Welcome to Day 10 of the German Political Theology Blog Conference, brought to you by Theology Corner! For an introduction to the conference and a list of the schedule, click here.

Moltmann to Hope 

As a young captured WW II German soldier, Jurgen Moltmann was taken to camps in Scotland and then in England. With gnawing guilt over his country’s role in the war and the concentration/extermination camps, Moltmann felt overwhelmed by visiting neighbours whose respect conveyed graceful neighbourliness. He attests:

In Feb. 1945, I was taken prisoner by the British, and had more than three years to think about the horrors of war I had gone through, and the German crimes against humanity in Auschwitz … I needed what the Heidelberg Catechism calls ‘comfort in life and death’, and through the chance reading of the Bible and the undeserved kindness of Scottish and English Christians, I found the comfort in the Christ who in his passion became my brother in need, and through his resurrection from the dead, awakened in me too to a living hope. [1]

Imprisoned, he felt paradoxically free to contemplate what changes — with what sources and with what people — would challenge him thereon. He continues:

… Christian faith began with a despairing search for God and a personal struggle with the dark sides of ‘hidden face’ of God. At the end of July 1943, as an air force auxiliary, I experienced the destruction of my home town Hamburg through the RAF’s ‘Operation Gomorrah’, and barely survived the fire storm in which 40,000 people burnt to death … that night I cried out to God for the first time ‘My God, where are you?’. And the question ‘Why am I alive and not dead like the rest?’ has haunted me ever since….[2]

Moltmann refers to this paradigmatic experience often.[3]

Steadfastness of Hope      

The cross and resurrection dialectic of Jesus the Christ pervades his theology. Theology of Hope drew on the social and eschatological meanings of the resurrection and his subsequent The Crucified God named the Cross as the content to what was raised. Moltmann’s faith profession elucidates:

I had come to the Christian faith in God through fellowship with the assailed Jesus […] the traditional interpretation of sin, sacrifice, and grace did not reach into the depths of my experiences of death. I was still unliberated…. When I was 17, I experienced not just suffering but also annihilation […] and without any apparent reason [….] the eclipse of God descended on my world, and the dark night of the soul took hold of my heart and destroyed my spirit […] When I began to take the history of Jesus’ crucifixion seriously in a personal sense, I had to read of Golgotha, the darkness of Good Friday, and Jesus’ dark night of the soul together with my own annihilating experience […] that took me to the theology of the cross.[4]

This tension of the resurrection to the cross illumines a light amid the darkness discernment; akin to the holocaust influenced The Condition of Jewish Belief, wherein Chaim Potok declares: “I would rather discover light in the darkness, than to extend darkness to where there is now light.”[5] Likewise, Moltmann pressed the origins, development, revision and applications of understanding hope – always a virtue discipline.[6]

His reflections include biblical studies; Jewish concepts (as Shekinah and Sabbath); ecology; theological doctrines and especially the Trinity; historical and political experiences (from Bonhoeffer to his contemporaries[7]) attuned to raw injustices and indignities; and polemical-dialogical engagements making a read of his footnotes worthwhile.

Hope, Justice, Prayer and Urban Ministry Implications

A hoping (for) justice prayerfully triad expresses that there cannot be any contentment unless there is a peace with justice for all and no rest until it is complete or fulfilled.[8] Stated as praying (for) justice hopefully stresses the indispensable persistence of a faithful witness, that a long haul bearing of witness to God’s reign be respectfully peaceful; that reconciliation includes victims and persecutors. When stated as just prayer hopefully there is acknowledged temptations to self-righteousness and cynicism. For balance, prayer needs the analytical and vigilant work of justice as justice needs the patient and multi-layered perspectives of prayer. Unsurprisingly, one of Moltmann’s mentors — Dietrich Bonhoeffer — steadfastly helped by biographer-friend Eberhard Bethge — dialectically expresses:

Righteous action (‘doing of the just’) among people saves prayer from becoming an escape into self-satisfied piety. Prayer saves righteous action among people from self-righteousness. Righteous action saves prayer from the hypocrisy among the pious which the children of the world will never fail to spot. Prayer saves righteous action from the fanatical ideologizing through which those are who are committed to change become bad representatives of their own commitment. Righteous action saves prayer from pessimism. Prayer saves righteous action from resignation. Action keeps prayer in the realm of reality; prayer keeps action within the realm of truth.[9]

Justice work looks for ways that hope may be fulfilled, rather than slipping into and remaining fixated on an isolating despair. Prayer is an animating helpmate for this earnest search; including for emphasis: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done”. Thus:

All that grows on the foundation of injustice is organized peacelessness. So unjust systems have feet of clay. They have no lasting development. The hidden presence in world history of the divine justice in God’s spirit ‘destabilizes’ […] human systems of injustice, and sees to it that they cannot last […] the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is also the antitype of the human communities which are built up on injustice and violence….[10]

Moltmann inspires urban ministry practices. They struggle, in hope, to practice a faithful public – and prophetic — witness rooted in love and aspiring, steadfastly, for justice. Attested in Luke and Paul, early Christian gatherings and movements foreshadow contemporary people engaged in mass-based community organizing. They are wont to profess that “we are people of – and from — the struggle”.[11] Prayer assists by being present to struggles with rhythmic thankfulness for the church seasons. The penitential seasons of Advent and Lent arouse feelings of anticipation and animate movements toward the incoming reign of God. Moltmann’s honed dialectic of the cross and resurrection ground urban ministry struggles in a hope for justice, with the peaceful presence of prayer as an advocating, settling helpmate.

Hoping for justice prayerfully triad is rooted in the two significant paradigms of the Exodus and Christ event. Therein, as “throbbing emotions”, the promises of the past “hurl themselves forward into a new transcendent act.”[12] Moltmann reflects:

Just as the Exodus event opens Israel’s history with God, so the event of Christ’s death and resurrection opens up the history with God of the fellowship of Christians among the nations. There (Exodus) God’s power is liberation from a historical tyrant; here (Christ event) it is liberation from the tyranny of the power of death in history. There the Exodus leads into the promised land of liberty … Here the event which opens history and throws open the future … is made present in Christ’s feasts, so that believers can live ‘in’ the Christ who has died ‘for them’ and has risen ahead of them.[13]

In the End – The Beginning: The Life of Hope, he prophetically cautions and pastorally encourages urban ministries who commit steadfastly. “All despair presupposed hope. The pain of despair lies in the fact that hope exists, but that there appears no way for the hope to be fulfilled. Where hope for life is frustrated in every respect, the hope turns against the hoper and eats into him.” Such a realism resources ministries to practice a ministry of both empathy and sympathy with an accompanying patience with the sinned against and temptingly despairing. Moltmann attests to the prophetic task that accompanies the pastoral and/or priestly roles:

There are conditions in history which are in obvious contradiction to the kingdom of God and his righteousness and these we have to fight against. But there are also conditions which are in accord with the kingdom of God, and these we have to promote … We shall then have parables of the coming kingdom now, in the present, and shall already anticipate today which will come about on the day of God… We can call this an action in creative expectation, just as during Advent we prepare for Christmas and, with the children, live in expectation of the feast….[14]

This credo offers comfort and issue challenges – neither easily nor quickly. Street chaplain Rev. Al frequently reflects on early morning street patrols and errands of mercy, via his former Victoria, B.C.’s Our Place Society ministry and now Dandelion Society:

(T)he more I engage in (prayer), the braver I become in asking … where in the hell are you, God, in all of this? And as I ask … I bury another of his children, the night before holding them in my arms in the hospital as they took their last breath. The encounter profoundly placed me in the middle of my prayer … not result-oriented. Rather, prayer engages me in that which I fear the most, facing God with empty hands.[15]

A motley ecumenical group in Vancouver proffer Advent and Lent Vigils that began out of despair with political authorities: people being shut out, shut down, and “shut up”! Legal Aid appeal recourses were cut back or cut out.[16] Representative church bodies slowly cut back and cut out. Specialized ministries to engage inequality and indignity issues had also been cut back or cut out – and, increasingly limited to mere charity levels of response. Amid judgment, we somehow consented to trust God’s in-breaking Grace. Via Moltmann:

Where the rebirth of the whole of life is as Advently near as Jesus proclaimed it be, then the chains begin to hurt. … We begin to rub ourselves raw on them until they break. ‘The crime on the streets is not the worst of it,’ said a friend in New York. ‘What is far worse is that one gradually gets used to it.’ If redemption is close at hand, we stop being accustomed to evil; the habit of mind that accepts it is broken.[17]


We induce from Moltmann the following six offerings for urban ministries: 1st, he grounds ingredients of hope, including intimations for the practices of hope;[18] 2nd, he animates conscientiousness through those contradictions in life that impact the poor or creation itself (and inter-relational dimensions of those not oppressed and aloof from creation’s cries);[19] 3rd, he retrieves biblically paradigmatic events that inspire and guide urban ministry practices, ever renewing ministries time and again;[20] and, 4th he evokes a synergy via parables of hope – via political and liberation theologies, Marxist humanists or bold secular thinkers and muckrakers, Pentecostal kindred colleagues, ecologists yearning a hopeful future, and creative partnerships which, as with his life-partner Elisabeth, demonstrate faithful public and prophetic witnesses, steadfastly.[21] Further, 5th Moltmann counsels a mature balance and intensity of waiting hopefully for the City to come, as prayerfully doing justice.[22]

Not an absolute, 6th, hope is relative what hope needs for its fulfillment and, steadfastly, what hope needs to accompany its journey (as First Nations’ commissioning: “all my relations”). Thus, hope needs helpers to adventuresomely “hop” from the restlessness aroused and animated by contrast-awareness perceptions (what is versus what ought) to resource the practices of hope’s aims.

We recall that Moltmann came and abided in hope via a life of personal suffering, guilt, and encountering evil – logotherapy’s “tragic triad”.[23] Via ministries of teaching, writing and copious networking he affirms hope needs realism lest hope apart temptingly occurs as wishful thinking.  He attests:

Hope alone is to be called ‘realistic’ … takes seriously the possibilities with which all reality is fraught. It does not take things as they happen to stand … but as progressing, moving things with possibilities of change … the despair which imagines it has reached the end of its tether proves to be illusory, as long as nothing has come to an end but everything is still full of possibilities … the world is … network of paths and processes … a realm in which necessity means the possible, but not the unalterable.[24]

Hope, then, is 7th, seasoned with a realism grounded in hope and, with its helpmates, needs the grounding complements of justice and prayer.


[1] Moltmann, A Broad Place (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), p.103, italics added.

[2] Moltmann, Experiences in Theology, Trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), pp.3-4.

[3] This irresistible autobiographical referencing re-occurs notably in: The Source: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life. Trans. by M. Kohl. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1997); Experiences of God (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980); and In the End – the Beginning: The Life of Hope (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004); and via reminiscences with contemporaries, Moltmann’s edited contributions to How I Have Changed: Reflections on Thirty Years of Theology, Trans. by John Bowden (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity International, 1997; and, again A Broad Place: An Autobiography.

[4] Moltmann, A Broad Place,  pp.189f.

[5] In The Condition of Jewish Belief; a Symposium compiled by the “Editors of Commentary Magazine (New York: Macmillan, 1966).

[6] “Preliminary work for The Crucified God can already be found in the Theology of Hope of 1964 […] In 1989 I presented the book …before the theological faculty in Basel under the title […] (God in the Cross of Jesus). In these years my theological interest shifted from the resurrection of the crucified Christ, and the horizon of hope which that throws open, to the cross of the risen Christ and the spaces of remembrance of the experience of absolute death. The Crucified God was intended to be the other side of “the God of hope’” in A Broad Place, p.192.

[7] There are eighteen references to Bonhoeffer in Moltmann’s A Broad Place and several in On Human Dignity: political Theology and Ethics, trans. ands ed. M. Douglas Meeks (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984).

[8] See Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings trans. L. Sjoberg & W.H. Auden (N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), p. 35 and also: “Forward! Whatever distance I have covered, it does not give me the right to halt. Forward! It is the attention given to the last steps before the summit which decides the value of all that went before”, p.145.

[9] See Barbara Wartenberg-Potter’s We Will not Hang our Harps on the Willows (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1989), citing Bethge p.31); original in Bethge’s Prayer and Righteous Action (Christian Journals, Belfast/Ottawa, 1979), pp. 26f.    

[10] Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. M. Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), p. 143.

[11] Though likely a common expression in social justice struggles, I retrieve it from a Public Broadcastings Video (VHS) on the work of Saul Alinsky and community organizing in East Brooklyn, N.Y. “The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky and His Legacy” by Bob Hercules & Bruce Orenstein (Media Process Education & Films of Chicago, 1999).

[12] See Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (N.Y.: Free Press, 1977), p.177 and on transcendence as overshooting the confines of established discourse, Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), passim, but surely his concluding affirmation, citing Walter Benjamin: “’It is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us’”, p. 257.

[13] Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology, p. 36.

[14] Moltmann, In the End – the Beginning of Hope, pp. 94, 92.

[15]         E-mail communication, June 10, 2008 3:14:30 p.m., cited with permission.

[16] Legal Aid cuts remain and duly vigiled/challenged for their negative impact on accessing  and asserting one’s rights; as M.G. Cohen & D. Martinson’s “Who’s the Judge: Reform is needed to the Supreme Court appointment process to ensure minorities and women are represented”, Vancouver Sun, Oct. 22, 2012, p. A9.

[17] Moltmann, The Source of Life, pp.73f.; Moltmann also evokes via the dialectic of the cross and resurrection tensions, the presence of Golgotha in the Manger, as in “The Liberation of the Future” essay of Bachmann’s edited God Will be All in All, “Life and action in anticipation of God’s future is like life and action in the Advent that leads up to Christmas. It is a life in the community of Christ following the guidelines of his Sermon on the Mount. As in the peace movement of 1979-1981, this means that ‘peace is possible’ in the midst of a time when missiles are being stationed in a mutual threat of universal annihilation. It also means: righteousness that redeems, puts to rights, creates justice….”p. 286, italics added.

[18] See also Terence R. Anderson’s Walking the Way: Christian Ethics as a Guide (Toronto: United Church of Canada Publishing, 1993), pp.130ff. Cf. Pamela McCarroll’s The End of Hope – The Beginning: Narratives of Hope in the Face of Suffering and Trauma. Minneapolis (Fortress, 2014) which is Moltmann influenced and devotes important space for grounding hope and discerning its agencies, pp. 28-33 and Chapter 2’s helpful literature review of hope, pp. 17-50.

[19] While drawing little attention to Moltmann’s creation/ecology writings, see his God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993) and on the point of creation’s contradictions and cries for liberation, pp. 12, 16, 34, 39f, 59, 103, passim; cf. the role of suffering with hope in The Source of Life, pp.119f.

[20] Insufficient attention has been drawn to Moltmann’s closing guidelines and recommendations to the church and community/urban ministries in/from his foundational works in theology; thus, see the closing sections of Theology of Hope, the “kindling of live hopes” thrust prefacing “The Calling of Christians in Society”, 328-338;  The Crucified God,  “Vicious Circles of Death” and “Ways toward Liberation”, 329-338; and The Church in the Power of the Spirit, “Double Strategies and the Community Principle”, 326-336, and “The Marks of the Church”, 337-361; especially: “Unity in freedom, holiness in poverty, catholicity in partisan support for the weak, and apostolate in suffering are the marks by which [the church] is known in the world” (361).

[21] Among their writings, see Jurgen Moltmann & Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel’s Passion for God: Theology in Two Voices (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003).

[22] See Micah 6:8, I Cor. 13:12f, Hebrews 13:14, and Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), p. 3

[23] Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, revised and updated, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1970), p. 161

[24] Moltmann, Jurgen Moltmann Collected Readings, ed. M Kohl, intro R. Bauckham, p. 16.

This post was written by Barry Morris