Hopeful Suffering – Participating in the life of God

As we are approaching Pentecost it is good to be reminded of the reality of the new life that God creates in the midst of the old. We don’t need to be made aware of the many sufferings in the world and in our own lives but it is good to remember that hope is realised in the midst of despair.
The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann has a lot to say about this. He wrote extensively about hope and the suffering of God. As the ones who participate in the life of God Moltmann sees the church as the anticipation of the kingdom of God:

”’Christ in us makes ‘us’ the vanguard of the redeemed humankind and the overture of the new creation of all things. ‘We in Christ’ brings us into the moving living space of the coming God.” (1)

Moltmann understands the church as the church in the power of the Spirit. He explains this in the following:

“The new people of God see themselves in their existence and form as being ‘the creation of the Spirit’ […]. The Spirit calls them into life; the Spirit gives the community the authority for its mission; the Spirit makes its living powers and the ministries that spring from them effective; the Spirit unites, orders and preserves it.” (2)

Because the church is shaped by the Spirit in the image of the cross, it is led beyond itself and “out into the suffering of the world and into the divine future.” (3) In this we find the same contradiction as in the crucified and risen Christ himself. Moltmann writes:

“Remembrance of the crucified Jesus forbids us to see and use this feast of his resurrection as a flight from earthly conditions of suffering. […] we discover that the resurrection hope is realistic and that reality is hopeful. Joy in the resurrection of Christ therefore actually leads to solidarity with the groaning creation. It turns dumb suffering into articulate pain. It does not separate us from the wicked world. Joy in present freedom remains together with pain over lack of freedom and even with grief over each of our dead. But it also links pain and grief with hope for the redemption of the world.” (4)

It is the hope in us that evokes dissatisfaction with the world as it is because it longs for the reality of God’s new creation to come. Hope in Christ is not merely the provision of comfort in suffering. Hope is also the protest of God’s promise against suffering and death. Faith stands in active contradiction to death. Moltmann elaborates:

“That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience, but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it.” (5)

The life of the church in the world is the continuation of what God started in Christ. The church shares in the history of God’s suffering but also in the joy of resurrection. As the community that has received freedom by coming into his kingdom it celebrates every person who turns to Christ. As people of hope the church is freed to love and to imagine a new future.

(1) Moltmann, “God in the World – the World in God: Perichoresis in Trinity and Eschatology,” 380.
(2) Moltmann, Church in the Power of the Spirit,294.
(3) Ibid., 198.
(4) Ibid., 112-3
(5) Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 21.