Thank God for Theologians

Today’s 80th Anniversary of D-Day began this morning in France with a gathering of world leaders from twenty-five countries, elderly French civilians who remember being freed from German occupation, and veterans more than a hundred years old returned to a place of extraordinary memories. It’s a day to pause and commemorate the largest amphibious invasion in military history, which turned the tide of World War II, began the liberation of occupied Europe, and, within the year, brought an end to the war. For the sake of freedom and democracy, more than ten thousand lost their lives on those Normandy beaches eighty years ago today.

Three days ago, on Monday, June 3, Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann died in Germany at 98 years old. Moltmann is widely regarded as one of the most important theologians since World War II. As a teenager he idolized Albert Einstein and had decided to study mathematics at the university in Hamburg but was drafted into military service in 1943 at the age of 16. In a dark German forest, he surrendered to a British soldier and, from 1945-48, was held as a prisoner of war, first in Belgium and then in Scotland. There he was given a copy of the New Testament and Psalms by an American chaplain. He would later write, “I didn’t find Christ, he found me.”

Moltmann returned home at 22 years of age to find his hometown of Hamburg in ruins from the Allied bombings and immediately went to work becoming a theologian. His experiences as a POW helped him begin to forge a theology of hope born of suffering, and through a long career of ecclesiastical and international academic leadership, he became known as the Theologian of Hope.

A year ago, on the occasion of his 97th birthday, he said:

Every morning, I am amazed that I am still here. ... To die means to let go. I am preparing myself for this. To die means to give one’s life over to God. I am preparing myself for that, too. The raising to eternal life is my hope in life and in death. The eternal life will also be lived. This is the life of God’s new creation. Death is like a birthday to new life in God’s kingdom. Every morning of every new day that hope gives me new courage to live. But I did not invite you here to ponder things with me but to rejoice with me. Let us toast to life—here and there!

Moltmann relished life, loved the church, and believed that the theology of Christian hope is the most important proclamation the church offers to an uncertain world during uncertain times, such as the ones in which we live. Today calls forth deep gratitude for an important day in history when freedom and democracy proved to be hard-won. And, thank God for theologians like Jürgen Moltmann, who have committed their lives to studying how, in the midst of all the vicissitudes of life and death, God is ever present, helping us have hope.