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Moltmannia: Ubuntu Carpentry

September 4, 2009


These days, the thing I’m doing when listening to Moltmann podcasts is working on a small house that we purchased several months ago.  Alas, it has need of much work, and fitting it into afternoons and evenings means slow progress.  But I enjoy the labor, and the creativity it calls for, and the constant skill of problem-solving that is home remodeling.

The room where I’ve been working will soon be a dining room, once I get the floor fixed.  It is about 1/3 rotten, you see, and where the floor is solid, it is neither flat nor level.  And while I’m tempted to tear the whole thing out and make it right, doing so will make the place where it meets the living room floor look funny (since the living room isn’t exactly straight or level, either).  So I’m taking extra time to check and re-check the places where old will meet new, to insure that there is an harmonious transition between the two.

In the intersection between God and people, God could certainly reveal all of God’s Godness.  Indeed, there are a few places in the Jewish scriptures where God does just that.  The results are less than appealing– God looks a bit braggardly, and the person who has faced God needs a sabbatical to both come down from the clouds and pick themself up off the ground.   Revealing a great gulf between divinity and humanity ends up being an ineffectual exercise for both parties.

Yet many of us long for such a display of power and perfection:  a chance for the Great God to flex God’s muscles and show us how great God is.  We think we’ll feel better if God shows us what’s up.  But God is also good, which means a whole different set of traits on display.  Namely, kindness, patience, and humility.

The famous kenosis hymn from Philippians is not only one of the earliest fragments of nascent Christianity, but a clear expression of God’s abiding interest in connecting with human beings.

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:     Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.  (TNIV)

As Peter O’Brien points out in his weighty commentary, we generally misunderstand this text entirely.  O’Brien follows CFD Moule’s insight that the point of the passage is that “instead of imagining that equality with God meant getting, Jesus on the contrary, gave– gave until he was empty…”  O’Brien presses the point further by asserting that the clause in verse 6  “ought not to be rendered as a concessive clause (‘who though he was in the form of God’), but as causal:  ‘precisely because he was in the form of God he reckoned equality with God not as a matter of getting but of giving’”

So Jesus is not acting outside the character of Almighty God, but is instead acting out the very nature of God.  Jesus is not innovation, but simply another iteration of a God who is great in goodness.  It is in God’s nature to be humble, and patient, and accommodating, and serving.  It is very much like God to care about people, and to seek them out.

Moltmann shows us a God of weakness, of pathos, of empathy, of brokeness.  Of imperfection and uncertainty.  Like Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu, he reflects the Ubuntu understanding of the essential interconnectedness between people and God.  God meets us, not just because we are not level, but because being perfect and level is not as important as being connected and loved.

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One Response to “Moltmannia: Ubuntu Carpentry”

  1. Ken Tennyson says:

    What's a guy gotta do to get a Moltmann conference blog post out of a good friend?

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