Theodicy

From the beginning, Moltmann's theology gave prominence to the question of God's righteousness in the face of the suffering and evil of the world. In the first phase of his response to the problem, in Theology of Hope, he proposed an eschatolo-gical theodicy. Innocent and involuntary suffering must not be justified, as it would be if it were explained as contributing to the divine purpose. The promise given in the resurrection of Jesus gives no explanation of suffering, but it does provide hope for God's final triumph over all evil and suffering, and thereby also an initiative for Christian praxis in overcoming suffering now.

In The Crucified God this approach to the problem is deepened by the additional theme of God's loving solidarity with the world in its suffering. When Moltmann turned from his focus on the resurrection to a complementary focus on the cross, he was concerned to extend the traditional soteriological interest in the cross to embrace "both the question of human guilt and man's liberation from it, and also the question of human suffering and man's liberation from it" (The Crucified God, p. 134). He uses the expression "the godless and the godforsaken" to refer to the plight both of sinners who suffer their own turning away from God and of those who are the innocent victims of pointless suffering. This is the plight of the world, in the absence of divine righteousness, with which Jesus was identified on the cross.

As Moltmann's thinking moved back from the resurrection as the event of divine promise to the cross as the event of divine love, he was asking the question: How does the promise reach those to whom it is addressed, the godless and the godforsaken? His answer is that it reaches them through Jesus' identification with them, in their condition, on the cross. His resurrection represents salvation for them only because he dies for them, identified with them in their suffering of God's absence. The central concept of The Crucified God is love, which suffers in solidarity with those who suffer. This is love which meets the involuntary suffering of the godforsaken with another kind of suffering: voluntary fellow-suffering.

To see the cross as God's act of loving solidarity with all who suffer apparently abandoned by God requires an incarnational and trinitarian theology of the cross. By recognizing God's presence, as the incarnate Son of God, in the abandonment of the cross, Moltmann brings the dialectic of cross and resurrection within God's own experience. The cross and resurrection represent the opposition between a reality which does not correspond to God - the world subject to sin, suffering, and death - and the promise of a reality which does correspond to God - the new creation which will reflect God's glory. But if God is present in the cross he is present in his own contradiction. God's love is such that it embraces the godforsaken reality that does not correspond to him, and so God suffers. God's love is not simply active benevolence towards humanity. It is dialectical love which in embracing its own contradiction must suffer. Of course, it does so in order to overcome the contradiction: to deliver from sin, suffering, and death.

If Jesus the divine Son suffers the abandonment of the godforsaken, as the cry of desolation shows, the cross must be a trinitarian event between the incarnate Son and his Father who leaves him to die. It is an event of divine suffering in which Jesus suffers dying in abandonment by his Father and the Father suffers in grief the death of his Son. As such it is the act of divine solidarity with the godforsaken world, in which the Son willingly surrenders himself in love for the world and the Father willingly surrenders his Son in love for the world. Because at the point of their deepest separation, the Father and the Son are united in their love for the world, the event that separates them is salvific. The love between them now spans the gulf that separates the godless and the godforsaken from God and overcomes it.

In Moltmann's understanding, the cross does not solve the problem of suffering, but meets it with the voluntary fellow-suffering of love. Solidarity in suffering - in the first place, the crucified God's solidarity with all who suffer, and then also his followers' identification with them - does not abolish suffering, but it overcomes what Moltmann calls "the suffering in suffering": the lack of love, the abandonment in suffering. Moreover, such solidarity, so far from promoting fatalistic submission to suffering, necessarily includes love's protest against the infliction of suffering on those it loves. It leads believers through their solidarity with the suffering into liberating praxis on their behalf.

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