responsibility, Axel Springer summarized. In the last decades,
the state reduced its responsibility for alleviating poverty and distress. The churches and especially theologians have been on the lookout for other worldly tasks instead of worrying more intensively about pastoral care or spiritual welfare. The result was a loss in
moral authority. The religious was repressive. The churches abandoned moral authority in part because they were too concerned about politics. Thus we help the modern person so he becomes capable again of learning to see transcendence and goodness in the world, Axel Springer says. Let us help the churches in this time of apostasy from God so they become connecting links between people and the Most High.  If the churches do not rightly fulfill this religious function of spiritual welfare to the people, Springer’s newspaper house will assume this pastoral commission out of responsibility in the Christian
spirit as it has always exercised it in a relaxing and depoliticizing way in Germany since the war.

Does faith press to political action? Certainly not, according to this interpretation, at least not directly. Here faith is something emotional, religious and very personal. Faith is sense for transcendence and therefore should be far elevated above political questions. If it affects politics, it is only in the sense of moderation toward political and religious radicalism.

For this faith, good and evil are mixed in the world. The divine and the satanic wrestle with each other. The person is just and sinful at once. Faith stands in this ambiguous world and yet at the same time is above it. In the positive and negative, this may be the current picture of faith and of the role of churches in politics. Let us first find out what is positive and what is negative about this.

Faith here is faith in God, in a higher being, in a governing Providence. Faith is religious faith and not political faith in an idea, leader or party. For this faith, salvation does not come from politics. Therefore politics cannot bring disaster in an ultimate sense. This faith doubts the absolute and total meaning of political action. For this faith, the political is something earthly, transitory and human, in any case something non-divine. Whoever
believes in God does not believe in Caesar any more.

The positive of this faith lies in the disillusioning of politics. We cannot be forced to political action as though everything depended on it. It liberates to sober action for what is politically necessary. On the other side, the political meaning of such faith is doubted. Whoever calms himself that God will accomplish whatever happens politically is apolitical. He can come to terms with every injustice befalling him or others. Because he believes in a God and a kindly Providence, he does not need to be very worried about political fate. He has his eternal comfort in his God and therefore can feel relieved from world responsibility. This faith enervates political action, its critics say, and leads back to
a childish responsibility. That is the negative.

Faith can be hope in a heaven in the world to come of this world history. The political becomes the penultimate for whoever sets his hope on the world to come. Paradise cannot be realized on earth. On earth, everything is and remains ambiguous. Suffering and trouble are part of this earth. The positive in this view is that it relativizes every political standpoint and opposes all totalitarian claims of political parties. The negative is that this hope in a world to come seduces to resignation in this life. A secret disinterest in all political systems and campaigns is always the result.

Whether monarchy, democracy, capitalism or socialism, all earthly forms of society are equally near and far from God and the world to come. One can console oneself about good and bad conditions. The young Karl Marx found religion was the sigh of the oppressed creation, the heart of a heartless world and the spirit of spiritless conditions, i.e. opium of the people.  If this religious faith is annulled, the person is literally “forced” to political action. The criticism of religion disappoints the person so he thinks and acts like a person who comes to his senses.

This faith is a heart faith. Whoever believes relies on himself alone despite dependence on tradition and the community of the church.  Faith leads into isolation. The positive is seen in the infinite worth of the individual person before God. Whoever believes this way is no longer determined in his innermost being by political interests or class- and ethnic affiliations. He is free and critical toward society. While many praise this Christian subjectivism, the negative consequences must also be recognized. They lie in the political
indifference of the heart. If one is unassailable in his innermost soul through faith, all outward things become unimportant. Faith preserves his purity of heart. Therefore he finds that politics is always a “dirty business.” As history shows, these believers leave
politics to others, to those who promise the most peace and security to them.

Does “Christian” faith press to a certain political action? We have discussed two forms of faith that are called religious. They have nothing especially Christian in themselves apart from the fact that they are practiced by Christians. General faith in God, hope in a world to come and pious introspection do not need to be Christian.  Christian faith in God is faith in the crucified Christ or as Luther said more sharply faith in the “crucified God.”

Does this faith press to political action? I think the answer is unequivocally yes. The cross is not a religious symbol but an instrument of political execution. The cross was a political
punishment. If it is true that Jesus was condemned according to Israel’s law as a blasphemer, he did not endure the punishment for blasphemy at that time, namely stoning, that the Jews executed on Stephen. Crucifixion was a Roman way of execution reserved to the Roman occupying power. According to Roman law, it was the punishment
for political rebels and agitators against the Roman Empire. Jesus was certainly not a Jewish freedom-fighter like the two zealots crucified with him.

Jesus was not an apolitical itinerant preacher, a “charming carpenter” who drew through the cheerful Galilean populace from village to village on a gentle mule, as middle class romanticism (E. Renan) described him. He was also not a forerunner of Che Guevara as
the anti-bourgeois revolution stylized him. Nevertheless he was politically executed because he threatened the religious foundations of the Roman Empire. Christians who believe God in the crucified should be well aware of this since the starting point and standard for their political action lie in the political event of his crucifixion.

We can only briefly describe the consequences. If the one desecrated by the state power with the cross is God’s Christ, the lowest political idea is inverted to the highest. What the state defined as the basest degradation, the cross, has the highest dignity. God’s glory rests on the suffering and dying of the humiliated, not on the crown of the powerful any more. If this  crucified is the supreme authority for Christians, then all religious
justification “from above” is denied political powers and principalities. Belief in political-religious authority ends for one who believes in the crucified. What results for political action?  The resolute struggle against political idolatry, political cult of persons and their consequences in political tutelage, estrangement and apathy arises. No area of life is as filled with idols feared and loved above all things, alienation and underdevelopment as politics and the political religion of a people. Through Christ’s cross, all justification “from above” is taken from political authorities for Christians. Political rule can only be justified “from below.”

A political iconoclastic movement starts from faith in the crucified. Submission under a visible image always exists in representative institutions. This is idolatry. The Puritans in
England and America knew this. “Democracy has no monuments or medallions and imprints no head of a man on its coins. Iconoclasm is its true nature,” declared John Quincy Adams, the fourth president of the US. However if the true nature of democracy is political iconoclasm and permanent revisionism of fortified institutions and customs, then democratic action fulfills the claim of the crucified on Christians. Liberation from the idolatry and passivity experienced by Christians in faith in the crucified God then changes
into liberation from political religions and the political estrangements produced by those religions.

The first effect of Christian faith on politics is exorcism, iconoclasm and the demythologization of the state. The second effect is democratization of public life. The crown rests on the constitution of free citizens and no longer on the head of a
sovereign, the Puritans said. Free citizens have abolished the rule of political castes- and classes and replaced that rule with the international treaty of free citizens. In their states, free citizens have created many authorities for exercising political rule so political rule is controlled by the public and set for a limited time.  Democracy here does not mean a specific form of state raised to an ideal. Democracy means a way and a political process of the common will in which as many groups and individuals as possible actively
participate in a society. Democracy is a society of open processes that aims at a future of freedom and humanity involving all participants in its creation.

God is politically present in the crucified below, according to the Christian faith, not above and a long way off. Liberation of politics from its idols and demons is a negative consequence.   The democratic construction of a society from below is a positive
consequence. If this freedom was won for Christians in the public event of Christ’s crucifixion, this freedom must be publically responsible. This does not mean faith must accept Caesar’s definition of politics that salvation comes from politics.  Faith cooperates in the healing of politics, its liberation from superstition and gullibility and its activation by citizen participation in decision-making processes. Iconoclasm and democratization from below are the two most important tendencies to which faith presses in political action if it is Christian faith (p.140f).

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