Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. Visit us online at faith.yale.edu.
Jürgen Moltmann: In a prison camp in Scotland, there I read the Gospel of Mark. And when I came to the cry with which Jesus died, "My God, why have you forsaken me," I felt that there is a divine brother who feels the same as my feeling was at that time. And this saved me from self-destruction and desperation.
Joy is divine. It comes from outside into our life in a surprise, in a turning from sadness to goodness, from sickness to health, and from loneliness to communion. So you can experience joy only with your whole heart, your whole soul, and all your energy.
Evan Rosa: This is For the Life of the World, a podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of our humanity.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: I'm Ryan McAnnally-Linz.
Evan Rosa: And I'm Evan Rosa. And we are with the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. Thanks for listening today.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Evan, I wanted to bring this episode today in particular because yesterday, April 9th, 2021 was the 95th birthday of the German theologian, Jürgen Moltmann.
Evan Rosa: 95! That's amazing.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: That's a lot of years and Moltmann has like a special place for the Yale Center for Faith & Culture.
Evan Rosa: Yes, he does.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Because he was the doctoral supervisor, as they say in German, Doktorvater, the doctor-dad of Miroslav Volf, our director at the University of Tübingen in Germany. Something he said to Miroslav way back then I think has been really determinative of what we're trying to do and the kind of stance we're aspiring to take. It went something along the lines of this is what you ought to be doing to be a theologian: try to find a place where people's concerns and worries and questions are concentrated, where those things animate them in a particular time and a particular place, in the place where you are and the time where you are, and shine the light of the gospel on that.
Evan Rosa: Yeah. Miroslav heard that. It was directly spoken to him when he was a grad student by Jürgen.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Yeah. This is the mission you should take out with you into your theological life.
Evan Rosa: And that has really animated the work we do at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: That's right. It illustrates for me one of the things that's amazing about Moltmann, which is that he's this far-ranging thinker but he has an incredible knack for distilling things into just these memorable lines that help you navigate your world, that help you see things and that inspire you to try to live more faithfully.
Evan Rosa: Do you have any in mind?
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Yeah. So one that comes to mind is some of us from the Center for Faith and Culture, we're at a meeting related to a grant that we were doing with a bunch of other scholars, dozen or so theologians, ethicists, psychologists, philosophers. And we've just sat down for one of the sessions of this meeting. Miroslav's phone is on the table and it starts to ring as we're getting started talking, and he picks it up as one does in embarrassment to silence it, but sees that on it, it says "Jürgen."
Evan Rosa: You don't hang up on Jürgen Moltmann.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: "Oh, it's Jürgen!" And so he picks up and puts Jürgen Moltmann on speakerphone into the middle of our table, which presumably is not what Moltmann was calling to do, and says, "We're here in this meeting and we're talking about the question of the life of the theologian and what it has to do with the work of theology.
Evan Rosa: Just puts him on the spot.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Just right there, and Moltmann says, "Ah, yes, without living theologically, there can be no theology."
Evan Rosa: Gosh!
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: And everybody in the room just takes a breath and says, " That's true; that's where I'm trying to be."
Evan Rosa: Our work is done. Wow. That's amazing.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: So you can see how this clarity combined with passion yields a sort of theology that has inspired countless young people to dedicate their lives to reflection and to study and to writing and communicating and thinking about God and God's relation to the world in this sort of passionate, engaged way. It has this spark, this passion for God and God's creation for true life in the midst of our death-bound world.
And I was one of those young people. I had this inkling that maybe theology was the direction I wanted to go. Maybe I was being called even in that direction. But right after college I found myself in a little village called Peguche in Ecuador in the middle of the Andes and my wife and I are just out of college. We're there trying to get connected to local indigenous organizations to learn about what they were doing in terms of community development to chip in if we could with our 22-year-old minimal skills and maximal ambitions.
But I brought along some theology books to try to test this out. Is this a way I could go? And one of them was Moltmann Theology of Hope. And I remember sitting down in the kind of kitchen area of this semi-abandoned inn where we were living and being shocked to find a theology that was more erudite than anything I had ever encountered before in my life, but at the same time didn't shrink from reality.
Evan Rosa: That's important. That's very important.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: And spoke in a way that felt credible to me in that moment of my life and in that context. And it's the sort of theology that I felt like I wouldn't be embarrassed to be found reading where I was by the people who I was interacting with every day there. And it's that kind of theology that again, I think we're aspiring to do, and we want to offer and invite others into; it's that sort of theological living.
Evan Rosa: I think that's just such a beautiful example. And both those stories depict the way in which it's the lived theology that is the aspiration there. Can you read that quote just one more time for anyone that missed that?
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: So this is my translation. It was in German originally. But it was: Without living theologically, there can be no theology.
Evan Rosa: That's about as aspirational as any of us can hope for, but it depicts Christian flourishing perhaps at its best.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: I think so. I think that's Moltmann's genius, and that's why we want to present this episode today and just want to say, "Jürgen Moltmann, thank you, peace to you as you embark on the 96th year of your life."
Evan Rosa: Thanks for listening, everyone. In this episode, Miroslav Volf and Jürgen Moltmann discuss the meaning of joy and its connection to anxiety, fear, wrath, hope and love. Professor Moltmann remembers his own story of discovering, of being discovered by God as a 16-year-old drafted into World War II by the German army and during the bombardment of his hometown of Hamburg, and being held in a Scottish prison camp only to read in the Gospel of Mark Jesus' cry of dereliction, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" This cry would lay a foundation that led to his most influential book, The Crucified God.
Moltmann also explains the centrality of Christ, the human face of God for not just his theological vision, but his personal faith, which as Ryan explained, is a lived theology. Thanks for listening, friends. Hope you enjoy the wisdom here earned through a long life of lived theology.
Miroslav Volf: I'm sitting here with Jürgen Moltmann, one of the foremost theologians in the world today. We're in Tübingen where he used to teach for many years. We have just finished a small consultation on joy and that's the occasion why we are talking together.
Jürgen, if I may, you have written a book about joy some 40 years ago. What have you learned in the meantime about joy?
Jürgen Moltmann: 40 years ago, it was a time of the protest movement against the Vietnam war, and as student unrest everywhere in the world. And at that time, I was thinking about how can I sing the Lord's song in an alien land. And 40 years after, I want to understand how to sing the Lord's song in the broad place of his presence. So it's from the dialectic towards the affirmation. And now, hope is for me anticipated joy as anxiety is anticipated terror. And today, at least in Germany, we live more by anxiety and terror than by hope and joy.
Miroslav Volf: And so in anxiety and terror, how does one find way to joy?
Jürgen Moltmann: Whenever I feel the presence of God, then my heart is lifted up and I see more positive in terms of future of the coming of God, and thus hope is awakened in me.
Miroslav Volf: Who is God for you?
Jürgen Moltmann: Jesus Christ is the human face of God. And without Jesus Christ, I would not believe in God. Looking at catastrophes of nature and the human catastrophes of history, I would not come on the idea that a God exists and this God is love. This was unthinkable for me. But because of Jesus Christ and his message and his suffering on the cross and his resurrection from the cross, my feeling that God is present in the midst of suffering is a firm trust of my heart.
Miroslav Volf: So you're not speaking right now simply as a theologian, you're speaking from personal experience of discovering or being discovered by God when you were—can you say more about this experience, which was experience of anxiety, aftermath of terror, a place where joy normally would not find its entrance?
Jürgen Moltmann: When I was 16, I was drafted to the German army in 19 43 and experienced the destruction of my hometown, Hamburg. It's in the midst of Hamburg, there was an anti-aircraft battery, and we schoolboys had to serve in this battery. And the operation called by the British was the Operation Gomorrah—the destruction of the sinful city of Hamburg. And I was in the midst of it. And that time I cried out to God for the first time.
And later I was in prison, in a prison camp in Scotland. And there, I read the Gospel of Mark. And when I came to the cry with which Jesus died, "My God, why have you forsaken me," I felt that there is a divine brother who feels the same as my feeling was at that time. And this saved me from self-destruction and desperation. And I came up with hope on a place where there was no expectation to come home soon. The imprisonment lasted for three years.
Miroslav Volf: You have later written a book that I've heard you say you consider to be the most important book that you have written, namely, The Crucified God. And at the heart of that, in a sense, is this cry of dereliction. How has that book related to the book on hope? How is a cry of dereliction of pain related to the joy of jubilation, of resurrection?
Jürgen Moltmann: I started with hope and the resurrection of Christ as a ground of hopeful expectation, of the coming of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God. And when I experienced in the US that they took this as a reinforcement of the normally American pursuit of happiness and the American optimism, I said when I would return, I would only speak of the other side of Christ on the cross. And so I came from the side of the resurrection to the side of the crucifixion. They're two sides of the presence of Christ.
Miroslav Volf: You wrote that Christian faith is a unique religion of joy and you tied that to the key moments in the Christ story: death, resurrection, and then also coming of the of the Spirit. Can you say more about this uniqueness? In what ways and why is Christian faith uniquely religion of joy?
Jürgen Moltmann: As a center of Judaism is the Torah; as a center of Christianity is euangelion, the gospel, and this is good news. And this is the news that God has raised the crucified Christ to be the lord of the world. And therefore, Christianity is unique in this sense that it is a religion of joy. Christmas carols and Easter laughter and the awakening of Pentecost feelings. This is unique in Christianity. I don't mean that Christianity is absolute, but it is unique in this way. Compare this with Judaism, Islam and Buddhism, they are all unique in their center. But the center of the resurrection is unique in Christianity.
Miroslav Volf: You've earlier contrasted pursuit of happiness, a certain form of optimism. Also in your paper, you spoke about fun society and contrast all these—pursuit of happiness, optimism, fun—to joy. How are they different?
Jürgen Moltmann: Fun is a superficial feeling which must be repeated again and again to last. Joy is a deeper feeling of the whole existence. You can have fun at the side but you can experience joy only with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your energies. And therefore, Schiller thought that joy is divine. It comes from outside into our life in a surprise, in a turning from sadness to goodness, from sickness to health and from loneliness to communion. This turning point awakens joy.
Miroslav Volf: So joy isn't then simply a feeling. Joy is a response to a certain state of affairs that have been changed, created, to which there is a particular way of responding. Would that be a way to express it?
Jürgen Moltmann: You cannot make yourself joyful. This would be self-satisfaction, but you are always outside of yourself, watching yourself. Am I being happy or not? And this would never lead to joy. Something unexpected must happen. So falling in love, for example, to take it from natural life, or sudden success in political life, so unification of Germany, or the coming of Nelson Mandela out of 30 years of prison in Robben Island, and he came, and everybody expected a civil war. Nothing happened. Nelson Mandela came. This is a reason for surprise and joy.
Miroslav Volf: So in a sense it's not a natural course of events that we expect to happen. It comes to us almost as a gift, as a gratuity from outside. Do you think there are—I can think of great events that you were describing or maybe I can give an example of the contrasting one also. Something much more quiet may be a source of joy. Let's say a child is born. That may be like the event of Exodus; that may be like the event of something completely new comes, and there's joy and there's rejoicing in it, but the child is growing and there's a quieter joy that attends to a relationship to something that it's there, but that it's also always experienced as gift. Or one false in love, but then love matures and every morning it's a kind of new. So there may be exhilarating joy and there maybe quieter joy. Does that make sense?
Jürgen Moltmann: Yes, of course. I think the intention of love is the happiness of the beloved. So love's intention is not to own the beloved but to have the beloved happy. And therefore, love sometimes supports the beloved and sometimes taking oneself back to let the beloved in freedom. So both actions are actions of love. We are not loved because we are so beautiful and good, but we are beautiful and good because we are loved. And this is true for interpersonal relationships and also true with the relationship of God who is love as we say in the New Testament. And so he wants to see his beloved children on earth happy and joyful.
Miroslav Volf: And in a sense the contrast that you made—we are not loved because we are beautiful; we are beautiful because we're loved—it breaks a cause-and-effect relationship. If I'm beautiful and loved, then my beauty elicits the love and it's expected. But if I'm not, love comes to me always as a gift, as a surprise and lifts me up precisely in those terms, and then is a cause of joy. So do you see a connection between joy and gratitude?
Jürgen Moltmann: Yes, of course. Every child knows this at Christmas.
Miroslav Volf: So it's a stance of perceiving oneself as having been blessed and therefore grateful. In other words, it may not be enough to have a child at Christmas—it's not enough for a child to get the present, right? They have to received that present as a gift and be grateful for it for joy to occurs. They may be dissatisfied because they didn't get quite the present they wanted, then joy's gone. But if it works well, then the present, gratitude, and joy form a kind of a nexus,
Jürgen Moltmann: But every child and every person knows that anticipated joy is the best joy. There's a certain melancholy of the second day of Christmas. If you get what you anticipated...
Miroslav Volf: But if you never get what you anticipate, if you only anticipate, so it's a kind of dialectic between the two. At one point you have also connected kind of the character of God as Christian faith embraces or believes in a God who is love, but God who is a kind of passionate God, who is engaged with the world with the issue of joy so that the passion of God becomes the foundation of joy.
Jürgen Moltmann: Yes. And I feel at one with Abraham Heschel from Judaism who spoke of the pathos of God. A passionate God is on every page of the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament as we say. But we in the Christian tradition has to wrestle with the absolute god of the Greek metaphysics, who is apathetic by nature. God doesn't feel joy. God doesn't feel pain. He is above pain and joy. So the apathetic God makes a man apathetic too. This is the sovereignty of the soul which is above feelings of joy and pain. And the Pacers of God, or the passion of God, makes the believers compassionate. They participate in the suffering of others and participate into joy of others.
Sometimes it seems to be that compassion with the suffering of others is easier than the compassion with the joy of others. We feel so good if we have mercy with somebody else, and feel some envy if somebody others feel joy and success, at least in the academic world.
Miroslav Volf: The rest of the world is spared from that temptation. I'm sure. The joy of God. It's almost like a revolutionary idea, right? That the God, the creator of all that is, would rejoice, at least against the backdrop of some of the Greek philosophical thinking and much of the Christian tradition too.
Jürgen Moltmann: Yeah. How can we speak of the love of God if we don't dare to speak of the joy of God. Because God loves somebodies, God participates in the joy of his creation. And in the New Testament we have Luke chapter 15 where there's more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 just people, which is not true according to the parables given in this chapter because the lost coin could not repent and the lost sheep could only made noise, but not repent. Only the prodigal son is repented, but his father is not interested in his confession of sin. He loves him as soon as he saw him. So it's God who find joy in these parables.
Miroslav Volf: I think yesterday, if I listened to your rightly, you have connected joy of God with love of God, or love of God with joy, but you've also connected love of God with wrath of God, so that the nexus of joy and wrath and love would go together.
Jürgen Moltmann: I interpret the wrath of God as God's wounded love. If you feel the wrath of another person, you feel also the interest of another person in you. Only if that person turns away and turns their back to you, then you feel indifference. And this is the most terrible thing that you can experience of God that he has turned his countenance away from us. The Jews call this hester panim, the dark face of God. The contrary or the opposition to the shining countenance of God, from where the blessing comes according to the Aaronic blessing formula: "Let shine your countenance over us and give us peace."
Miroslav Volf: But joy is more lasting and stronger than wrath.
Jürgen Moltmann: Yeah. We have certain testimonies for this, even in the Old Testament: "My wrath is only for a moment and my grace is everlasting."
Miroslav Volf: So joy in the end wins.
Jürgen Moltmann: Yeah, I'm convinced of that.
Miroslav Volf: Thank you, Jürgen.
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured Jürgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. Production assistance by Martin Chan. I'm Evan Rosa and I edited and produced the show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu.
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