Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jurgen Moltmann & The Spirit of Life

I have just started reading Jurgen Moltmann’s The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, and if this excerpt from the introduction is a hint of what is to come, I am very excited about this book. Here is the quote:

Human life - and surely not human life alone - only becomes living, and happy in its livingness, if it affirms other life and is itself affirmed. To say this sounds like a cliche. Yet it is by no means a matter of course. In view of the destruction which men and women are inflicting on nature, and in the face of the collective suicide to which human beings are leading humanity, it is in fact difficult to believe this simple statement, and more difficult to live accordingly. Whether humanity has a future, or whether it is going to become extinct in the next few centuries, depends on our will to live - and that means our absolute will for our one, indivisible life. Whether humanity ought to live, or ought to become extinct, is a question which cannot be answered through the dictates of rational expediency, but only out of a love for life. Even now we experience personally and jointly so much blighted and ruined life that to affirm life whole-heartedly is difficult. We have got used to death, at least to the death of other creatures and other people. And to get used to death is the beginning of freezing into lifelessness oneself. So the essential thing is to affirm life - the life of other creatures - the life of other people - our own lives. If we do not, there will be no rebirth and no restoration of the life that is threatened. But anyone who really says 'yes' to life says 'no' to war. Anyone who really loves life says 'no' to poverty. So the people who truly affirm and love life take up the struggle against violence and injustice. They refuse to get used to it. They do not conform. They resist.

If my memory serves me well, this is the second book on the Spirit by Moltmann that I have read. I read Source of Life in seminary, but this is his more encompassing work on the Spirit. What permeates both books, is an emphasis on the Spirit’s role in creation. It is to be found both in the initial creative acts of God, and in sustaining creation in its fallen state while anticipating the New Creation. If the Spirit is the spirit of life, then it goes to follow that where death takes over, the spirit is not to be found. As the above excerpt points out, we have gotten used to death, and this has numbed our lives. One only has to think of issues like Rwanda, the horrific abuses of women throughout the world, or the AIDS crisis to realize that this is true. In the overwhelming weight of death and destruction throughout the world we find it easier to turn a blind eye and pretend that these things are not happening. Is this not one reason Paul viewed death as an enemy? Is this not also why he rejoiced in the good news that Christ had victory over death? We still live in this fallen world, and yet we also live in the time of the already and the not yet of the Kingdom of God, recognizing that through Jesus, heaven has broken into creation, and will ultimately encompass it fully. The Holy Spirit then, was sent by God & Jesus to connect us to the source of life while we wait in anticipation of the resurrection, the new heavens and the new earth.

We have the option to respond to that gift, by breaking out of the numbness of lifelessness, and affirming life through our own actions. This is not really that easy. It means we must re-evaluate our beliefs and preconceptions about how we interact with other human beings as well as the entire created world, including animals and plants. While I do believe that humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation, it is supported by all life. Furthermore, we don’t simply seek out care of creation because we know that it supports us, but rather because God deemed it good, and set us with the task of caring for it. This allows us to cultivate life out of response to God’s gifts and creative acts, and not out of begrudging obligation or self-interest.

Compartmentalizing the pursuit of life is not an option. While it is true that we can only focus our energies on one or two issues before our impact gets spread too thin, we must still seek to be aware of how the affirmation of life in the Spirit can affect our approach to just about anything. In the Catholic church they speak a lot about a consistent life ethic, and this is something I wish Evangelicals and Protestants would take on as well. It means that one tries to promote life in all areas. For me this means that while I do oppose most abortions (the question of using legal means to reduce abortions is a different debate), I also oppose the death penalty, and the use of violence in any conflict be it personal, communal or international. Further, this means seeking ways to oppose the oppressive forces which perpetuate poverty in this world, seeking constructive approaches to the environmental crises of our day, and seeking out a vegetarian diet for the sake of affirming the life of animals.

None of these actions are attempts to defeat death on my own. After all, Christ did that. These are also not attempts to bring the kingdom on my own. Christ is doing that already and will do that to completion. Rather, as I already mentioned, these are responsive acts to what God has done, is doing, and will do in the future. It is my hope and prayer that whatever response we make towards affirming life, it is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that its fruits are borne out in their fullness.


Robb said...

Great post Richie, and I expect there will be more as you continue in this book.
One related idea that has become really formative for me is the idea that Christ's victory over death is actually most relevant to realized eschatology and what Gods Kingdom on earth looks like now - een though we usually associate it with our status after death.
It is definitely true that the death in the world can feel overwhelming in its scope so we resign ourselves to feeling powerless, get empathy fatigue in trying to take it seriously and respond, or see it as a form of release.
Catholic teaching on the consistent life ethic is great, I've honestly always wondered why it is so unique, and not just seen as intuitive and actually logically consistent.
One kind of tangental question Ive thought a lot about in relationship to that though is extreme life saving/sustaining measures, and how the also future victory over death theology should influence thinking on that.
I'll also be interested to see if the idea of Christian life involving dying to something is brought up in relation to these initial thoughts on death.

rheimbro said...

I am excited to get back to this book as well. I have set it aside because i foolishly thought I could finish the Douglas Campbell book in the month I have it on inter-library loan. They don't let you renew ILL books which makes sense I guess... But I will probably have to end up buying it in the end if I want to finish it.

As far as the end of life issues go, that is something I wrestle over myself. There are all sorts of things that get tied in with it. What role does mercy play? How long do we hold on and take someone's life into our own hands - whether it is making the decision to help them end their life in a peaceable way, or artificially carrying it on. Are not both of these actions essentially pushing God to the side? Ultimately I embrace something like the role hospice plays in our society today, but it is not always a clear decision one the lines begin to blur.

And on the idea of a consistent life ethic, I am just amazed at how little that is advocated by evangelicals (whatever definition of that one uses). I am curious as to how it developed the way it has, although I am sure there are definitely some political elements, I am not sure what it was about the theological milieu that added to it being so focused on a couple issues rather than a more holistic approach. Granted, not all catholics ascribe to the consistent life ethic either.