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Christian Universalism by Jurgen Moltmann

by Jurgen Moltmann
"Because the judgment serves the new creation of all things, its justice is a healing creative justice according to the future, not a retaliatory justice referring to the past. Separating people into believers and unbelievers is wrong because it is godless. God is not the enemy of unbelievers or the executioner of the godless.. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.."


By Jurgen Moltmann

[Jurgen Moltmann, emeritus professor of systematic theology at the University of Tubingen and author of “Theology of Hope,” “The Crucified God” and “The End is the Beginning” was honored on April 8, 2009 (his 83rd birthday). The following excerpts from his address are translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]


The goal of helping victims and rectifying culprits is the triumph of God’s creative justice over everything godless in heaven, earth and below the earth, not the great reckoning with wages and punishments. This victory of divine justice leads to God’s great day of reconciliation on this earth, not to division of humankind into blessed and damned and the end of the world. On Judgment Day, “all tears will be wiped away from their eyes,” the tears of suffering and the tears of repentance. “There will be no mourning, crying or pain” (Rev 21,4). Thus the Last Judgment is penultimate, not ultimate and is not the end of God’s works. It is only a first step in a transition or transformation from transitoriness to intransitoriness. The new eternal creation created on the foundation of justice is definitive. Because the judgment serves this new creation of all things, its justice is a healing, creative justice reestablishing life according to this future, not a retaliatory justice referring to the past. The judgment serves the new creation, not sin and death as the great reckoning. It was the error of the Christian tradition in picture and idea, piety and teaching to see only judgment on the past and not God’s new world beyond the judgment and thus not believing the new beginning in the end.

The practice and endurance of evil are not always apportioned to different persons and groups of persons. Victims can also be perpetrators. In many persons, the perpetrator side and the victim side of evil are inseparably connected. The knowledge that the coming judge will judge us as perpetrators and as victims, reject the Pharisee in us and accept the sinner in us and reconcile us with ourselves. Judging victims and perpetrators is always a social judging. We do not stand isolated and dependent on ourselves before the judge as in human criminal courts or in nightly pangs of conscience. The perpetrators stand together with their victims, Cain with Abel, the powerful with the powerless, the murderers with the murdered. Humanity’s story of woe is inseparably joined with the collective history of culpability.

There are always unsolved and unsolvable social, political and personal conflicts where some become perpetrators and others victims of sin. As in the Auschwitz trials and the South African truth commission, victims have a long tormented memory while perpetrators have only a short memory if they have a memory at all. Therefore the perpetrators depend on the memories of their victims, must hear their reports and learn to see themselves with the eyes of their victims, even if this is frightening and destructive.


In conclusion, what practice follows from this future expectation? How do we visualize Christ’s coming justice?

An American friend asked his Baptist grandmother about the end of the world and she replied with the mysterious spine-chilling name “Armageddon.” According to Revelation 16,16, this is God’s end-time battle with the devil. Today the struggle of good against evil is generalized with the final victory of the good at the end. From this idea of the end, American fundamentalism developed a fantastic modern end-time struggle scenario. George W. Bush Jr. invented such a scenario, justifying “friend-enemy thinking” as a basic political category. To this end, he conjured the “axis of evil” reaching from Iraq to Iran and North Korea. “America is at war,” he announced after “September 11” and “whoever is not for us is against us.” America remains “at war” since no state had attacked the US but the criminal Islamic unit Al-Qaeda. In what war? The apocalyptic war called Armageddon has already started!

The judgment expectation common to Christianity and Islam has a very similar effect on the present. If the end of the world is God’s judgment over believers and unbelievers with the twofold end: believers in heaven and unbelievers in hell, the present will inevitably be ruled by religious friend-enemy thinking: here the believers in “God’s house” and there the unbelievers in the “house of war.” Since there is no hope for unbelievers, they can be punished here with contempt or terror. Unbelievers are enemies of believers since they are God’s enemies. Anticipation of the Last Judgment by separating people into believers and unbelievers and possibly persecuting unbelievers as God’s enemies is wrong because it is godless. God is not the enemy of unbelievers or the executioner of the godless. “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom 11,32). Thus all people of whatever faith or unbelief must be seen as befriended by God’s mercy. God loves them whoever they are. Christ died for them and God’s spirit works in their lives. Thus we cannot be against them.

The all-embracing hope in God’s future explains this boundlessness of love. Why should we take seriously the faith, superstition or unbelief of others as God’s mercy? That was a theme for Christendom in the atheistic East Germany (DDR) state. This cannot be otherwise in our dealings with people of other religions that must be marked by God’s unconditional love. The difference between believers, persons of other faiths and unbelievers are real but are annulled in God’s mercy with everyone.

Christian universalism does not hinder but promotes taking sides for victims of injustice and violence. In a divided and hostile world, the universalism of God’s mercy with everyone is reflected in the well-known “preferential option for the poor.” God acts unilaterally in history in favor of victims and also saves perpetrators through them. Jesus calls the burdened and heavy-laden to himself, accepts sinners and sends the Pharisees away empty. For Paul, the community itself is a testimony for God’s unilateral action in favor of all people. “Consider your call, brethren: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth, but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor 1,26-29). Therefore we sing “Sun of Righteousness, Arise in our Time.”

Ecumenical Church Hymn

Sun of righteousness,
arise in our time.
Dawn in your church
so the world can see.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Wake up, dead Christendom
from the sleep of security
so it hears your voice.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Behold the divisions
that no one can resist.
Great Shepherd, gather
everything that has lost its way or gone astray.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Open the gates to the nations.
Let no cunning or power
hamper your heavenly race.
Create light in the dark night!
Have mercy, O Lord.

Let us see your glory
in this time
And seek what creates peace
with our little strength.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Let us be one, Jesus Christ,
as you are one with the Father,
remaining in you always,
today and in eternity.
Have mercy, O Lord.

Power, praise, honor and glory
Are yours Most High always
As Most High is three in one,
Let us be one in him.
Have mercy, O Lord.


Destructive Judgment is a Godless Picture

By Jurgen Moltmann

[This article published in: Publik Forum 8/2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

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 Judgment that rewards good works and punishes bad deeds to order the transition to the world to come. According to this notion, God’s judgment 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 judgment 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 judgment. 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 judgment 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 judgment 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 Judgment 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 judgment.

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 Judgment 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 judgment 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 judgment over the past of this world and not God’s new world through the judgment.

If a social judging occurs in the Last Judgment, it is in truth a cosmic judgment because the coming Christ is also the cosmic Christ. Already in the psalms, JHWH 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.

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