Jürgen Moltmann on his “early companionship with Jesus”

by Kim on July 26, 2011

Here, in his autobiography, Moltmann is reflecting on his encounter with Jesus of Nazareth in Mark’s Gospel, while he was in prisoner-of-war Camp 22 in Kilmarnock, Scotland, 1945.

For me, two experiences raised me from depression to a new hope in life: the friendly encounter with those Scottish working men and their families, and a Bible. One day a well-meaning army chaplain came to our camp and after a brief address distributed Bibles. Some of us would certainly rather have had a few cigarettes. I read the book in the evenings without much understanding until I came upon the psalms of lament in the Old Testament. Psalm 39 caught my attention particularly …. There was an echo from my own soul, and it called that soul to God. I didn’t experience sudden illumination, but I came back to those words every evening. Then I read Mark’s Gospel as a whole and came to the story of the passion; when I heard Jesus’ death cry, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” I felt growing within me the conviction: this is someone who understands you completely, who is with you in your cry to God and has felt that same forsakenness you are living now. I began to understand the assailed, forsaken Christ because I knew that he understood me. The divine brother in need, the companion on the way, who goes with you through this “valley of the shadow of death”, the fellow-sufferer who carries you, with your suffering. I summoned up the courage to live again, and I was slowly but surely seized by a great hope for the resurrection into God’s “wide space where there is no more cramping”. This perception of Christ did not come all of a sudden and overnight, either, but it became more and more important for me, and I read the story of the passion again and again, for preference in the Gospel of Mark.

This early companionship with Jesus, this brother in suffering and the companion on the road to freedom, has never left me ever since, and I became more and more assured of it. I have never decided for Christ once and for all, as is often demanded of us. I have decided again and again in specific terms for the discipleship of Christ when the situations were serious and it was necessary. But right down to the present day, after almost 60 years, I am certain that then, in 1945, and there, in the Scottish prisoner of war camp, in the dark pit of my soul, Jesus sought me and found me. “He came to seek that which was lost,” and so he came to me when I was lost. There is a medieval picture which shows Christ descending into hell and opening the gate for someone who points to himself as if he were saying, “And are you coming for me?” That is how I have always felt. Jesus’ Godforsakenness on the cross showed me where God is present — where he was in my experiences of death, and where he is going to be whatever comes. Whenever I read the Bible again with the searching eyes of the Godforsaken prisoner I was, I am always assured of its divine truth.

Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography (London: SCM Press, 2007), pp. 29-31.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }


Pam 07.26.11 at 9:26 am

I haven’t read anything by Jurgen Moltmann but I’ll look for this book.


Tony Buglass 07.26.11 at 12:56 pm

Moltmann is worth reading, but of course being a German theologian, he’s not lightweight! I used his “Theology of Hope” as a textbook when I was in my final year at university - took me ages to read it, but it was very good.

For an introduction, if you can find a copy, “The Experiment Hope” is handy - it’s a collection of talks and essays, including themes around “The Crucified God” (much easier than wading through the volume of the same name) and others. He has written a fair number of books since hen, which I haven’t attempted, but this is a good way in to his thinking.


Kim 07.26.11 at 1:17 pm

As I put it in a clerihew, posted at Faith and Theology under the title “Theological Graffiti” (29/5/10):

“Jürgen Moltmann,
The world,” we ask, “live without hope?”


DaveW 07.26.11 at 10:27 pm

“The Crucified God” was a transformational read for me. Slow and hard work but so, so worth it.

I was reading it with 2 parents dying from cancer and during the time it took to read it both my parents died. This book was hugely influential and a great help at that time and ever since.

Thoroughly recommended if you can cope with the a hard read (I have to reread many paragraphs multiple times to start to understand them)


Paul F. 07.27.11 at 7:32 pm

Moltmann’s life should be made into a film (as should Barth’s, of course). Hopefully there’s a theology buff somewhere cranking out a screenplay.

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