Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God

Jürgen Moltmann (1926-) is a German Reformed theologian and Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen. In his book The Coming of God Moltmann deals extensively with Christian eschatology:

“True hope must be universal, because its healing future embraces every individual and the whole universe. If we were to surrender hope for as much as one single creature, for us God would not be God.”

“The Lausanne Covenant of evangelical theologians says: “Those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God.” They will therefore not only be damned by God. They also damn themselves. Is this theologically conceivable? Can some people damn themselves, and others redeem themselves by accepting Christ? If this were so, God’s decisions would be dependent on the will of human beings. God would become the auxiliary who executes the wishes of people who decide their fate for themselves. If I can damn myself, I am my own God and judge. Taken to a logical conclusion this is atheistic. There is a more modern evangelical idea about a conditional immortality, according to which no one finds a life after death without believing and unless God confers eternal life; all the rest simply remain dead. But I do not find this very helpful either, because it excludes God’s judgment. Mass murderers might possibly welcome this solution, because they would then not have to answer before God’s judgment for what they had done. The annihilationists think that unbelievers do not go to hell eternally but are simply destroyed and fall into an eternal nothingness; but this too does not seem to me compatible with the coming omnipresence of God and his faithfulness to what he has created. For the lost to ‘disappear’ conforms to the terrible experiences with the murder squads in military dictatorships, but it does not accord with God. The God of the Bible is the Creator, not simultaneously the Destroyer, like the Indian god Shiva.

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Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God (Augsburg Books 2004)

Christian tradition occasionally introduced a distinction here between the first resurrection (Rev 20:6) and the second. Believers will appear with Christ at his parousia (Col. 3:4) and will reign with him in his kingdom. But all human beings will be raised later for God’s eternal judgment. The first resurrection is therefore called ‘blessed’ but not the second. The raising of believers for the kingdom of Christ is a resurrection from the dead; it is only the second that will be the resurrection of the dead. This distinction presupposes an intermediate, millenarian kingdom of Christ before the universal end of the world. But it leaves unchanged the universal resurrection of the dead ‘for judgment’ in the legalistic form of Daniel 12:2, so that the gospel of Christ is for believers only, while the law of God applies universally to everyone. This is a profoundly unsatisfactory solution, because on the one hand it shakes the certainty of the hope of Christians (who know whether he or she really belongs?) and on the other hand it surrenders not only the rest of the human race but everyone who lived before Christ to the divine judgment, without hope. But the distinction can also be seen as meaning that ‘the first resurrection’ is the beginning of the general resurrection of the dead, and that the second is the goal of the first.

Because cosmically the personal resurrection of the dead means the annihilation of death – that it will be ‘swallowed up’ in the victory of life – death’s subjugation begins with the eternal life already lived with Christ here and now; it is experienced in the Spirit of life here by those who are his, and in the life given to their bodies there. This is how Paul described it in 1 Cor. 15:23-26, unfolding it as the ‘order’ of the resurrection process: Christ ‘the first fruits’ – then at his coming those who belong to him – afterwards the end … the last enemy to be destroyed will be death. If we follow this processual thinking, the hope of Christians is not exclusive, and not particularist either. It is an inclusive and universal hope for the life which overcomes death. It is true not only for Christians but for everything living that wants to live and has to die.” (Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God, pp.  109-110)

Who makes the decision about the salvation of lost men and women, and where is the decision made? Every Christian theologian is bound to answer: God decides for a person and for his or her salvation, for otherwise there is no assurance of salvation at all. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us…’ (Rom. 8:31) – we may add: not even ourselves! God is ‘for us’: that has been decided once and for all in the self-surrender and raising of Christ. It is not just a few of the elect who have been reconciled with God, but the whole cosmos (2 Cor. 5:19). It is not just believers whom God loved, but the world (John 3:16). The great turning point from disaster to salvation took place on Golgotha; it does not just happen for the first time at the hour when we decide for faith, or are converted. Faith means experiencing and receiving this turning point personally, but faith is not the turning point itself. It is not my faith that creates salvation for me; salvation creates for me faith. If salvation and damnation were the results of human faith or unfaith, God would be dispensable. The connection between act and destiny, and the law of karma, would suffice to create the causal link. If, even where eternity is at stake, everyone were to forge their own happiness and dig their own graves, human beings would be their own God. It is only if a qualitative difference is made between God and human beings that God’s decision and human decision can be valued and respected. God’s decision ‘for us’, and our decisions for faith or disbelief no more belong on the same level than do eternity and time.” (Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God, p. 245)

“The true Christian foundation for the hope of universal salvation is the theology of the cross, and the realistic consequence of the theology of the cross can only be the restoration of all things.” (Jürgen Moltmann: The Coming of God, p. 251)