return to religion-online

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 12: "He Who Believes in Me..."


And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And he who sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me.
John 12:44-50.


"He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me... ." These words follow a bitter complaint of the evangelist about the unbelief and half-belief of the people and their leaders. The words are introduced by the phase: "Jesus cried out. . . ." He is making an almost desperate effort to be understood. And what He cries out is that believing in Him means not believing in Him. The argument of the unbelievers was—and is in all periods—that it is impossible to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus declares: "This argument is valid. If people are asked to believe in me, they should not do so. But they are not asked any such thing! They are asked to believe in Him who has sent me, who is greater than I and with whom I am one. I have not spoken on my own authority," He continues. "If I did so, the unbelievers would be right."

There are many authorities in past and present. Why accept one and not another? Why accept any authority? As Jesus the man Jesus is neither an authority nor an object of faith. None of His superior qualities—neither His religious life, nor His moral perfection, nor His profound insights—make Him an object of faith or the ultimate authority. On this basis, He says, He does not judge anyone. If He did, he would be a tyrant who imposes Himself and His greatness on others, thus destroying instead of saving them.

What about our preaching? When we use the name of Jesus, do we not often try to force upon those to whom we are speaking and upon ourselves something great besides God? Do we always make it clear that believing in Him does not mean believing in Him? If not, are we not working for destruction more than for salvation?

It seems that the Christian painters knew more about this than we often do. They did not present a picture of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus of Nazareth. They painted Him as the infant of Bethlehem who contains the whole universe, though "lying now in Mary’s lap," as Luther sings. Through His infantile traits shines the power of the Lord of the world. Or they painted Him as the visible bearer of the divine majesty in those great mosaics where every piece of His gown is transparent for the infinite depth He represents and expresses. Or they painted Him as the Crucified who does not suffer as an individual man, but as He who stands for both the suffering universe and the divine love which participates in its suffering. Or they painted Him as the bringer of the new æon who controls the powers of nature, the souls of men, the demonic forces of disease, insanity, and death. But they did not give Him individual traits, did not make him a representative of a psychological type or of a sociological group.

Look at the pictures of the Sistine Chapel. Michaelangelo gave a special character to every prophet, to every sibyl. But when he painted Jesus as the ultimate judge, only an irresistible divine-human power appears.

When in our time Jesus became an object of biographical and psychological essays and was portrayed as a fanatic and neurotic, or as a pious sufferer, or as a social benefactor, or as a moral example, or as a religious teacher, or as a mass leader—He ceased to be the one in whom we can believe, for He ceased to be the one in whom we do not believe, if we believe in Him. He was no longer the Jesus who is the Christ.

We cannot pray to anyone except to God. If Jesus is someone besides God, we cannot and should not pray to Him. Many Christians, many among us, cannot find a way of joining honestly with those who pray to Jesus Christ. Something in us is reluctant, something which is genuine and valid, the fear of becoming idolatrous, the fear of being split in our ultimate loyalty, the fear of looking at two faces instead of at the one divine face.

But he who sees Him sees the Father. There are not two faces. In the face of Jesus the Christ, God "makes His face to shine upon us." For nothing is left in the face of Jesus the Christ which is only Jesus of Nazareth, which is only the face of one individual besides others. Everything in His countenance is transparent to Him who has sent Him. Therefore, and therefore alone, can we sing at Christmas-time: "O come, let us adore Him!"

Viewed 364867 times.