Hope – from Eric Myhill

In his book, God in Creation (1985), German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, distinguishes between God’s initial creation and his creative activity in history. For a long time theological tradition limited God’s creative work to the original bringing into being of creation; his creative activity in history was seen as his preserving and accompanying work. He believes, however, that this picture of creation and preservation is not a biblical one.

He states that the Hebrew word “bara” – [he created] – is used more often in the Bible for God’s creation of liberation and salvation in history than for the initial creation of the world. The New Testament talks about “the new creation in Christ’, and about the “life-giving Spirit”, and the eschatological promise [relating to the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity], “I am making everything new.” (Revelations 21:5)

According to Moltmann, in prophetic theology, the creative acts of God in history are discerned in the unexpected “new thing” of liberation and salvation. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up;

Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness

and streams in the desert.”   (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Moltmann states that the revelation of the rule of God in history initiates the consummation of creation as the kingdom of God. Initially, this is perceived only in human history, but its effects are also seen in the history of nature. Concerning the creatures of the earth it is stated in Psalm 104:30:

“When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.”

Moltmann states:

“God’s preserving activity manifests hope, and his innovating activity, his faithfulness.”    

God’s historical creation of liberty, righteousness and salvation is found in prophetic theology where it is also described as God’s burden.

“… you have burdened me with your sins.” (Isaiah 43:24)

Moltmann writes that the Creator suffers the contradiction of the beings he has created. He lays the sins, pains and sicknesses of his creatures on the new Servant of God: “Through his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53:

“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching fulfilment.” (Luke 22:37)

Moltmann writes that the creation of salvation proceeds out of the suffering of injustice. So, God’s creations in history contain at once long-suffering and action on his part:

“The inexhaustible creative power of God in history always makes itself known first of all in the inexhaustibility of the power of his suffering. This is not a sign of his weakness; it is the revelation of his strength. The beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt.5:5) applies to God first of all.”

God suffers when his creation suffers. Jesus is recorded as having wept for Jerusalem, “… you who kill the prophets” (Luke 13:34).

Ironically, God suffers because He is Love. God gives us a degree of autonomy so that we can have a relationship with him. This, however, creates the potential for disharmony.

Leslie Newbigin in “The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society” writes:

“In contrast to the monistic, pantheistic and panentheistic thinking which is always present as an attractive option, we believe that in his creation of the world God gave it a measure of independence and to that extent limited his own freedom. Things therefore happen in history which are not in accordance with the will of God but represent a contradiction of his will.”

Ben Irwin in, “C.S. Lewis and predestination” writes:

“Lewis insisted that our choices, when viewed through the lens of time, are real. The future is open. We are free to choose or reject God. And of course, time is the only lens we have.”

“Lewis is adamant that predestination should not be allowed to ride roughshod over freedom. He accepts both freedom and predestination as true, but he regards freedom as ‘the deeper truth of the two’.”

Lewis stated:

“The price of destroying (or rejecting) freedom is simply too high to pay; doing so severs the connection between us and our Creator. God cannot be understood apart from love, and love cannot be understood apart from freedom – for love never, ever coerces.”

Jesus had a choice to go to the cross. His decision to do so (“… nevertheless Thy will be done.”) was an act of kenosis (self-emptying love) that caused him to suffer immensely.

This characteristic of God, proven in his acts in history, gives me great hope. Despite me and my fellow humans being unworthy of his great love, he nevertheless suffers on our behalf to redeem us and he promises never to leave us. Paul was convinced that nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:38).

Moltmann shares this hope in his analysis of God’s ongoing creative acts in his creation which he understands as an open system rather than one that is determined:

“If the process of creation is to be completed through God’s indwelling, then the new creation is indwelt by the unbounded fullness of the divine life, and glorified creation is wholly free in its participation in the unbounded existence of God. So the indwelling of the unbounded fulness of God’s eternal life means the openness par excellence of all life systems, and hence also their eternal livingness, not their finite petrification. The openness of all life systems for the inexhaustible fullness of the divine life also leads to their perfected communication among themselves; for God’s indwelling drives out the forces that are negative, and therefore also banishes fear and the struggle for existence from creation. So ‘the kingdom of God’ is also the kingdom of the universal ‘sympathy of all things’.”

This view of the kingdom of God gives impetus to the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle against climate change. These are the direct result of people acting in ways that are inconsistent with a conviction that God dwells in all things.

This is neither pantheism nor panentheism. Moltmann states:

“God does not manifest himself to an equal degree in everything. On the contrary, he manifests himself to a varying extent in different things, and the drive to achieve a greater degree of infinity is inherent in everything; that is the great law of progress in nature.”

Prophetic theology helps us to negotiate the difficult times in which we live before we either die and go to Heaven or God’s Kingdom fully comes and there is a New Heaven and a New Earth.

In Romans 8: 18-25 Paul wrote:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope, that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently.”

That is why it is called prophetic theology because we look forward to God’s continuing new work in creation; the redemption of our bodies in the final resurrection of the dead; the Final Judgment when evil is dealt with (Rev 20:11-15); and the consummation of all things found in the New Heaven and the New Earth (Rev 21).  

This hope is not based on wishful thinking but on the evidence of God’s continual creative activity in the world. It is also based on understanding that suffering is part of God’s plan of salvation. See Jesus’ reference to Isaiah 61 in Luke 4:18-21 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… to release the oppressed…”

Eugene Peterson in “The Journey” in the chapter entitled “HOPE” – a commentary on Psalm 130 (“Out of the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord…”) states:

“In suffering we enter the depths; we are at the heart of things; we are near to where Christ was on the cross.”

He quotes Henri Nouwen who wrote:

“Many people suffer because of the false supposition that there should be no fear or loneliness, no confusion or doubt. But these sufferings can only be dealt with creatively when they are understood as wounds integral to our human condition. Therefore ministry is a very confronting service. It does not allow people to live with illusions of immortality and wholeness. It keeps reminding others that they are mortal and broken, but that with the recognition of this condition, liberation starts.”

Peterson points out that the psalmist immerses his suffering in God by way of prayer:

“There are sentences in the psalm which show specific knowledge of the character of God as a personal redeemer: God is personal so that we may have an intimate relationship with him; God is redeemer so that we may be helped by him. This is meaning to our lives and there is salvation for our lives, a truth summed up by Forsyth when he said, ‘Our very pain is a sign of God’s remembrance of us, for it would be much worse if we were left in ghastly isolation.”

Peterson comments:

“We are able to face, acknowledge, accept and live through suffering, for we know it can never be ultimate, it can never be the bottom line. God is at the foundation and God is at the boundaries. He seeks the hurt, maimed, wandering and lost.”

He concludes:

“The psalmist’s and Christians waiting and hoping is based on the conviction that God is actively involved in his creation and vigorously at work in redemption.”

On a personal note, during the late 80’s I was very pessimistic about the future of South Africa under apartheid and considered emigrating. This came to a head when I was a victim of an armed hijacking as I was locking the gate of our home on my way to a SALTI course at St Luke’s. This upset me so much that I obtained the forms required to apply to be employed as a teacher in New Zealand. Not long after that, however, Peter Lee (our Rector) taught on the book of Jeremiah and focused on the letter that the prophet sent from the ruins of Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon which contained God’s Word to them. They were encouraged to build houses and to settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produced; marry and have sons and daughters; and to seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Jeremiah then prophesied:

“This is what the Lord says:

‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, ‘ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back from captivity.”

We know that this happened; God’s people were restored to their land; and Jerusalem was rebuilt. God was active in his creation to judge his people and to redeem them again. He was also active in my life thousand of years later because the suffering I endured owing to the hijacking motivated me to seek God and to find his will for my life. The turning point for me and Felicity came when Peter Lee revealed that he had inherited money in England and he and Gill had decided to invest it in South Africa by purchasing a property in the Magaliesberg area and to name it “Anatoth”. God had told Jeremiah to buy a field in Anatoth (where his family came from) as a prophecy that the time would come when once again his people would return to their land after the exile. I believe that this deliberate act by Peter and Gill was a prophetic act to signify their hope that God would act decisively in South Africa to bring an end to apartheid. We know what happened in 1994 and we know that God was actively involved in the liberation of his people once more. This persuaded me to commit myself to stay in South Africa which I do not regret because he has opened opportunities for service for me and my family that we probably would not have had in New Zealand. We had a future and a hope in SA.

We also have the ultimate hope which John prophesied in Revelations 21:1-5:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer a sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”


Eric Myhill

29 August 2020

PS. Moltmann’s Theology of Hope (1964) was very influential in protest movements of the time and helped engender the massive protests in The GDR (East Germany) in 1989 which led to the Berlin Wall being toppled and the re-unification of Germany in 1990.