Do Executioners Triumph Over Their Victims?

This post is a part of my ongoing (slow and steady) blog series on The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann (CG). You can view the other posts in this series here.

My last few posts on CG have been in order of appearance with the book. I’m in chapter six and have been looking at how the cross of Jesus understood in a Trinitarian way points to an experience of “death in God,” and that the cross critiques and dismantles theism. In the near future, I plan to post about Moltmann’s treatment of “protest atheism” as it relates to our theology of the cross (we have touched on briefly this topic here) .

For this post I want to go back to a question that Moltmann raised in chapter five: Do executioners triumph over their victims?

Any look at world history raises the question why inhuman men fare so well and their victims fare so badly. Only on superficial level is ‘world history’ a problem of universal history, by the solution of which a meaningful horizon can be found for the whole of existence. At the deepest level the question of world history is the question of righteousness. And this question extends out into transcendence. The question whether there is a God or not is a speculative question in the face of the cries for righteousness of those who are murdered and gassed, who are hungry and oppressed. If the question of theodicy can be understood as a question of the righteousness of God in the history of the suffering of the world, then all understanding and presentation of world history must be seen within the horizon of the question of theodicy. Or do the executioners ultimately triumph over their innocent victims?
The Crucified God, p. 175

When the innocent are dehumanized and killed, does not their blood cry out for justice? Yet so often that cry seems to go unanswered. Isn’t it God’s job to set things right? Where was God at Auschwitz? During the Rwandan genocide in 1994? On 9/11? Or where is God now in West Africa with the outbreak of Ebola? In Iraq? In Gaza?

Where are you, God?

Do executioners triumph over their victims? (Because so often, it seems that they do!)

Theodicy is basically the age-old question: If God is both all-powerful and good, why is there evil and injustice in the world? In Christian circles, theodicy is the apologist’s answer to the world’s accusation against God: “God will work good out of this evil” we say, or “this evil was caused by humans with free will or by evil forces, but God is not to blame!” It sometimes seems that there is nothing outside our ability to explain.

In contrast, Moltmann’s approach to theodicy is that there is no “answer” to it, because we (especially in the midst of our suffering) would accept no answer. For those who long for the righteousness of God to right the wrongs that we encounter in this world, theodicy is not philosophical speculation but “the open wound of life“.

The message of the new righteousness which eschatological faith brings into the world says that in fact the executioners will not finally triumph over their victims. It also says that in the end the victims will not triumph over their executioners. The one will triumph who first died for the victims and then also for the executioners, and in so doing revealed a new righteousness which breaks through the vicious circles of hate and vengeance and which from the lost victims and executioners creates a new mankind with a new humanity. Only where righteousness becomes creative and creates right both for the lawless and for those outside the law, only where creative love changes what is hateful and deserving of hate, only where the new man is born who is neither oppressed nor oppresses others, can one speak of the true revolution of righteousness and of the righteousness of God.
The Crucified God, p. 178

So in the end, do executioners finally triumph over their victims? No. But not because God turned the tables and enabled the victims to have revenge against their persecutors. Rather, it is because Jesus died both for the executioners and their victims. This breaks through the “vicious circles of hate and vengeance” and in so doing creates “a new mankind with a new humanity”.

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