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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 14: "Who Are My Mother and Brothers...?"


Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his friends heard it, they went out to seize him; for they said, "He is beside himself."

MARK 3:19-21.

And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." And he answered, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."

MARK 3:31-35.

For most of those who go away to a university to study, it is not the first time that they leave the home of their parents. But for all of them it is an important step on their own independent way of life. Every step on this road brings them farther away from the place from which they came, the family into which they were born. The first moves towards independence occur very early in life—as exemplified in the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple. And none of these moves is without pain and tragic guilt—as indicated in the anxiety of the parents of Jesus and the reproaches they made to Him. But only after Jesus has begun His public activities the depth of the gap between Him and His family becomes fully manifest. In the story which we have just read and which is recorded by the three first Gospels, Jesus uses the family relations as symbols for a relation of a higher order, for the community of those who do the will of God. Something unconditional breaks into the conditional relations of the natural family and creates a community which is as intimate and as strong as the family relations, and at the same time infinitely superior to it. The depth of this gap is emphasized in the attempt of His family to seize Him and to bring Him home because of His extraordinary behavior which makes them believe that He is out of His mind. And the gap is strongly expressed in His saying that He who loves father and mother more than Him cannot be His disciple, words even sharpened in Luke’s version, where everyone is rejected by Him who does not "hate" father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters—and his own life.

All these words cut with divine power through the natural relation between the members of the family whenever these relations claim to be ultimates. They cut through the bondage of age-old traditions and conventions and their unconditional claims; they cut though the consecration of the family ties by sacramental or other laws which make them equal to the ties between those who belong to the new reality in the Christ. The family is no ultimate! The family relations are not unconditional relations. The consecration of the family is not a consecration for the final aim of man’s existence.

We can imagine the revolutionary character of such sayings in face of the religions and cultures of mankind. We can hardly measure their disturbing character in face of what has happened century after century within the so-called Christian nations—with the support of the Christian churches who could not stand the radical nature of the Christian message in this as in other respects. However, in spite of its radicalism, the Christian message does not request the dissolution of the family. It affirms the family and limits its significance. Jesus takes up the prophecy of Micah, that in the last days "brother will deliver up brother to death. and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death." It belongs to periods in which the demonic powers get hold of the world, that the family community is turned into its opposite. But when Jesus uses this prophecy, He adds, "And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake." The same words which point to the demonic disruption of the family are used to describe its inescapable divine disruption. This is the profound ambiguity of the Biblical teaching about the family.

Now let us look into our own situation. We cannot cut the ties with our family without being guilty. But the question is: Is it willfulness which demonically disrupts the family communion, or is it the step toward independence and one’s own understanding of the will of God which divinely liberates us from the bondage to our family? We never know the answer with certainty. We must risk tragic guilt in becoming free from father and mother and brothers and sisters. And we know today better than many generations before us what that means, how infinitely difficult it is and that nobody does it without carrying scars in his soul his whole life. For it is not only the real father or mother or brother or sister from whom we must become free in order to come into our own. It is something much more refined, the image of them, which from our earliest childhood has impregnated our souls. The real father, the real mother may let us go free, although this is by no means the rule in Christian families. But even if they have the wisdom to do it, their images can prevent us from doing what the will of God is in a concrete situation, namely, to do acts in which love, power and justice are united. Their image may prevent us from love by subjection to law. It may prevent us from having power by weakening our personal center. It may prevent us from exercising justice by blinding us to a concrete situation and its demands. And the same happens with the images of brothers and sisters. Although it is easier to become free from them in an external sense, they may hiddenly produce decisions which determine for the worse whole periods of our lives.

But do not mistake me! Opposition and revolt are not yet freedom. They are unavoidable stages on the way to freedom. But they create another servitude if they are not overcome as much as the early dependence must be overcome. How can this happen? Certainly, in pathological cases, psychotherapy is needed, as Jesus Himself acted as a healer, bodily and mentally. But more is necessary, namely, the dependence on that which gives ultimate independence, the image of that which includes and transcends all father and mother images, the life of that which makes it possible to hate and to love every life, including our own.

No human problem and certainly not the family problem can be solved on a finite level. This is true although we know that even the image of God can be distorted by the images of father and mother, so that its saving power is almost lost. This is the danger of all religion and a serious limit for our religious work. But it is not a limit for God, who again and again breaks through the images we have made of Him, and who has shown in Christ that He is not only father and mother to us, but also child, and that therefore in Him the inescapable conflicts of every family are overcome. The Father who is also child is more than a father as He is more than a child. Therefore we can pray to the Father in heaven without transferring our hostility against the father image to Him. Because God has become child, it is possible for us to say the Our Father.

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