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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 11; Has the Messiah Come?

"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel."
LUKE 2:25-32.

Then turning to the disciples [Jesus] said privately, "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear."
LUKE 10:23-24.

A few days ago I had a talk with a Jewish friend about the idea of the Messiah in Judaism and Christianity. We finally stated the difference in a way similar to the alternative put before Jesus by the disciples of John Baptist: "Are you the Coming One? Or are we to look out for someone else?" We agreed that the Jews are looking for someone else while the Christians assert that the "Coming One" has already come. The Christians say with Simeon: "Our eyes have seen His salvation." The Jews reply: "We have not seen His salvation, we are waiting for it." The Christians feel blessed, according to the words of Jesus, because they have seen the presence of the saving power within the world and history. The Jews consider such a feeling almost blasphemous, since, according to their faith, nothing of what they expect to happen in the Messianic age has actually happened. And when we defend our Christian faith they point to the fact that the world has not become better since the days of Hosea and Jeremiah, that the Jews—and with them the largest part of mankind—are suffering not less than they did two thousand years ago; that the prophetic visions of doom are more realistic today than they were in those days. It is hard to answer this; but we must answer it for not only the Jews. but also innumerable Christians and non-Christians, our friends and our children, and something in ourselves ask these questions.

It is hard to answer them. What, for instance, can we answer when our children ask us about the child in the Manger while in some parts of the world all children "from two years old and under" have died and are dying, not by an order of Herod, but by the ever-increasing cruelty of war and its results in the Christian era and by the decrease of the power of imagination in the Christian people. Or, what can we answer the Jews when the remnants of the Jewish people, returning from death-camps, worse than anything in Babylon, cannot find a resting place anywhere on the surface of the earth, and certainly not amongst the great Christian nations? Or, what can we answer Christians and non-Christians who have realized that the fruit of centuries of Christian technical and social civilization is the imminent threat of a complete and universal self-destruction of humanity? And what answer can we give to ourselves when we look at the unhealed and unsaved stage of our own lives after the message of healing and salvation has been heard at every Christmas for almost two thousand years?

Should we say that the world, of course, is unsaved but that there are men and women in all generations who are saved from the world? But this is not the message of Christmas. All those in the Christmas legend who expect the Christ and receive the divine are looking out for the salvation of Israel and of the Gentiles and of the world. For all of them, and for Jesus Himself, and for the apostles, the kingdom of God, the universal salvation is at hand. But if this was the expectation, has it not been utterly refuted by reality?

This question is as old as the Christian message itself and the answer is equally old, as our texts indicate. Jesus takes His disciples aside and speaks privately to them when He praises them because they see what they are seeing. The presence of the Messiah is a mystery; it cannot be said to everybody, and it cannot be seen by everybody, but only by those like Simeon who are driven by the Spirit. There is something surprising, unexpected about the appearance of salvation, something which contradicts pious opinions and intellectual demands. The mystery of salvation is the mystery of a child. So it was anticipated by Isaiah, by the ecstatic vision of the sibyl and by the poetic vision of Virgil, by the doctrines of mysteries and by the rites of those who celebrated the birth of the new eon. They all felt as did the early Christians, that the event of salvation is the birth of a child. A child is real and not yet real, it is in history and not yet historical. Its nature is visible and invisible, it is here and not yet here. And just this is the character of salvation. Salvation has the nature of a child. As Christendom remembers every year, in the most impressive of its festivals, the child Jesus, so salvation, however visible it may be, remains always also invisible. He who wants a salvation which is only visible cannot see the divine child in the Manger as he cannot see the divinity of the Man on the Cross and the paradoxical way of all divine acting. Salvation is a child and when it grows up it is crucified. Only he who can see power under weakness, the whole under the fragment, victory under defeat, glory under suffering, innocence under guilt, sanctity under sin, life under death can say: Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.

It is hard to say this in our days. But it always has been hard and it always will be hard. It was and is and will be a mystery, the mystery of a child. And however deep the world might fall, even into utter self-destruction, as long as there are men they will experience this mystery and say: "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that we see."

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