The Suffering of Christ on the Cross in the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann

Submitted to Dr. C. Fred Smith in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of THEO 510-B01 LUO Survey of Theology by Joyce Gerald March 10, 2017


Introduction. 1

Thesis Statement 1

The Origins of Moltmann’s Theology of Hope and Suffering. 2

Passibility. 5

Moltmann and Passibility. 7

The Theology of a Suffering God. 8

Theologia Crucis and Suffering. 8

Christian Theology Linked to Suffering on the Cross. 10

The Trinity and Suffering. 13

The Godhead Suffers as Humanity Suffer 16

Solidarity in Suffering. 18

Present  Hope Encased in the Suffering God. 22

Conclusion. 24

Bibliography. 26






Christians in the western world struggle to maintain an attitude of hope within the crucible of meaningless, never-ending ongoing fear and suffering caused by terrorism, poverty, political unrest, unethical political leaders, and theological debates that raise the thermometer of uncertain hope and creates a milieu of hopelessness. Humanity has placed its assurance of hope on politics or religious beliefs that fail to ease suffering and pain. The realization that neither political nor military force guarantees hope and or an assurance of peace places the church in the unenviable position of providing an answer to the following questions. Is the Godhead unreachable and does the Godhead comprehend the immensity of humanity’s suffering? How can a God of love allow suffering to exist within the dichotomy of the promise “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)? [1] Can the Godhead relate to the suffering of people everywhere? How does the theology of the cross equate with the suffering of humanity?  Individuals in crisis, under the weight of suffering, challenge Christian theology based on its ability to offer hope during times of hopelessness.

Thesis Statement

Moltmann sees the suffering of Christ as God’s way of participating in our human despair, taking it into himself, and replacing it with hope.

The purpose of this research is to explore Moltmann’s theology of hope presented through the suffering of Christ and God’s methodology of bringing His children unto himself through suffering with and for them. The paper details how the God of love suffered on the cross with His son and experiences suffering with His Children. The first part of the paper begins with a concise survey of the development Moltmann’s theology of hope and suffering as well as the concept of Moltmannian “passibility” or the God of love who experiences suffering an act love through encapsulated in the cross of Jesus Christ.”[2] The intent of this section of the paper is not to argue for the concept of passibility as a theological construct or to argue against impassibility. The discussion on passibility lays the foundation for understanding the construct of a God who lovingly knows and suffers along with His children because of His experience on the cross. Next, the project discusses the Moltmann’s theology of a suffering God with the subtopic of Theologia Crucis and suffering. Then Christian theology linked to suffering on the cross, the Trinity and the Godhead and suffering, as well as God suffering as humanity suffers, and solidarity in Suffering. Finally, the project argues the concept of present hope encased in the suffering God and ends with the summative conclusion of the presented research.

The Origins of Moltmann’s Theology of Hope and Suffering

Moltmann who lived Germany during World War II and served in the German Army after being drafted experiences suffering in such a way that it changed his worldview.[3] While reflecting on the war Moltmann recalls the ravaging death of his friend and the immensity of the suffering prompted him to cry out to God for the first time in his life “God, where are you [and] why am I still alive and not dead like the rest?”[4] Moltmann questioned his deliverance from death and the destruction of his friend. He looked at the senseless death, destruction and suffering around him and wondered where was God in the midst of all of the suffering.[5] After the destruction of Hamburg, and troubled by the abject poverty and his personal experience with misery Moltmann surrendered to a British officer and spent and three-year period as a prisoner of war who suffered behind a barbed wire fence.[6] While there Moltmann sought for answers to the two questions, as well as a reply to the question “Does God Share in Our Suffering?” he was given a Bible and read the New Testament and the book of Psalms.[7] Moltmann recollects the resonance of Psalms 36 as a verse that “echoed” within his soul.[8]

I am dumb and must eat up my suffering within myself. My life is as nothing before thee [Luther Version]. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry. Hold not thou thy peace at my tears, For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.[9]

Moltmann recalls the impact of the Gospel of Mark’s recordings of the death of Jesus Christ on his psyche and the theological understanding it gave him about the brotherhood that existed between himself and his Redeemer as a “fellow sufferer who carries [him] in his suffering.”[10] He continued his recollections by stating that the personal sense of being forsaken coupled with the revelation of God’s feeling of forsakenness, invaded his being [Moltmann coined a phrase “godforsakenness” to describe this feeling, and today the phrase “godforsakenness” pervades his theology of hope and suffering].”[11]  Furthermore,  Moltmann ascertains that his experiences in the concentration camp left an indelible mark on his psyche that intertwined an understanding of suffering and hope that supported each other.[12] Also, Moltmann stipulates that when an individual comprehends the fortitude of “hope” it does not negate the hurt or pain, but the suffering is “better than” developing an attitude of deadness and indifference toward suffering.[13] In 1965 Moltmann’s personal experience with suffering and loss and the urging of the Holy Spirit planted the seeds of an eschatology of hope that has changed the theological construct for many decades.[14] Moltmann presents a personally applicable view of Christianity and the hope embodied in the suffering of Christ, as well as how God relates to that suffering in a way that is unprecedented. Moltmann delivers a Christology of suffering that engenders the presence of God, during the suffering of man, be it political, social, or psychological, and connects that suffering relationally with the suffering of Christ. Moltmann’s theology of hope, offered through the suffering, crucified and resurrected Christ opens the door to hope regardless of the level of suffering and knowledge that God understands, participates in, and embraces the individual’s suffering. Moltmann declared

Faith does not come to its own in becoming radically unworldly, but by hopeful outgoing into the world, it becomes a benefit to the world. By accepting the cross, the sufferings, and death of Christ, by taking upon it the trials and struggles of obedience in the body and surrendering itself to the pain of love, it proclaims in the everyday world the future of the resurrection, of life and the righteousness of God. The future of the resurrection comes to it as it takes upon itself the cross.[15]

Moltmann declared that the cross reflected a life of suffering and challenges that projects into the future resurrection of all saints. How then does the suffering of God through the suffering of Christ make human suffering relatable to God? What term does Moltmann utilize to conceptualize God’s ability to suffer?



Passibility is a concept that Moltmann uses to explain the suffering that God experiences. In defining passibility, Lee declares that God has a “drive for reunion” with humanity and this drive “makes” Him participate in the world as an act of love “the empathy of God creates the passibility of God.”[16] Lee continues” Therefore, our first task is to define the nature of God as love, and establish a criterion, the empathy of God, for the divine passibility as a mode of the divine love.”[17] Lee offers an expanded definition of passibility that lends itself to this discussion.

The terms “passibility” and “impassibility” are used to designate the capacity or incapacity of bound to the body, while suffering is in terms of a loving relationship bound to time. Thus, it is irrelevant to attribute pain to God, who is Spirit. Nevertheless, suffering can be attributed to Him, who loves us in Christ. Suffering can be divided into two categories: voluntary and involuntary suffering. The former is often called redemptive suffering, while the latter is penal suffering. When we attribute suffering to the divine, we mean the former, namely the pure form of vicarious and redemptive suffering.[18]

Furthermore, Lee explains that when God reveals Himself to us, we simultaneously envision him as both transcendent and immanent.[19]   Lees continues by expressing that human terms of, “equivocity” and “aunivocity” cannot be applied when attempting to explain passibility and the “pathos” of God because the human mind cannot “represent the highest point of contrast with our speculative idea of God.”[20] According to Lee, our faith in God “manifested in Christ”  is the fulcrum that opens a believer’s understanding of the construct of passibility (Romans 12:6).[21]

However, the idea of God being ”passible” is incongruous to most theologians because theologians equate passibility with emotions [a construct that theologians assign to corporeality] and theologians believe that human emotions negate God’s omniscience and  His incorporeality.[22] Scrutton’s study on emotions and its impact on God’s incorporeality led Scrutton to propose that “divine incorporeality does not pose a serious threat to divine passibility. . . .”[23] Scrutton concluded the study of emotions and passibility by agreeing with modern theologians that “some emotional experiences might be attributed to an omnipotent, omniscient, incorporeal God. . . .”[24]Scrutton supports Moltmann’s construct of passibility and the ability of God to experience emotions such as suffering while maintaining His role as Lord of the Universe.[25] The passibility of God veers to the right of ancient Christology and theological thought about the person of God.  Is passibility just a theoretical construct that is devoid of scriptural support or does it present an argument for the very nature of the God of love who renders all things as possible, even Him suffering with His children, as a display of His love for His highest creation?

Moltmann and Passibility

Moltmann views passibility as an extension of God’s love for man.  Moltmann declares that God experienced suffering through Christ’s suffering on the cross relates that experience of suffering to the suffering of human history through the construct of divine passibility.[26]  Moltmann’s vision of the passibility of a God who suffered abandonment is encapsulated in this statement “To take up the theology of the cross today is to go beyond the limits of the doctrine of salvation and to inquire into the revolution needed in the concept of God.”[27] When defining God’s suffering, the latitude of that suffering, and modern theologians’ conceptualization of that suffering, Neal declares that the construct would be null and void without the application of Moltmann’s theory or “treatment” of passibility.[28]  Furthermore, Neal iterated Moltmann’s assertion about passibility by declaring that Christ who continually proclaimed the imminent coming of the kingdom of God suffered and died.”[29]

According to Neal, Moltmann believes that “the cross” licenses “divine passibility” because the event of the cross allowed God to open Himself to suffering.[30]  This viewpoint is contrary to Enns who believes that Moltmann denies the historicity of the cross.[31] Neal proposes that Moltmann’s Christology rejects  “analogical epistemology and two-natures Christology” because they foster a barrier that separates God from suffering and inadvertently separates Him from the suffering of his children; thus, creating a barrier between God and His children.[32]  For Moltmann passibility is something that the Godhead experiences and opens a viaduct of hope for the suffering because God experienced suffering on the cross. [33] It is essential that one comprehends that suffering is a real-life experience for Moltmann; therefore, expressing a hope embedded in the suffering of God, through His passibility, is tantamount to comprehending the compassion of God for His people.

The Theology of a Suffering God

As a soldier during World War II, Moltmann’s personal experience with the rigors of human depravity, suffering, and abandonment merged with the understanding of a passible God, who suffers. Understanding the concept of passibility is central to understanding Moltmann’s assertion that God knows human suffering as it relates to Christ’s passion. Moltmann proffers the suffering of The Lord, and God’s experience of that suffering, as His divine participation in the depths of humanity’s feelings of absolute abandonment.

Theologia Crucis and Suffering

Moltmann declares that as he interpreted Luther’s Theologia Crucis, he recognizes that as God reveals himself through the suffering of the cross “He repudiates in us the arrogant man or woman and accepts the sinner in us.” [He gives us hope because He knows and understands our immense pain during our suffering.][34]  Moltmann places high importance on the event of the cross and its significance to Christology.  Traditional theologians may not adhere to this viewpoint because Moltmann extends the importance of the cross to the entire Godhead (See the discussion on the Trinity and the Cross.) Moltmann reflects that he asked himself what God intended humans to comprehend “in the cross of Christ.”[35] Moltmann posited that in addition to an answer to that question he needed to determine what the cross meant to God and recognizes that the manifestation of the cross” is God’s suffering [as an act] of . . .. passionate love for his lost creatures.”

Moltmann declares that the suffering of Christ embodies the “divine reason for the reconciliation of the universe [this speaks to God’s love and hope for humanity as He brings each person unto himself and into the God family,]” and the foundational basis for the theology of the cross.[36] The “divine reconciliation of the universe” through the cross of suffering demonstrates high Christology and not at all humanistic as Enns contends. [37] Moltmann argues that the “pinnacle of the Christian faith” and theology is based on the “suffering and death of Christ on the cross.”[38]

Moltmann affirms Scripture when he identifies the “death of Christ on the cross” as the pinnacle of the Christian faith.”[39] Moltmann’s theology of the cross is not “humanistic” nor Marxist” in nature but evangelical because it declares the “good news” represented by the suffering Savior on the cross of Calvary.[40] It is that same good news that hymnists have written about throughout the centuries of the church.

Christian Theology Linked to Suffering on the Cross

Moltmann takes this train of thought a step further by proposing that the theology of a suffering God on the cross require acceptance by Christians for them to receive the hope of release and or relief from the profundity of suffering that they experience in their daily existence.[41]  Furthermore, Moltmann sees the theology of the suffering God on the cross as the core of all Christian beliefs and stretches the theology of the cross to embrace the concept of a God who suffers on the cross as the “theme…. and centre of all Christian theology.”[42] Moltmann also proposes that belief in the suffering God determines how “solutions” for all problems come to a resolution on earth.[43] Moltmann continues by declaring that all Christian “statements about God, creation, sin, death, history, the church, faith, sanctification,” stem from a clear understanding of the magnitude of the suffering crucified Christ.[44]

It is not the only theme of [Christian]theology, but it is in effect the entry to [the solutions to all] its problems . . . . on earth. All Christian statements about God, about creation, about sin and death have their focal point in the crucified Christ. All Christian statements about history, about the church, about faith and sanctification, about the future and about hope stem from the crucified Christ.[45]

It appears that Moltmann is attempting to unravel Christian theology; however, central to our faith is our belief in the cross and the hope it offers to a sin-laden humanity that suffers under the burden of its sin. Neal submits that Moltmann interconnects God’s absolute passion for humanity with all its suffering. [46] Moltmann posits that the hope proffered by Jesus’ “deliberate” suffering on the cross is a quietus for the hopelessness experienced by humanity and “a [death that] affirmed . . . .[Jesus’] passion for God.”[47]

Moltmann is keenly aware of the type of hope that suffering people must experience to embrace the hope incorporated in the concept of a God who suffers. Moltmann states

Hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering, but also the protest of the divine promise against suffering …. [Does this mean that the suffering individual should wait for the suffering to cease?] faith takes up this contradiction and thus becomes itself a contradiction to the world of death…. [Apparently not – but] faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest …. [Unrest translated as suffering?] it does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man …. peace with God means conflict with the world ….[48]

According to Moltmann, the concept of a suffering God is problematic for theology because “Theology has only one problem: God. We are theologians for God’s sake. . . .  God is our suffering. God is our hope.”[49] Consequently, Moltmann is declaring that by humanity’s ‘experience of suffering’ profoundly impacts God.[50]

Harvie iterates Moltmann’s statement and proposes that not only does humanity’s suffering “question theology” it also brings to bear a “‘[theological] crisis of relevance’ within Christianity.”[51]  Moltmann proffers that the glorious suffering of God on the cross rendered void the godforsakenness evident in the wall of separation between God and all His creation.[52] The cross enjoined God with the part of creation that He created in His image.  The cross represents the hope in the phrase “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness,” or “When the woes of life o’er take me, Hopes deceive, and fears annoy, Never shall the cross forsake me; Lo! It glows with peace and joy.“[53] The words in these hymns reflect what Moltmann declares about the importance of the cross to Christians as they consider the suffering of the Lord juxtaposed against their suffering. They envision that “godforsakenness” no longer reigns supreme in their lives because of the suffering Savior.[54] Does Moltmann extend this concept of God as a God who suffers to the triune Godhead?


The Trinity and Suffering

2 Corinthians 1:4 declares that the Holy Spirit “. . . . comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble [Does this apply to suffering too?], by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” Could the extension of this Scripture and the “comfort” that we experience from the knowledge that not only does Christ and God suffer with their children, but so does the Holy Spirit?  Moltmann presents Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection as events in human history as well as Trinitarian historical life and experience.[55] Moltmann posits that the cross actualizes Trinitarian suffering not just for but along with the created.[56] Moltmann demonstrates the cyclical nature of the suffering Trinity when he declares

The Son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son. The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son. The Fatherlessness of the Son is matched by the Sonlessness of the Father, and if God has manifested himself as the Father of Jesus Christ, then he also suffers the death of his Fatherhood in the death of the Son.[57]

Moltmann continues by revealing that faith in the suffering Jesus and the redemptive nature of the cross necessitates the need to “speak in trinitarian terms of the Son and the Father and the Spirit.”[58]  Moltmann posits that the suffering of the cross is at the nucleus of the Trinity.[59]

According to Harvie, Moltmann’s trinitarian theology “takes its bearings from the biblical testimony of the interpersonal relationships of the three divine persons.”[60] Harvie explains that Moltmann’s concept of the Trinity and God’s love for humanity is encased in the role of the Holy Spirit in God’s plan for humankind. [61] Moltmann’s construct of the suffering God and the suffering of Christ and His people is not based on a sadistic need of God to sees people suffer but rather because of His Love for humanity.[62]   Moltmann proposes that God suffers in “a third form” of suffering that humanity realizes. [63]“the voluntary laying oneself open to another [God opens up Himself to allow Himself] to be intimately affected by [humanity]; that is to say, the suffering of passionate love.” [64]  

God “opening up Himself” is outside of the realm of traditional theology. [65] Moltmann reveals that theological thoughts about the formation of the Trinity are “doxological” in nature because it “expresses the experience of God in the apprehension of Christ” as part of the fellowship of the Godhead.[66] Moltmann argues that when one “expresses” the “doxological” nature of the spirit a pattern of “thinking, speaking, feeling, acting, and suffering” reveals experiences that are overpowering with “profound” expectations for the Triune God.[67] Moltmann posits that when theology applies the distinction of “apophatical’ expressions of God, it enriches humanity’s thinking about God and leads to a searching of God that frees the mind to see the Triune God as He is a loving entity that experiences the suffering of His children.[68] Moltmann believes that the humanity experiences the Holy Spirit as an “impelling and consoling entity [that leads God’s people to] prayer, [sighs, laments and complaints] before God.”[69]

Furthermore, Moltmann explains why this leading is so important” prayer always remains the voice of all those who apparently have no voice – and in this voice there always echoes that “loud cry” attributed to Christ.[70]  Moltmann clarifies the role of the Spirit by stating “. . . . praying, sighing, complaining, and crying out for God are not religious gifts or performances. . . .[But] realistic expressions of the abyss into which people have fallen.” [71]How does this relate to the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s expression of love toward His children? Moltmann iterates “Wherever the cry from the depths is heard, the Spirit who ‘helps us in our weakness’ is present. [The Spirits knows our condition and helps.] When in our torment we ourselves fall dumb, the Spirit is there too, interceding for us ‘with sighs too deep for words’ (Ro 8.26).[72]

Moltmann ensures that Christians understand that their suffering is not without hope. Moltmann points to the groaning of the Spirit as God’s act of love and a declaration of solidarity.[73] Moltmann continues with affirmation of the depths of God’s love for His creation by stating

The sighs of fettered creation are taken up by the sighs of the Spirit who dwells in it, [therefore, the Spirit feels and experiences what the creation is feeling and experiencing] and are brought before God. The ‘invocation of the Holy Spirit’, the epiklesis, is in the reality of this world identical with the cry de profundis which we find in Ps. 130.1: ‘Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord.’[74]

The Triune God expresses His love to His creation in that while it suffers He draws them to Himself as He experiences their suffering not through on act of punishment but through the action of love and compassion. For it is through suffering that His people unite with Him in a bond of love and adoration that they can translate and demonstrate to others.

Moltmann declares “If [the triune] God were incapable of suffering in every respect, then he would also be incapable of love. He would at most be capable of loving himself, but not of loving another as himself.”[75] Moltmann sees the triune God as a God who loves and suffers “by virtue of his love, he remains master of the pain that love causes him to suffer.”[76] As a united entity the Godhead suffers not because it needs to suffer “But [it] suffers from the love which is the superabundance and overflowing of [its] being.”[77] Carrying the concept of God suffering even further Moltmann appears to be declaring that God suffers as humanity suffers.

The Godhead Suffers as Humanity Suffer

Moltmann’s theme of the suffering God continues as he adds another level to the suffering of the suffering God.  Moltmann exclaimed, ”Through his own abandonment by God, the crucified Christ brings God to those who [feel] abandoned by God.”[78] One cannot comprehend the immensity of this statement.  The one who created all things and left His heavenly abode to embrace humanness experienced abandonment on behalf of humanity.  Moltmann envisioned that “Through his suffering he brings salvation to those who suffer [regardless of the origin of that suffering].”[79]

That statement gives suffering persons a reason to pause and contemplate on the extent of God’s love for them. In addition to embracing the scope of God’s love for His children the suffering creation must conclude that “the tempted, rejected, suffering and dying Christ came to be the centre of the religion of the oppressed and the piety of the lost.” [80] Unless one feigns atheism, at the core of every human being is a desire to be connected with God even if that individual uses the term “higher being” to label God. Not only does Moltmann proclaim that God suffered on the cross, but Moltmann also espouses the abandonment of God on the cross reflects human neglect. Moltmann cites Bonhoeffer’s lengthy explanation of the importance of the relationship between God, suffering, and abandonment

God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, [not in a sense that people envision weakness, but in His humanity He embraced the human concept of weakness.] and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us [in our suffering and takes us into Himself as He] helps us [to navigate our sufferings] Matt. 8.17.[81]

Bonhoeffer is insistent that the belief grasps the level of commitment that the Godhead has for His creation; this helping His children, through suffering, is not a by-product of God’s humanness.  Bonhoeffer declared that God’s actions “makes it abundantly clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.”[82] Subsequently, this vision of God as a weak and suffering God does not implicate that God has lost His omnipotence. It implies that despite the humanness attached to suffering or inferred by weakness, God chose to suffer with the ones whom He created in His image. Bonhoeffer concludes the premise by declaring, “Only the suffering God can help … That is a reversal of what the religious man expects from God. Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world.”[83]

The hope engendered in this statement offers consolation to the suffering. Be it the suffering Korean who endures the tyranny of a communist regime or the disabled child who cannot take care of themselves. How about the cancer patient who does not comprehend why God is allowing them to suffer? Alternatively, the suffering of the mother who just lost a child or for that matter the poor? Moltmann defines poor as “the hungry, the unemployed, the sick, the discouraged, and the sad and suffering. the poor are the subjected, oppressed and humiliated people.”[84] Within the body of Christ a Christian experiences current and future hope in that any present suffering encountered in the flesh is not foreign to the God of love as He embraces them and their suffering through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Solidarity in Suffering

The western world has created a culture that celebrates the richness of accomplishments and has forgotten the dichotomy of layered existence that includes poverty, brokenness, godforsakenness, and suffering. Moltmann maintains that God is not an impassible or immovable God because His passibility and involvement in human history and suffering reside at “very centre” and “history of Christ’s passion.[85] The belief of a Christian is enmeshed in the passion of Christ and its representation of the redemption of all peoples through His suffering, death, and resurrection. Moltmann asked four poignant questions “But how is God himself involved in the history of Christ’s passion?  How can the Christian faith understand Christ’s passion as being the revelation of God, if the deity cannot suffer? Does God just allow Christ to suffer for us? Alternatively, does God himself suffer in Christ on our behalf?”[86] 

The four questions pushed at the very existence the theological beliefs of Christianity that God is impassible.[87] Moltmann makes a pronounced declaration when he posits that if God is incapable of suffering, in fellowship with humanity, then the next step in the process leads to the logical conclusion that the death of Christ must be “viewed as a human tragedy” for Christ dies in the flesh as a human being (John 1:1-3). In addition to this view of Christ death being a tragic human event, Moltmann proposes that God is “bound to become [a] cold, silent unloved heavenly power” and negate the veracity of the Christian faith.[88]  Moltmann maintains that it is the dignity and resolve of “hope [that] prove its power. Hence eschatology [hope of future revelries, and present solidarity with a God of suffering who experienced His forsakenness that]. . . must formulate its statements of hope in contradiction to our present experience of suffering, evil, and death.”[89]

In describing Moltmann’s theology of God and His oneness with His creation, Schweitzer expressed that “The biblical witness . . . .describes God as being both internally related to the creation, affected by its existence [thus, affected by its suffering], and radically transcendent to it.”[90] Moltmann describes this oneness with the creation of the “world which is not God, but which none the less corresponds to him, God’s self-humiliation begins – the self-limitation of the One who is omnipresent and the suffering of the eternal love.”[91]

Moltmann continues by proposing that God’s relationship with His creation not be an outward expression of His love, but is in fact “an act of God [looking] inwardly [and reaching toward Himself after having reached out to man], which means that it is something that God suffers and endures.”[92] Moltmann suggests “For God, creation means self-limitation, the withdrawal of himself, that is to say self-humiliation [possibly self-imposed suffering to create a oneness with His creation?]”[93]

Moltmann stipulates a definitive understanding of God’s love for His creation [humanity] and the oneness embodied in suffering with them ”Creative love is always suffering love as well.”[94] Why would the Creator become a suffering Creator? Additionally, Moltmann proposes that “. . . . the creation is: at the same time the subjection of God to the sufferings that follow from it… If God appoints all these sufferings, they are also sufferings for God himself. “[95] Moltmann clarifies his conceptualization of God’s love for humanity by declaring that our refusal to surrender to the concept that God does not suffer projects an attitude that agrees with the principle that God’s “holy love” for us expressed in His willingness to “subject himself” to suffering on our behalf.[96]

In addition, Moltmann proposes that the problem of acceptance of God’s solidarity with humanity and its suffering is not an “intellectual one” because “we feel, we experience suffering differently if it is not something fortuitous, but [suffering] is part of the meaning of the world [in which we live, and God lives with us].” Succinctly stated Moltmann posits that God suffers as the “otherness of the other.”[97] Contrary to the theological thought of his time, Moltmann’s proclaims that redemption is encased in the “self-deliverance” of The Lord as he suffers “with and for the world.”[98] Consequently, Moltmann declares humanity also suffers with and for God.[99]

The ability to conceptualize this theological construct liberates the people of God futuristic eschatology of oneness with God and freedom from suffering to the next realization that they are suffering with God now and in communion with Him now as He suffers with them.[100] “The freedom from worry, restraint and self-abasement encapsulated in this theology is a sacrificial offering from God to and for His children.”[101] Moltmann completed this thought by declaring “. . . . the history of the profound fellowship between God and man in suffering – in compassionate suffering with one another, and in passionate love for one another” is actualized when humanity accepts this sacrifice of suffering.”[102] Moltmann summed up the importance of God’s ability to suffer by proposing

Were God incapable of suffering in any respect, and therefore in an absolute sense, then he would also be incapable of love. If love is the acceptance of the other without regard to one’s own well-being, then it contains within itself the possibility of sharing in suffering and freedom to suffer as a result of the otherness of the other. Incapability of suffering in this sense would contradict the fundamental Christian assertion that God is love, which in principle broke the spell of the Aristotelian doctrine of God. The one who is capable of love is also capable of suffering, for he also opens himself to the suffering which is involved in love, and yet remains superior to it by virtue of his love. The justifiable denial that God is capable of suffering because of a deficiency in his being may not lead to a denial that he is incapable of suffering out of the fullness of his being, i.e. his love.[103]

Although the eschatology of Christians is an affirmed concept, what does that concept look like when juxtaposed against the theology of a God who suffers by drawing His creation unto Himself? How does Moltmann resolve the doctrine of the last things with a God who suffers and sent and delivered Himself to suffer on the cross? This paper has presented an argument of God as a God who suffers by drawing into Himself the suffering of His children but is that all that He offers His children?

Present Hope Encased in the Suffering God

For centuries, the Christian hope cemented itself in the risen Lord who conquered death and the promised hope of a future event when all will rise to an immortal body transported to an eternal experience with the God of the future. Moltmann looks at the resurrection of The Lord and characterizes God as “the God who raises the dead.[104] Moltmann proposes that the future hope of the Christian, as stated by Paul in Galatians 1:1 and Romans 8:11 points to “creation of the end-time’ that is now dawning, it is not a futuristic event that flows in the “spirit of the resurrection of the dead guaranteed by the suffering, dead, risen and glorified God.”[105]

Moltmann sees the theology of the cross presented by both Paul and Mark as a theology of a crucified Christ [or as one crucified by God and as God] as opposed to just a risen Christ.[106] This action of a suffering God does not make Him a helpless God that has no bearing on the current eschatology of His children, but it does make Him a God who brought the future hope of His children into their present experience with Him by “giving up” His son.[107] Moltmann continues by positing that Pauline and Johannine theology encapsulated in (Ro 8:32; Gal 2:20; John 3:16; Eph 5:25) speak of the suffering and death of God as an expression of love and election.[108]  Moltmann shatters the eschatology of the early church by proclaiming the risen Jesus is “the present future of God and the new world [intermingled in the reality of His presence.][109]

Furthermore, Moltmann declares that eschatology is not a trendsetting, fortune-telling precursor of the future because the resurrected suffering God embodies the “presence of God’s promised future” in that He has delivered His creation from death and hell and has begun the process of the eternal inheritance now.[110] What does this mean for a suffering world? Moltmann proposes that it means “the end of godforsakenness . . . . now [here in this present life], and the beginning of a universal, liberating, and rejoicing of the living God in all things.”[111]

God’s children who suffer now do not suffer alone because He is here and His Kingdom mission is here with them as they suffer. Harvie iterates that Moltmann presents an eschatology of hope embedded with the suffering, crucified, and raised Jesus not as a hope that releases humanity from suffering into the escapism of another world, but hope for the “new creation of this world.”[112] Moltmann clearly emphasizes that Christian hope as he sees it deals with ‘the future of the very earth on which [Christ’s] cross stands.’ God did not suffer in vain, but out of love for His creation. His creation experiences the rewards of that love now and into the future. “Oh, what wondrous love is this oh, my soul!”[113]


Moltmann sees the suffering of Christ as God’s way of participating in our human despair, taking it into himself, and replacing it with hope. This research explored Moltmann’s theology of hope as presented through the suffering of Christ and God’s methodology of bringing His children unto Himself through suffering with and for them. A discussion ensued on Moltmann’s theology of hope encased in the suffering of the Godhead on the cross. Pivotal to the comprehension of Moltmann’s theology of the cross was the conceptualization of a passible God who, through suffering, reached into eternity present and the future and offered up Himself as a living sacrificial hope of release from the intensity of pain of His children.  In doing so, God experienced the immensity of human suffering, absolute abandonment, and Godforsakenness.

Moltmann presents a compelling case for the Trinitarian suffering and the outreach of the Trinity to humanity as it suffers to affect hope even in dire circumstances.  It is important to note that the suffering God does not allow humans to suffer out of incredulous spite or sadistic tendencies.  Sin is consistently at the door of humanity and suffering is the result of sin whether the individual’s sin or sin that was brought to bear through human actions.  However, Moltmann’s theology of hope, through the suffering of the cross, proffers hope for connectedness with the Godhead today even in one’s present sufferings. The joy of knowing that God so loved His children that He suffers with and for them not just two thousand years ago on the cross but today in their present circumstances expands eschatological thoughts of hope.

Moltmann does not dispel eschatological hope nor does he state that the theology of hope through the suffering Godhead is a neo-orthodoxical construct. Moltmann traced hope back to the cross and brought the cross, and the hope enmeshed in and through it, through the expanse of history to suffering people today as they embrace the solidarity of hope through the suffering Trinity.

Finally, As the body of Christ welcomes this construct of hope and love cocooned in the suffering God a solidarity of oneness with the Godhead ensues. The misconception that the Christian life is idyllic and pain-free is a misnomer.  Suffering presents itself as a means for Christians to reach upward to the Godhead and horizontally into society as it draws people into the hope offered by the suffering El Shaddai. Moltmann’s presentation of the actions of the Trinitarian Godhead calls humanity into the God family with a promise of never experiencing Godforsakenness because God is ever present in the suffering of His children and draws them closer to Him as He suffers with them.




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[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the King James Version (Public Domain).

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology, trans. James W. Leitch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993, Google Books), 7.

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009, Google Books), 17.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 19-26.

[6] Moltmann, A Broad Place, 29-30.

[7] Moltmann, A Broad Place, 31; 35Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015, Kindle), Loc. 58; Jürgen Moltmann and Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, Passion for God: Theology in Two Voices (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 70.

[8] Ibid., 27

[9] Ps. 39 as cited by Moltmann in A Broad Place. No version of the Bible was cited by Moltmann for the citation of this Scripture.

[10] Ibid., 29; Jürgen Moltmann, In the End — The Beginning: The Life of Hope, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 35, accessed February 17, 2017, Ezproxy Ebrary.

[11] Ibid. Mark 15:34.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Jürgen Moltmann, How I Have Changed: Reflections on Thirty Years of Theology, trans. John Bowden (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998), 14-15.

[15] Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground, 163-164.

[16] Jung Young Lee, God Suffers for Us: A Systematic Inquiry into a Concept of Divine Passibility (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974), 11.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 12.

[19] Lee, God Suffers for, 11.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Lee, God Suffers for, 11.

[22] Anastasia Philippa. Scrutton, “Chapter 7,” in Continuum Studies in Philosophy of Religion Series: Thinking Through Feelings: God, Emotion and Passibility (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 184-187, accessed February 17, 2017, ProQuest Ebrary.

[23] The intent of this paper is not to argue for the construct of passibility or corporeality versus incorporeality.  However; for a more detailed explanation of the concepts see J. K. Mozley, The Impassibility of God: A Survey of Christian Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926), p. 128; Bertrand R. Brasnett, The Suffering of the Impassible God (London: S. P. C. K., 1928); Paul L. Gavrilyuk, “The Christian God v. Passionate Pagan Deities: Impassibility as an Apophatic Qualifier of Divine Emotions,” in The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1-23; Scrutton, “Chapter 1,” 1-35.

[24] Scrutton, “Chapter 7,” in Continuum, 187.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Jürgen Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation & Criticism of Christian Theology, trans. John Bowden (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), xi, accessed February 22, 2017, Ezproxy Ebrary; Neal proffers a detailed explanation of this construct in Ryan A. Neal, Theology as Hope: On the Ground and Implications of Jürgen Moltmann’s Doctrine of Hope (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2009, Google Books), 47.

[27] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 4.

[28]  ” Divine passibility, especially the type (voluntary) that Moltmann espouses, ensures hope is found in suffering, because God takes up all suffering,” Neal, Theology as Hope, 52.

[29] Ibid., 47.

[30] Ibid. Inversely does this mean that because of the “indwelling of God” within His children He experiences the same intensity of their suffering too? Moltmann implies just that in Jürgen Moltmann: Collected Readings, ed. Margaret Kohl and Richard Bauckham (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014, Kindle), Loc. 4201.

[31] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Revised and Expanded ed. (Chicago: Moody, 2014, Google Books), 853.

[32] Neal, Theology as Hope, 47.

[33] Jürgen Moltmann, The Living God and Fullness of Life (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 2016, Google Books), 45-46. Moltmann responds to the theology of impassibility with, “How then can we know so exactly what God cannot do when we assert that “God cannot alter” and that “God cannot suffer?” In reply to the second question we can reply-If God is incapable of suffering-what is what happens to be of Concern to God?”

[34] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, xi.; Robert Cady. Saler, Theologia Crucis: A Companion to the Theology of the Cross (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2017), 1-3.

[35] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, ix. Moltmann poses this question in Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 304-305.” What does the cross of the Son of God mean for God himself?” Moltmann answers the question with “And I came face to face with the pain of the Father of Jesus Christ who suffered with him. If Christ dies with the cry of profoundest God-forsakenness, then in God the Father there must be a correspondingly profound experience of forsakenness by the Son. If the Son suffers his death on the cross not just as a human death but also as an eternal death of God-forsakenness, and thus as ‘the death of God’, then – or so we must conclude – the God whom he always called ‘Abba, dear Father’ suffers the death of his Son and the deadly tornness of his own heart and eternal being.”

[36] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 251.

[37] Ibid., Enns, The Moody Handbook, 853.

[38] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 251.

[39] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 251.

[40] Enns, The Moody Handbook, 875.

[41] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 204.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 204.

[45] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 204.

[46] Neal, Theology as Hope: On, 158-59.

[47] Jürgen Moltmann, Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions, trans. Margaret Kohl (Fortress Press, 1993), 173, accessed February 17, 2017, Ezproxy Ebrary.

[48] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, On Grounds, 21.

[49] Jürgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 21.

[50] Jürgen Moltmann, History and the Triune God: Contributions to Trinitarian Theology, trans. John Bowden (New York: SCM, 1992), as quoted in Timothy Harvie, Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies: Jürgen Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope: Eschatological Possibilities for Moral Action. (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2009), 26, accessed February 15, 2017, ProQuest Ebrary.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Moltmann, A Broad Place, 31; Matthew 27:51 declared And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. The wall of separation melted at the foot of the cross as God reached down into humanity and drew all individuals into Himself during His time of colossal suffering.

[53] “The Solid Rock” (No. 406) and “In the Cross of Christ I Glory (No. 554), in The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1991).

[54] Moltmann, A Broad Place, 31.

[55] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 204.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid., 243.

[58] Ibid., 246.

[59] Moltmann, The Trinity and, 59.

[60] Harvie, Ashgate New Critical Thinking in, 101.

[61] Ibid., 104-107.

[62] Moltmann, The Trinity and, 59.

[63] Ibid., 23.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Jürgen Moltmann, Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 73, accessed March 2, 2017, Ezproxy Ebrary.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Jürgen Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 73.

[70] Jürgen Moltmann, Spirit of Life, 77.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid., 76.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Moltmann, The Trinity and, 23.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Ibid.

[80] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 47

[81] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison: The Enlarged Edition (London: SCM Press, 1971), 360, quoted in Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 47.

[82] Ibid.,

[83] Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers, 47.

[84] Jürgen Moltmann, Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions, trans. Margaret Kohl (Fortress Press, 1993), 100, accessed February 17, 2017, Ezproxy Ebrary.

[85] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 21; 60, accessed February 24, 2017, Ezproxy Ebrary.

[86] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 21-22.

[87] Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers, 19.

[88] Ibid., 22.

[89] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, On Grounds, 44.

[90] Don Schweitzer, “Aspects of God’s Relationship to the World in the Theologies of Jürgen Moltmann, Bonaventure and Jonathan Edwards,” Religious Studies and Theology 26, no. 1 (June 1, 2007): 5, accessed February 24, 2017, ProQuest Ebrary.

[91] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 59.

[92] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 59.

[93] Ibid., 60.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid., 61.

[96] Ibid., 61.

[97] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 230.

[98] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 60.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Ibid.

[103] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 230.

[104] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 188.

[105] Ibid., 189.

[106] Ibid., 190.

[107] Ibid., 193.

[108] Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross, 193.

[109] Jürgen Moltmann, “The Presence of God’s Future: The Risen Christ,” Anglican Theological Review 89, no. 4 (Fall 2007): 578, accessed February 24, 2017, ProQuest Ebrary.

[110] Moltmann, The Presence of God’s, 578-579.

[111] Ibid.

[112] Harvie, Ashgate New Critical Thinking in, 24.

[113] “What Wondrous Love Is This” (No. 143) in The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1991).


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