In a world where joy seems to be an elusive experience, German theologian and Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Tübingen University, Jürgen Moltmann, redirects our attention to the source and meaning of true joy. As a part of the series of consultation on the John Templeton Foundation-funded Theology of Joy Project, leading theologian and Founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture Miroslav Volf sat down with his mentor, Jürgen Moltmann, to talk about joy. Moltmann reflects on his life and encounter with joy.
Professor Moltmann, author of The Theology of Hope, affirms that Christianity is uniquely a religion of joy. He points out that the Gospel of Jesus Christ – his death and resurrection – is the center of the Christian faith. Knowing that Christ is risen brings joy to the believer. This joy, according to Moltmann, is quite different from fun, which “is a superficial feeling which must be repeated again and again to last but joy is a deeper feeling of the whole existence.” He further explains that joy can only be experienced with the whole heart, soul and energies, noting that joy is thought to be of divine origin.
Expounding on his view that hope is anticipated joy, Moltmann recaps the experience of his imprisonment during World War II. He recalls that when he read the Gospel of Mark, while a prisoner of war in Scotland, he felt for the first time that he had a divine brother. Not only did the discovery of a divine brother save Moltmann from self-destruction but it led him to the discovery of a life of joy. “I came up with hope in a place where there was no expectation,” he recounts.
When asked about how to find joy amidst anxiety and terror, Moltmann anchors the discovery of joy within the context of feeling the presence and coming of God. He acknowledges that “whenever I feel the presence of God then my heart is lifted up and I see more positive into the future of the coming of God thus hope is awakened in me.” In response to Professor Volf’s summation, “so in the end joy wins,” the eighty-eight-year-old systematic theologian cheerfully responds, “I am convinced of that.”