Culture Life Theology

Hope amidst terror — the Christian response to Charlie Hebdo

On the front page of The New York Times on July 20, 1941, at the height of World War Two, the paper reported that Winston Churchill had launched the “V” (for victory) campaign.

“The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the occupied territories, and a portent of the fate awaiting the Nazi Germany,” stated Churchill. “So long as the peoples continue to refuse all collaboration with the invader it is sure that his cause will perish and that Europe will be liberated.”

Soon, the “V” was appearing everywhere across Europe. First in France (ironically), it appeared on shop counters, beer glasses, buildings, street cars, buses — any place where Nazi soldiers would see it and be haunted by the fierce resistance of the Allies. It became so visible and threatening to the Nazis that the infamous  Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, began counter-propaganda claiming the “V” meant “viktoria” for German victory.

It took 4 years after the “V” surfaced, but eventually the Allies would defeat Hitler. Victory did come. It’s said that as the war carried on longer, Hitler became more secluded and subdued and Churchill more visible and outspoken. The message he reiterated time and time again with defiant resolve was one of victory that brought hope to Europe and its allies.

As the world faces the threat of terrorism today, what message will Christians speak and with what intensity will we speak it?

Often the Christian messages we hear are simplistic dichotomies with predictable conclusions:

“Jesus vs. Muhammad” — Jesus is right, Muhammad is wrong

“Christianity vs. Islam” — Christianity is truth, Islam is false

“the Bible vs. the Quran” — The Bible is God’s Word, the Quran is not

“Secularism vs. Religious Fundamentalism” — Secularism is civil, Fundamentalism is barbaric and dangerous

Whether these conclusions are correct or not is besides the point. The point is that these sorts of dichotomies with their simplistic and divisive conclusions do not speak a message of hope amidst the contradictions that humanity faces collectively.

Christians are called to speak hope and life into a world of death and despair. We are called to be people of victory — people of the resurrection hope.We are called to create hope, not acrimony.

Our message, if anything, should be a message of hope. A message that reflects God’s eschatolgoical promises for the world, while recognizing the present contradictions we face collectively as human beings. 

Reformed theologian, Jürgen Moltmann, offers us a theological framework  for this message of hope. It begins with the identity of Christ—in what is called dialetical Christology. Here, Christ’s identity is sustained in contradiction. In the Christ event—the cross and resurrection of Jesus—God experiences an ontological contradiction. For Moltmann, this is not only an experience of Christ, but an integral part of His identity.

Moltmann’s dialectical Christology neither denies the suffering of the cross, nor elevates it as the defining event (and identity) of Christ. Instead, he acknowledges the cross and its despair, and how God’s presence can be—but is not solely—paradoxically hidden in that pain.

Unlike the Reformers, Moltmann argues that God’s “paradoxical hiddenness ‘under the contrary’ is not His eternal form” (Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 224). Whereas Luther and Bonhoeffer’s theologia crucis saw God’s kingdom hidden primarily beneath its opposite, Moltmann’s theology of hope sees God’s kingdom in the whole—yet contradictory— experience of the risen Christ.

For Moltmann, it is the risen Christ who has the final word; the resurrection is “the protest of the divine promise against suffering” (Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 224).

But Moltmann does not overlook the brutal tensions between the present reality of sin, death and suffering, and the future promise of resurrection, blessing, and eternal life. Thus, “To Moltmann’s dialectical Christology—in which the resurrection contradicts the cross—corresponds a dialectical eschatology, in which the promise contradicts the present reality” (Bauckham, “Moltmann’s Theology of Hope Revisited,” 204).

Amidst this tension of promise and experience, God sends Christ—and the church—into the world on a mission of hope. Braaten writes,

This mission of hope is to radicalize the existing discrepancy between righteousness and sin, joy and suffering, peace and war, good and evil, life and death, and to look to the absolute future of Christ for a universal and transcendent resolution of this discrepancy (Carl E. Braaten, “Toward a Theology of Hope,” 101).

Moltmann’s theology of hope is rooted in the risen God of the cross who promises eschatological renewal for a world experiencing death and despair.  “No corner of this world,” writes Moltmann, “should remain without God’s promise of new creation through the power of the resurrection” (Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 328).

If no corner of this world should remain without the hope of God’s promised renewal, than the main task of Christians in a world of disheartening contradictions is to proclaim a message of hope, not to fuel divisions or create hostility.

Moltmann refers to the church as “the concrete” and “live eschatological hope” for the world (Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 304). Gerald O’Collins explains,

Moltmann’s ecclesiology is summed up by his description of the Church as ‘exodus community’…In their eschatological hope this pilgrim people of God have something special to say to the world. Oriented towards the future of Christ and the future of the world in Christ they give themselves to the work of propagating hope, infecting [people] with hope (O’Collins, “The Principle and Theology of Hope,” 138).

For Moltmann, infecting people with hope is accomplished through proclaiming the hope of God’s eschatological future. He writes,

Christian proclamation is not a tradition of wisdom and truth in doctrinal principles. Nor is it a tradition of ways and means of living according to the law. It is the announcing, revealing and publishing of an eschatological event. It reveals the risen Christ’s lordship over the world and sets men free for the coming salvation in faith and hope (Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 299).

Christian proclamation speaks into the contradictions between cross and resurrection, present reality and future promise, suffering and hope, and acts to “stimulate missionary unrest” (Irish, “Moltmann’s Theology of Contradiction,” 30).

Victory doesn’t come by winning religious and political battles with Islam or other religions. It comes by spreading the message of hope in the coming resurrection and renewal of all things.

Like Churchill, we are called to be visible and outspoken as we speak of the victory of Christ whom God raised from the dead. We are called to protest death and evil through a message of hope in God’s coming kingdom.

“V” is for victory—in Christ—over evil and death. Yes, our message is hope.

#V


Sources:

Bauckham, R.J. “Moltmann’s Theology of Hope Revisited.” Scottish Journal of Theology 42 (1989): 199-214.

Braaten, Carl E. “Toward a Theology of Hope.” In New Theology No. 5. Edited by Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman. Toronto, Ontario: The Macmillian Company, 1969.

Irish, J.A. “Moltmann’s Theology of Contradiction.” Theology Today 32 (1975): 21-31.

MacDonald, James. “British Open ‘V’ Nerve War; Churchill Spurs Resistance.” The New York Times, July 20, 1941. Front page (http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0719.html).

Moltmann, Jürgen. Theology of Hope: On the ground and the implications of a Christian eschatology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993.

O’Collins, Gerald. “The Principle and Theology of Hope.” Scottish Journal of Theology 21 (June 1968): 129-144.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *