The Crucified God

by Jurgen Moltmann
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Last Updated on September 13, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

Moltmann’s influential work The Crucified God is a theological exploration of the crucifixion of Christ and the implications therein for Christianity and theology at large. The crucifixion is the central point of the entire Christian life, so it makes sense that it would have important implications on how to live a godly life. It also deeply impacts people's interpretations of suffering and redemption.

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The Impact of the Messiah’s Sacrifice

Moltmann spends a great deal of time discussing the nature of Christ and his sacrifice, especially in light of the age-old arguments of whether or not Christ was in fact fully man or fully God (according to the Bible, it must be noted, he was both fully God and fully man). Moltmann decides to focus on the nature of the Messiah instead of engaging these arguments. The Messiah is the Jewish anointed one—defined as being the son of God and son of man, who was to die for all sins and endure every temptation known to man so that he can perfectly act in the stead of humanity, living and dying for them so that they may have salvation. Thus, his selfless actions served to save the humans on earth who could not save themselves.

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Resurrection as Redemption for Humanity

Christ was resurrected after his sacrifice on the cross, and Moltmann reasons that this was for some very powerful reasons. First and foremost, his resurrection shows that he was who he had claimed to be (the son of God). Beyond that, however, his resurrection also represents the eternal resurrection of Christians who have faith in Christ—if their lives are exchanged for his, they partake in his resurrection just as he partook in their death. Finally, the resurrection implies that the work of the cross is not yet finished—there are many in the world who God is still desperately attempting to reach, and God is also still actively working to sanctify his church through suffering and trials so that they can be pure.

The Ability to Endure Suffering

Moltmann spends a significant amount of time discussing the idea of suffering, as Christ suffered both on earth and on the cross. Because of this, Christians must learn to bear suffering, as it makes them like Christ—they should endure it joyfully and look to God for help in those times. This is far easier said than done, but Moltmann argues that God, who is allowing the suffering, will also give strength to endure the suffering. After enduring suffering on earth, Christians can then earn an eternity in heaven.

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 400

Moltmann’s epistemology mistrusts simple analogy, the conventional “like is known only by like.” Instead he relies on dialectical thinking: paradoxes of seeming opposites. Revelation is not dogma or proposition but an event happening in contradiction; God is able to make use of whatever appears furthest from the divine. Thus Jesus’ cross becomes not an embarrassment but the epitome of God’s selfhood.

History is not to be defined by the positivists or materialists but is open-ended, an indeterminate flow until the grand climax of all things. Historical criticism should be welcomed, including studies of the historical Jesus, but criticism by itself proves inadequate. That is because historical and eschatological methods are reciprocal, each casting new light on the other. Jesus’ history must be read both forward and backward, relating him both to his Jewish heritage and his (and therefore our) resurrected future. The end calls forth the beginning.

Critiques of religion from various quarters are embraced by Moltmann, who sees how often in history religiosity has supported alienation. As his allies, he cites critics such as the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and especially liberal Marxists (Ernst Bloch, the Frankfurt school of social analysis), who detail how institutions and civil religion manipulate religion whenever it loses its primal dimension of hope. Theistic faith is hardly immune from this critique, but for years it has been the most susceptible to unholy alliances with autocratic regimes or mystical privatism.

So who is God? Not polytheism, of course, but the subtleties of trinitarian vision have shaped Moltmann’s doctrine of God—especially with the horrific tensions of Good Friday, first analyzed in this book. Because the triune One is both vastly transcendent and intimately present, and it encompasses from the far reaches of ancient Israel to our own daily lives, only a doctrine of Trinity can serve adequately. Moreover, it not only clarifies the inner life of God but also marks a paradigm for the unfolding of earthly history toward its goal. Moltmann has adopted the term “panentheism” to navigate between the extremes of austere theism and shapeless pantheism, and he openly admires Eastern Orthodoxy with its heritage of a “social Trinity” of divine persons (contrasting to Augustinian/Western emphases on divine unity). This vision undergirds Moltmann’s social ethic, for which he is well known, because humans are empowered by God’s presence and stretched beyond their failings by the gospel of hope.

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