‘God will Transform: Destructive Judgement is a Godless Picture’
By Jürgen Moltmann
Since the Middle Ages, a conception of death and resurrection became fixed in Christian thinking that is deeply unchristian: the pictorial world of heaven and hell, the conception of a Last Judgement that rewards good works and punishes bad deeds to order the transition to the world to come. According to this notion, God’s judgement only knows two sentences: either eternal life or eternal death, either heaven or hell. If one asks what will come of the good visible creation, the earth and God’s other earthly creatures, the answer is everything will be burnt to ashes. This world will not be needed any more when the blessed will see directly in heaven without mediation by other creatures.
This idea of judgement is incomprehensible and hostile to creation. Are God the Judge and God the Creator different gods? Does the judging God destroy the faithfulness of the Creator to his creatures? This would be God’s self-contradiction or different gods. The Biblical trust in God is destroyed as well as trust in Jesus. The judging Christ with the two-edged sword has nothing to do with the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus of Nazareth healing the sick and forgiving sins. The idea of destructive punishment is an extremely godless picture.
However, there is another conception of world judgement. Injustice is a scandal. Victims do not die away. All the murderers do not find any rest. The hunger for justice remains as a torment in a world of violent crying. The powerless and oppressed hope for a world judge “who creates justice for those suffering injustice.” Israel’s psalms of lamentation are an eloquent example of true creative justice. God’s righteousness will “create” justice for victims, raising them from the dust and healing wounded life.
Later and under foreign influences, a universal criminal judge was made out of this saving Liberator in the biblical scriptures who judges good and evil and does not ask about the victims any more. A deed-oriented moral judgement according to the standard of retributive justice came out of a victim-oriented expectation of saving justice. Correcting this aberration means christianizing the idea of judgement so it is oriented in Israel’s original experience of God’s creative, saving and healing justice.
The New Testament offers staring-points. The New Testament understands Judgement Day as the “day of the Son of man” on which the crucified and resurrected Christ will be revealed and all the world before him. Both will appear out of their concealment in the light of truth, the Christ now hidden in God and the person hidden from him/herself. The eternal light will be revealed to them. What is now hidden in nature will be transparent because persons are physical and natural beings connected with the nature of the earth. We cannot be separated from the nature of the earth, neither in the resurrection nor in the end-time judgement.
Christ will be revealed as the crucified and resurrected victor over sin, death and hell, not as the avenger or retaliator. Christ will be revealed as the Everlasting One and leader of life. He will judge according to the justice he proclaimed and practiced through his community with sinners and tax collectors. Otherwise no one could recognize him.
God’s justice is a creative justice. The victims of sin and violence are supported, healed and brought to life by God’s righteousness. The perpetrators of sin and violence will experience a rectifying transformative justice. They will change by being redeemed together with their victims. The crucified Christ who encounters them together with their victims will save them. They will “die off” in their atrocities to be “reborn” to a new life.
Helping and supporting the victims and straightening the perpetrators as the victory of God’s creative justice over everything godless, not the great reckoning with rewards and punishments. This victory of divine justice leads to God’s great day of reconciliation on this earth, not to the division into blessed and damned.
Seen this way, the Last Judgement is not the end of God’s works. It is only the first step of a transformation out of transitoriness into intransitoriness. The new eternal creation will be created on the foundation of justice. Because the judgement serves this new creation of all things, its future-oriented justice is creative and not only a requiting justice referring to the past. It was the mistake of Christian tradition in picture and concept, piety and teaching to only see the judgement over the past of this world and not God’s new world through the judgement.
If a social judging occurs in the Last Judgement, it is in truth a cosmic judgement because the coming Christ is also the cosmic Christ. Already in the psalms, YHWH is called “to judge the earth.” All shattered relations in creation must be straightened out so the new creation can stand on the solid ground of justice and abide in eternity. All creatures should share in eternal being and in God’s eternal vitality. That will be a fundamental change of the cosmos and life. “God will indwell all things and be present in all things.” Then the nothingness will be destroyed and death annihilated. The power of evil will be broken and separated from all creatures. The misery of separation from the living God – sin – will end. Hell will be destroyed. Then the reign of glory will begin.
[Source: Publik-Forum; HT: Marc Batko, via Jürgen Moltmann group]
I like this approach, but doesn’t it leave out some key pieces of Scripture? Christ specifically says he’ll separate off the sheep and the goats. Is Moltmann saying this is only temporary, that the goats will be rehabilitated (into sheep, perhaps)? Does the rich man in the Lazarus parable finally get to realise he was selfish, and is redeemed? Do the angels separate the wheat from the tares only to have Christ put them back together again?
Moltmann makes good sense in arguing that the Creator God doesn’t seem to be the same as the judging God, but “both” of them seem to be strongly visible in the Old and the New Testaments, and the judging God doesn’t always seem to be quite so friendly as Moltmann would like to have us think.