The kenosis of God and reverence for the particular: A conversation with Juergen Moltmann

Jane Elizabeth Linahan, Marquette University


Jürgen Moltmann claims that the "fundamental idea of Christianity" is "the kenosis of Christ in which the kenosis of God is revealed." He also claims that there is a "reciprocal relationship" between theology and anthropology, that is, between our concept of God and our vision of ourselves--our ideas about what is important and how we are to live. If this is so, it means that this fundamental idea of the kenosis of God has significant implications for shaping our values, attitudes, institutions, praxis--our whole way of life. This may be a problem, since "kenosis" has traditionally been associated with suffering. If suffering is understood as a destructive violation of living things, it is an evil which ought to be resisted rather than acquiesced to. Therefore we need to be concerned about the impact of the "kenosis of God" upon our attitudes toward the problem of suffering. Two major alternatives for understanding the connection between God and kenosis need to be addressed. According to the first alternative, based on the classical theistic concept of God, kenosis must be explained in a way which does not contradict God's essential impassibility; the impassible God, in turn, is a paradigm of detachment and disengagement, and encourages avoidance and denial--rather than resistance--toward the problem of suffering. The second alternative affirms, especially by virtue of God's identification with the suffering of Jesus, that God truly participates in suffering and self-emptying; the question here is whether this validates and glorifies suffering, and thus stabilizes its existence rather than calling it in question. After setting out these possibilities, I present Moltmann's theology of the suffering and kenosis of God, focusing first upon his account of Jesus in his particularity, and then upon his elaboration of what this reveals about God. According to Moltmann, the cross is not merely God's empathetic identification with human suffering, but, much more radically, an event of suffering within the trinitarian relationships. If we take this seriously, it means that God has opened up to the world the inner life of God. Ultimately, the kenosis of God is not only about giving everything of God's life and love to creation; it is also about welcoming all of creation into the circle of God's own life. God's generosity does not just give to , but also makes room for the radically Other, reflecting God's reverent valuing of all that God has brought into being. This paradigm neither denies nor glorifies suffering, but presents a model of resistance. Kenotic reverence values every creature for its own sake, and thus is fundamental to a way of living which fosters the well-being of creation and stands against its violation.

Recommended Citation

Linahan, Jane Elizabeth, "The kenosis of God and reverence for the particular: A conversation with Juergen Moltmann" (1998). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9912729.