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The Shaking of the Foundations 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. This book was published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, in 1955 and is out of print. This material was prepared for Religion Online by John Bushell.

Chapter 4: The Two Servants of Jahweh

Now, the Eternal cries, bring your case forward. Now, Jacob’s King cries, state your proofs. Let us hear what happened in the past, that we may ponder it, or show me what is yet to be, that we may watch the outcome. Yes, let us hear what is to come, that we maybe sure that you are gods; come do something or other that we may marvel at the sight! Why, you are things of naught; you can do nothing at all! Here is one I have raised from the earth; I have called him by name from the east. He shall trample down rulers as morter, like a potter treading clay, now, we predicted this beforehand. Who foretold it, that we might hail it true? No one predicted it, no one announced it, not a word ever fell from your mouths. As for your idols, I see no one, not a prophet in their midst to answer my inquiries. They are all an empty nothing; all they do is utterly inane. Their metal images are all futile, all vain. Isaiah 41:21-26, 28-29.

A dramatic scene is described in the words of the prophet. Jahweh, as judge and party at the same time, calls the gods of the nations to a heavenly disputation, to be witnessed by the peoples of the world. They are to discuss which god has proved to be the true God. The true God must be He Who is the Lord of history. The final decision is that Jahweh is the God of history, and therefore the god who is really God. Jahweh is the God of history, because He has shown through His prophets that He understands the meaning of history, and that He knows the past and the future, the beginning and end, of all things. In showing that, He proves that He makes history, and that it is He who has raised Cyrus, the destroyer of the power of the Jewish nation and the liberator of its remnants. The gods of the nations cannot answer. For they did not know of that act; they did not predict it; and they did not perform it. The disputation ends with the pronouncement that these gods are all vain, that their works are as nothing, and that their images are as mere wind and illusion. It is Jahweh alone who is God, for He is the God of history.

Seldom in history have men been as disturbed about history as we are today. We desire urgently to catch at least a glimpse of the future, of wisdom and prophecy. It is not just a few thousand Jewish exiles, to whom our prophet speaks by the rivers of Babylon, but ten million exiles from all over the world, who try passionately to penetrate the darkness of their future. And with them, a great many other men long for a strong, inspiring word concerning the future of mankind.

But those who have the power to shape the future fundamentally contradict each other. Political leaders declare solemnly that it is almost impossible to carry the burden of their office at this time. Ministers at home and in the army can only describe in negative terms the object of their people’s death and sacrifice. Those who have to speak to the people of the enemy soon realize that they can say nothing of real promise on the political plane. Only the prophets of disaster-without- hope give evidence of complete certainty. But they are not the prophets of God.

We should not expect the darkness of our history to be dispersed soon, either by new conferences or by clever political strategy. Our darkness, uncertainty, and helplessness in regard to the future have depths that are more profound. We do not receive an answer concerning the future, because we ask questions of those who cannot know the future, the gods who are as vanity, the gods of the nations, who are as nothing beside the God of history. Every man tries to wrest an oracle from the god of his nation through the mouths of his priests, the mighty and wise. And every man succeeds. All men throughout the world are flooded with oracles from the gods of their nations and the gods of other nations. All men compare their oracles with others, and attempt to determine the most credible ones. But the darkness simply increases. All men speak of the future in terms of their own nations. Yet even the greatest nation is as nothing to the God of history. For no nation or alliance of nations can say that it is the meaning, the purpose of history, that it is the nation or alliance which holds the knowledge of the past and the power to shape the future. The entire assembly of national gods must fall finally under the Judgment of Jahweh, which condemns it as a thing of naught, as a thing incapable of doing anything at all. We receive so many oracles, but no prophecies, only because we refuse to turn to the source of prophecy, the God of history.

Jahweh revealed Himself through Israel pain as the God Who is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, of history. A complete national breakdown alone made the remnants of Israel ready to receive this revelation in its universal significance. But whenever the Jewish nation used that revelation as an excuse for national pride, and transformed Jahweh into a merely national god, another breakdown followed. For Jahweh as a national god is always condemned by Jahweh the God of history. The mystery of Judaism today lies in that fact.

Our prophet describes two very great figures: Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, the world-figure of his time, called by the prophet, the shepherd and the anointed, the man of God’s counsel; and the servant of Jahweh who represents the saving power of innocent suffering and death. The glorious founder of the Empire had to be the servant of the servant of Jahweh. He had to liberate the remnants of Israel, out of which the suffering servant arose.

I feel that the only solution of the historical problem today lies in that prophetic concept. For there are two forces in our battered world. One is the force of those who, like the suffering servant of God, exist, unseen, in all countries. We do not know where these servants live, or what they will make of the future. But we know that they exist, and that their suffering is not vain. They are the hidden tools of the God of history. They are the aged and the children, the young men and the young women, the persecuted and the imprisoned, and all those sacrificed for the sake of the future, for one small stone in the building of the Kingdom of God, the cornerstone of which is the perfect Servant of God. And the second force of the world is the force of those who, like Cyrus, rule Empires, and incorporate all the shame and greatness of Empires. They are the men of God’s counsel, because they carry through His purposes in the service of the suffering servants of Jahweh. But they are not aware that they are instruments, as Cyrus was not aware that he was God’s man of counsel. They do not know what shall become of their deeds. And if we look to them in our attempts to grasp the future, we shall not know either; if we look to them, we shall always remain in darkness. But if we turn to the true servants and to the true God whom they serve, the God of history, we shall know of the future. We can find the solution of the riddle of history as a whole, and of our particular history, in the figure of Cyrus in the service of the servant of Jahweh.



If we turn to the true servants and to the true God whom they serve, the God of history, we shall know of the future. For example, we can find the solution of the riddle of history as a whole, and of our particular history, in the figure of Cyrus in the service of the servant of Jahweh.

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