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The New Being by Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich is generally considered one of the century's outstanding and influential thinkers. After teaching theology and philosophy at various German universities, he came to the United States in 1933. For many years he was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Systematic Theology; The Courage to Be; Dynamics of Faith; Love, Power and Justice; Morality and Beyond; and Theology of Culture. The New Being was published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1955. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

Chapter 4: The Golden Rule


God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. No man has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us

I JOHN 4:16, 12.

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.


Recently I have had to think about the relation of love to justice. And it occurred to me that among the words of Jesus there is a statement of what is called the "Golden Rule." The Golden Rule was well known to Jews and Greeks, although mostly in a negative form: What you do NOT want that men should do to you, do NOT S0 to them. Certainly, the positive form is richer in meaning and nearer to love, but it is not love. It is calculating justice. How, then, is it related to love? How does it fit the message of the kingdom of God and the justice of the kingdom as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount where the Golden Rule appears?

Let us think of an ordinary day in our life and of occasions for the application of the Golden Rule. We meet each other in the morning, we expect a friendly face or word and we are ready to give it although our minds are full of anxious anticipation of the burdens of the day. Somebody wants a part of our limited time, we give it, having asked somebody else to give us a part of his time. We need help and we give it if we are asked, although it includes sacrifice. We are frank with others, expecting that they will be frank with us even if it hurts. We are fair to those who fight against us, expecting fairness from them. We participate in the sorrows of our neighbors, certain that they will participate in ours. All this can happen in one day. All this is Golden Rule. And if somebody has violated this rule, consciously or unconsciously, we are willing to forgive as we hope to be forgiven. It is not astonishing that for many people the Golden Rule is considered as the real content of Christianity. It is not surprising that in the name of the Golden Rule criticism is suppressed, independent action discouraged, serious problems avoided. It is even understandable that statesmen ask other nations to behave towards their own nation according to the Golden Rule. And does not Jesus Himself say that the Golden Rule is the law and the prophets?

But we know that this is not the answer of the New Testament. The great commandment as Jesus repeats it and the descriptions of love in Paul and John’s tremendous assertion that God is love, infinitely transcend the Golden Rule. It must be transcended, for it does not tell us what we should wish that men would do to us. We wish to have freedom from heavy duties. We are ready to give the same freedom to others. But someone who loves us refuses to give it to us, and he himself refuses to ask us for it. And if he did, we should refuse to give it to him because it would reduce our growth and violate the law of love. We wish to receive a fortune which makes us secure and independent. We would be ready to give a fortune to a friend who asks us for it, if we had it. But in both cases love would be violated. For the gift would ruin us and him. We want to be forgiven and we are ready to do the same. But perhaps it is in both cases an escape from the seriousness of a personal problem, and therefore against love.

The measure of what we shall do to men cannot be our wishes about what they shall do to us. For our wishes express not only our right but also our wrong, and our foolishness more than our wisdom. This is the limit of the Golden Rule. This is the limit of calculating justice. Only for him who knows what he should wish and who actually wishes it, is the Golden Rule ultimately valid. Only love can transform calculating justice into creative justice. Love makes justice just. Justice without love is always injustice because it does not do justice to the other one, nor to oneself, nor to the situation in which we meet. For the other one and I and we together in this moment in this place are a unique, unrepeatable occasion, calling for a unique unrepeatable act of uniting love. If this call is not heard by listening love, if it is not obeyed by the creative genius of love, injustice is done. And this is true even of oneself. He who loves listens to the call of his own innermost center and obeys this call and does justice to his own being.

For love does not remove, it establishes justice. It does not add something to what justice does but it shows justice what to do. It makes the Golden Rule possible. For we do not speak for a love which swallows justice. This would result in chaos and extinction. But we speak for a love in which justice is the form and structure of love. We speak for a love which respects the claim of the other one to be acknowledged as what he is, and the claim of ourselves to be acknowledged as what we are, above all as persons. Only distorted love, which is a cover for hostility or self-disgust, denies that which love unites. Love makes justice just. The divine love is justifying love accepting and fulfilling him who, according to calculating justice, must be rejected. The justification of him who is unjust is the fulfillment of God’s creative justice, and of His reuniting love.

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