Relax With a Bubble Bath and Paul Tillich!

I mean with a book of Paul Tillich’s. Otherwise… eww.

So you may remember my recent post looking at the issue of “academic” versus “practical” theology. It was part of my series on Bishop Willimon’s book about Methodism. Well, along with this book I’ve been browsing through The Essential Tillich because… well, because I have little better to do than to torture myself theologically.

Actually it’s a rather interesting example of what I was talking about with “academic” versus “practical” theology. Which side does it represent? I’m not sure. Both. Let me explain. As a collection of Tillich-ian writings this book is predominantly a mixed bag. I’ll start one chapter that will be extremely philosophical and couched in jargon that I’m only vaguely familiar with. A paragon of “academic” theology that leaves me asking “so what?” For example, one chapter deals with the difference between symbols and signs. Now, I’m not saying this may not be a valuable part of theological reflection. In fact, I can see how it might very well be. But Paul Tillich never makes that case.

On the other hand, this book contains sermons that Paul Tillich preached (sadly not as many sermons are in this volume as his more academic works.) After reading a couple of his sermons… well, they just hit you. The wisdom on a completely relate-able level. It’s like I’m looking at a book written by two men named Paul Tillich. Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my favorite bits from Tillich’s sermons because these really are jewels of theology.

On a sermon where he preaches about “not taking the Lord’s name in vain:”

“Calling on the name of God in prayer, for instance, can mean attempting to make God a tool for our purposes. A name is never an empty sound; it is a bearer of power… This is the reason the divine name can be taken in vain, and why one may destroy oneself by taking it in vain. For the invocation of the holy does not leave us unaffected. If it does not heal us, it may disintegrate us.”

That last bit of the quote struck especially powerful to me. Paul Tillich ends this sermon with a powerful warning to the Church about how we use God’s name:

“Is the secular silence about God that we experience everywhere today perhaps God’s way of forcing His church back to a sacred embarrassment when speaking of Him? It may be bold to ask such questions. Certainly there can be no answer, because we do not know the character of the divine providence. But even without an answer, the question itself should warn all those inside the church to whom the use of His name comes too easily.”

Paul Tillich writes in another sermon about the interesting relationship between doubt and certitude:

“Doubt, and not certitude, is our human situation, whether we affirm or deny God. And perhaps the difference between them is not so great as one usually thinks. They are probably very similar in their mixture of faith and doubt. Therefore, the denial of God, if serious, should not shake us. What should trouble everyone who takes life seriously is the existence of indifference. For he who is indifferent, when hearing the name of God, and feels, at the same time, that the meaning of his life is being questioned, denies his true humanity.”

I’ve often had conversations with people who deny the existence of God that make me think the current popularity of atheism may be a blessing in disguise. I’ve met some people who were really indifferent to religion before, but now are studying its claims although there are admittedly those who are more interested in indifferently rejecting religion wholesale rather than studying and arriving at a reasoned conclusion. Those who honestly and fairly study the claims of Christianity may come to a radically different conclusion from mine, but at least many of them are now interested. And I think if they’re interested in Truth, then a great many of them will find it. But, once again, is the Church ready for the task?

Paul Tillich also has a great sermon where he explains a theology of sin:

“Have the men of our time still a feeling of the meaning of sin? Do they, and do we, still realize that sin does not mean an immoral act, that ‘sin’ should never be used in the plural, and that not our sins, but rather our sin is the great, all-pervading problem of our life? Do we still know that it is arrogant and erroneous to divide men by calling some ‘sinners’ and others ‘righteous’? For by way of such a division, we can usually discover that we ourselves do not quite belong to the ‘sinners,’ since we have avoided heavy sins, have made some progress in the control of this or that sin, and have been even humble enough not to call ourselves ‘righteous.’ Are we still able to realize that this kind of thinking and feeling about sin is far removed from what the great religious tradition, both within and outside the Bible, has meant when it speaks of sin?”

Paul Tillich later in this sermon goes on to explain how sin is separation, how “before sin is an act, it is a state.”

“But let us just consider ourselves and what we feel, when we read, that in some sections of Europe all children under the age of three are sick and dying, or that in some sections of Asia millions without homes are freezing and starving to death. The strangeness of life to life is evident in the strange fact that we can know all this, and yet can live today, this morning, tonight, as though we were completely ignorant… In both mankind and nature, life is separated from life. Estrangement prevails among all things that live. Sin abounds.”

Thankfully Paul Tillich doesn’t end on that note (and neither will I.) The text for this particular sermon was Romans 5:20. “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.”


~ by crossingthebosporus on August 31, 2012.

6 Responses to “Relax With a Bubble Bath and Paul Tillich!”

  1. Some interesting thoughts there – and there’s more truth in honest doubt than lukewarm faith, perhaps?

    • That is an interesting question to ponder. Tillich didn’t take the sermon in that direction though. We certainly know what the Bible says about lukewarm faith, although it’s a bit quieter on honest doubt. I have a quote somewhere from Pope Benedict about the value of skeptics to the Church as a sort of measure to help keep us honest, and most Church thinkers seem to be sympathetic to those who are honestly searching and yet skeptical.

  2. […] into the Church because we have too often failed to adequately teach as Paul Tillich mentioned (and I quoted) that sin is, at its most basic, a separation. Our life needs to change in light of this […]

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