Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tillich's Resurrection Theory

Recall a quote from an earlier post:

"Christianity is not based on the acceptance of a historical novel; it is based on the witness to the messianic character of Jesus by people who were not interested at all in a biography of the Messiah." (Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p. 105.)

There is a sense in which Tillich's statement here is exceedingly odd. That the details of the life of a person called the Christ, the Son of Man and of God, would not interest the world is absurd. Yet in another sense it is completely understandable. It is only because Jesus is said to transcend the ordinary details of life that define humanity that his life is of interest in the senses claimed: Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God, etc. In fact, had the New Testament authors not understood that the human details of Jesus' life are not what concerns us, they would have fallen prey to the problem implied in what I called "the primary question" (see the first Tillich post): How can Jesus represent God to us without violating the prohibition (Second Commandment) against idolatry? Tillich's use of the term "transparency" was the answer: "The absolute side of the final revelation, that in it which is unconditional and unchangeable, involves the complete transparency and the complete self-sacrifice of the medium in which it appears." (Vol. I, p. 151.) The details of Jesus' humanity would be the "medium" in which he appeared. Accordingly, the details had to be "sacrificed," since to focus on them would be to confuse oneself on the very point on which the gospel story must be unequivocal: "Jesus could not have been the Christ without sacrificing himself as Jesus to himself as the Christ." (Dynamics of Faith, p. 97.) This all follows from asking the primary question and understanding the only possible way to answer it.

But what about the central events of the ministry of Jesus--those by which the sacrifice of Jesus' humanity in order to represent God to humanity were achieved? Aren't those "details" that depict his life to us? I will answer the rhetorical question: It was by refusing to be a Messiah who would fulfill the expectations of a nation awaiting his rule and accepting the consequences of his denial that he pointed to a Kingdom beyond this world--that is, if his crucifixion is to be seen as a triumph. Let's review the context that informs this paradoxical "triumph." (See previous Tillich posts--the argument to follow is a simplification.) I'll sketch an argument by way of positions argued for in previous posts:

We distort ourselves ethically and degrade ourselves as human beings if we elevate any contingent, finite good to be our overarching good. (See the post on Tillich's view of humanity and freedom.)

We need an overarching sense of good in order to lead lives coherently shaped by our values. (See the post on Tillich's Functional God. Tillich calls the perspective which determines this overarching good "ultimate concern.")

Therefore, to have the overarching sense of good that we need without the distorting and degrading influence of a finite, contingent good filling that role, we need an overarching sense of good that is not finite or contingent.

Agape love, alone, is a value that is neither finite nor contingent:

"All love, except agape, is dependent on contingent characteristics which change and are partial. {They are} dependent on repulsion and attraction, on passion and sympathy. Agape is independent of these states. It affirms the other unconditionally, that is, apart from higher or lower, pleasant or unpleasant qualities. Agape unites the lover and the beloved because of the image of fulfillment which God has of both. Therefore, agape is universal; no one with whom a concrete experience is...possible ("the neighbor") is excluded; nor is anyone preferred." (Vol. I, p. 280.)

By making the commitment to agape one's overarching value, therefore, the ethically deforming, humanly degrading elevation of a finite, contingent good to be one's overarching value is avoided. For we are committed to a value that transcends any finite representation. Love thereby functions as one's "god," a god that cannot be represented, in answer to the primary question with which this series of posts on Tillich began.

We are, therefore, oriented toward the transcendent, and that orientation finds its proper object by making agape love one's ultimate concern. Since for Tillich our "ultimate concern" constitutes our faith and the object of our "ultimate concern" is our God, "it is obvious that this type of love is the basis for the assertion that God is love." (Vol. I, p. 281.)

How does this relate to Tillich's favored theory of the resurrection? To say that "God is love" is to say that ultimate reality is love--that one's overarching sense of good as agape is the very ground of our being. And it is by faith in God so understood that our humanity is kept free of the degrading and deforming elements of placing false gods, idols, where only agape should be.

In Jesus a life of agape was fully manifest. To say that death conquered Jesus is to deny either his full manifestation of agape love or the truth of the claim that God is known through agape love. But Jesus was crucified. Therefore, according to Tillich's "restitution theory," "...the resurrection is the restitution of Jesus as the Christ, a restitution which is rooted in the personal unity between Jesus and God and in the impact of this unity on the minds of the disciples." (Vol. II, p. 157.) In short, the life the disciples experienced could not be reconciled with Jesus' ignoble death. Hence, the resurrection was necessary.

To affirm the good news is to affirm that what is most needed was manifest in the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. This is a far cry from what is usually heard on Easter mornings, where the evidence of the resurrection is preached as an indubitable historical fact (by twists and turns of chop logic). But if we are to believe in Jesus and not take a bait and switch in which the meaning of the gospel is exchanged for a suspension of disbelief in a certain historical assertion, well, then we will want to thank Tillich for pointing us in the right direction: The gospel accounts of Jesus' life help us transcend the finite, contingent focus that continually threatens to estrange us from God and our true humanity. If Tillich is correct, we can know that, but to claim more is to step outside of faith in the name of faith: We are oriented toward transcendence, and should not forget it in the name of affirming the belief by which we assert it.

I hope that you have enjoyed this glimpse into Paul Tillich's theology.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tillich and Peirce: Love's Grand Perspective

The other day I realized that my depiction of Tillich's thought adopts ideas that I first read in the thoughts of Charles Sanders Peirce. Both think that a closed mind is stultifying at best and degrading at worst. Here's a quote from Peirce to illustrate. " blight can so surely arrest all intellectual growth as the blight of cocksureness..." (Philosophical Writings of Peirce, ed. Justus Buchler, p. 4) In fact, Peirce held this dictum so close that he called his philosophy "fallibilism" before he coined "pragmatism" as his thought's moniker. (There is a delightful story--for those of you who share in my bemusement with eccentricity--about Peirce abandoning his coinage after it became famous, saying that his new term, "pragmaticism" would be too ugly for anyone else to adopt it.)

What I find most interesting about Peirce's thought in conjunction with Tillich's is that it can be used to frame Tillich's views more adeptly than--I think--Tillich ever did. I refer to Peirce's "agapasm." "In genuine agapasm...advance takes place by virtue of a positive sympathy...springing from continuity of mind [with a conception of reality as good]." (Ibid., p. 369.) Here's the key to Peirce's self-described intellectual development: "...out of a contrite fallibilism, combined with a high faith in the reality of knowledge, and an intense desire to find things out, all my philosophy has always seemed to grow..." (Ibid., p. 4.)

I'll rephrase that to draw a parallel with his agapasm: "...out of a contrite fallibilism, combined with a high faith in the goodness of reality, and an intense desire to realize that goodness, the healthiest form of spirituality grows..." That view was, in his estimation, fully in line with Christianity, when understood correctly.

Accordingly, Peirce, like Tillich, combined an intellectual curiosity with a view of agape love to produce a Christian philosophical perspective that can be fully merged with science. (The quote above is from his essay, "Evolutionary Love." Clearly Peirce shares with Tillich (and C.S. Lewis) the view that Christian faith represents an evolutionary jump offered to humanity.) In the heading to the blog you see one of his most famous quotes: "Do not block the way of inquiry." Perhaps his agapasm could be seen as an extension of that dictum: "Do not block the way of good will."

For Tillich the root problem in human nature is to put a finite, closed, object or perspective where only an open-ended commitment to love and to learn should be. In that he shares Peirce's perspective exactly: the same "blight" that "arrests all intellectual growth" arrests all spiritual growth. It is a truly grand perspective. And for both men, it was the perspective to which Christianity lends itself, when properly understood.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Little Metaponderance

That everything can be doubted cannot be believed without falsifying itself. So far a standard self-referential problem. Yet by showing itself to be falsified, it demonstrates itself to be a true instance of itself. Therefore, by way of its contingent truth the statement demonstrates its formal fallacy. And that is interesting.

I came upon this thought whole working on the next Tillich post. It is, actually, relevant...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dough Boy to Do Death Row Regatta

On the principle that a life-changing resolution should be made public, I am letting friends and family know that I am going into training for Duluth Rowing Club's annual Death Row Regatta. (25 kilometers upstream from the port of Duluth along the mouth of the St. Louis River.)

The date is always late summer or early fall. Just got off the phone with the DRC president to confirm that the race will be held again this year.

FYI: I recall that I was actually holding in my stomach a bit when this picture was taken in late October, '08. I'll show before and after pictures, along with pictures from the race. Some middle-aged men get shiny new sports cars; I'm going to try to get a little more personal with the sporty look. :-)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tillich on Freedom and Humanity

Because I'm hoping to go to Minnesota's "Boundary Waters" this summer with my son, I've been reading and thinking ahead about the trip. This metaphor for Tillich's view of freedom comes from imagining the trip. Between lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) one must follow paths while carrying one's canoe or kayak. Portages between the lakes are by way of trails, and the trails pick their way between various hazards. I'll name just three; bogs, rapids, and thickets. If I were a salamander, the bog would be a good place to go. If I were a trout, the rapids would be a good place to go. And if I were a rabbit, the thicket would be an excellent choice. But I am a person, and If I want to make it through the Boundary Waters, I had best stay on the trail. The trail is my "destiny," because I am a human being, that is, assuming that my son and I go to the BWCA this summer. But it is also my choice, since I don't have to go to the BWCA. But it is also my destiny in another sense: I think that a trip to the BWCA is the best option, all things considered, for spending time together with my son this summer. In that sense my "choice" is determined by the point of view that leads to it, in a way that is analogous to the portage trails between BWCA lakes being the best option in that literal landscape. And we can keep on creating new levels of understanding to add to this analogy: Will I go just with my son? and if so, why that rather than the alternatives, and so on. The point is that freedom and determinism are not exclusive in Tillich's view of Freedom.

"Instead of separating the spirit from the conditioning psychological realm, we shall try to describe the rise of an act of the spirit out of a constellation of psychological factors. Every act of the spirit presupposes given psychological material and, at the same time, constitutes a leap which is possible only for a totally centered self, that is to say, one that is free." (Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 27.)

John Stuart asked for a clarification of this uniting of destiny and freedom in Tillich's thought--above, "the conditioning psychological realm" and "the rise of an act of the spirit out of a constellation of psychological factors." Specifically, he was interested in whether destiny is predetermined or character influences choices. Here is Tillich taking that question head on:

"...the whole complex of acts, in which this [act of choosing] happens has the character of freedom, not freedom in the bad sense of indeterminacy of an act of the will, but freedom in the sense of a total reaction of a centered self which deliberates and decides. Such freedom is united with destiny in such a way that the psychological material which enters into the moral act represents the pole of destiny, while the deliberating and deciding self represents the pole of freedom, according to the ontological polarity of freedom and destiny." (Vol. III, p. 28.)

In an ordinary spacial frame of reference we have up/down, near/far, left/right. We do not ask whether these "opposites" exclude each other. We understand that they describe poles within a complete frame of reference. In the same way that we cannot have a meaningful sense of "right" without "left" in a physical space we cannot have a meaningful sense of freedom without destiny as its pole in Tillich's formulation of the reality of freedom in human life. If I make a "choice" for no reason, it is a meaningless freedom, a vacuous choice. If my choice is constituted by a meaning that determines it, it cannot be viewed in the traditional way as being incompatible with determinism. In fact, to be meaningful, freedom must be compatible with determinism. But how?

John asked a great question precisely because it requires us to get beyond this impasse where the discussion traditionally stalls.

Here's the further question that will help us specify how freedom is manifest in the framework of destiny and the "rise of an act of the spirit" by which a choice is made: What constitutes the cognitive space in which the pole of freedom manifests itself?

Since Tillich does not confront this question specifically--and it is this question that will allow us to best understand his perspective on freedom--I will: we can always go to a further logical level of understanding or explore further in the present psychological and cognitive context, or seek out another person's advice. That is, we are free because our cognitive/psychological frame of reference open.

This comes as a bit of a shock to me, since I had always thought that Wiliam james had frames the question in the best and shortest possible way when he wrote that the free will problem was about whether "the will is a free variable." But if the will is "free" with respect to being determined, then it is only vacuously so (according to the rationale of Tillich's sketched above).

The important point comes in here: at any point in time doesn't the "Tillichian" view of freedom--assuming I've got it right--reduce to the perspective that determines it, and if not, then doesn't it reduce to an act of freedom separated from that which determines it, thereby falloing prey to the critique of Tillich's by which James' view was just discarded. (That is, was Tillich just going in a conceptual circle that he did not complete, but if he had would have put him right back with the Jamesian, traditional, view?)

Recall the quote used last week to set out the crucial point: "All ethical open to ethical criticism under the principle of agape." (Vol. III, p. 103.) To which I pointed out, "Agape is not one of the factors determining the psychological forces acting on us, but a commitment to remain open to all possibilities in a spirit of good will toward all." (Feb. 7, 09) In essence, I asserted the point that we are now questioning. Tillich asserts that it is "the elevation of one element of finitude" (Vol. III, p. 103.) over others that distorts human values and morals as it destroys human freedom.

It is the commitment to love that keeps us outwardly focused, that keeps us focused in a way that preserves the cognitive and psychological space that makes human freedom possible. But to be loving just as to be free we must carefully avoid the temptation to elevate a finite good to the place of defining the meaning of life--the perspective by which we make our way through life. If we do so, we are no longer "open to ethical criticism under the principle of agape." To be self-serving, and to serve any finite good, is to destroy the perspective of ethical freedom guided by love out of which our actions are meaningfully determined and free.

To understand that is to understand the core point in Tillich's thought and--if his thought succeeds--in Christian faith: God is Love, and we only "represent" God correctly when we understand that God cannot be given a finite representation (idolatry) but must be realized through human nature (Tillich's "transparency") as the continual openness toward transcendence made possible by agape, the ground of human freedom. For Tillich freedom and humanity have the same root, the divine ground of being, which is love.

{Note: I am sorry about the rather frequent typos over the last few posts. I am both very busy and am not able to save my posts or import them... So you're reading first drafts, and my "craft" isn't up to to snuff as a result. Sorry! It's only my belief that the subject is very worthwhile that keeps me posting.]

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tillich on Transcendence

Every coherent theology must make the question of transcendence central and primary. The classic expression comes from Thomas Aquinas' great Summa (Part I, Question I, Article 1): "...[humanity] is directed to God as to an end that surpasses the grasp of [its] reason."

Here is Paul Tillich's statement, which is couched in the context of his section on "The Reality of God" from Vol. I of his Systematic Theology: "The crucial question must now be faced. Can a segment of finite reality become the basis for an assertion about that which is infinite? The answer is that it can, because that which is infinite is being itself [which Tillich identifies with God] and because everything participates in being itself." (p. 238)

It is fun to get to this point in studying the thoughts of a truly great thinker, where the major parts can be fit in place according to the principles that determine them. Starting with Tillich's definition of God as Being Itself, we can trace his connection of concepts as diverse as essence, freedom, morality, humanity, love (agape), and transcendence as connected directly to his starting point. It is the last, "transcendence," will be the key to seeing the theological circle that Tillich sets up.

How is it, in light of Tillich's statement above, that humanity "participates in being itself"? Because we have a sense of how we ought to be, we have an essence: a defining sense of ideal humanity against which we measure our individual humanity. But please do not think that this individual sense is something that can be "cloned." We are individual persons with unique histories and perspectives by which we weigh experiences and ideas in light of their impact on our destinies. We need to unpack this cluster of notions.

We are moral beings; we have senses of "ought"--derived from norms, ideals, goods, virtues, moral perspectives, etc.--to which we assent and to which we feel obligation. But it is only when we connect these external "oughts" to a sense of destiny that takes the oughts and combines them with our individual sense of how we should live that we make them ours, that we combine our "senses of ought" with individual senses of how we can participate fully as human beings to realize those "oughts." In short, we assent to our destiny as human beings by acting on our senses of how we ought to live.

But that implies that we combine freedom--implied by the assent--with a sense of destiny. An extended quote will help (the first portion was quoted in last week's post).

"...a large amount of material is present in the psychological center--drives, inclinations, desires, more or less compulsory trends, moral experiences, ethical traditions and authorities, relations to other persons,k csocial conditions. But the moral act is not the diagonal in which all these vectors limit each other and converge; it is the centered self which actualizes itself as a personal self by distinguishing, separating, rejecting, preferring, connecting, and in doing so, transcending its elements. The which this happens has the character of the sense of a total reaction of a centered self which deliberates and decides. Such freedom is united with destiny in such a way that the psychological naterial which enters into the moral act represents the pole of destiny, while the deliberating and deciding self represents the pole of freedom... (Systematic Theology, Vol. III, p. 27-8, emphasis added.)

Given the shortest possible expression, freedom is choosing to live authentically (or, to be fully human) the subject of Tillich's The Courage to Be. This might still seem a bit counterintuitive. But combining this aspect of Tillich's view of human freedom with his statement that our decision making process represents a transcending of self will help.

If I were to shoot off a bottle rocket on the Fourth of July, a rocket scientist could note the weight of the firework, the amounts, proportions and condition of the explosive agents, the elevation and air density and wind speed and direction, etc., to explain why the firework performed as it did. In Tillich's language, just quoted, it would be explained by the way "in which all these vectors limit each other and converge." But human freedom, by contrast, is "a total reaction of a centered self which deliberates and decides." (Vol. III, p. 28. Emphasis added.) To understand the bottlerocket, the unique physical circumstances contributing to its trajectory and explosion need to be understood. Likewise, to understand a person's decision, the unique psychological circumstances contributing to it need to be understood. But in addition, there needs to be "a centered self" in order for there to be human freedom and consequently an authentic human decision enacted out of our senses of "ought" and individual "destiny." What is this "centered self"?

Tillich, to my knowledge, never explicitly defines what "centered" means. But implicitly he refers to a perspective which takes in the various relevant considerations and impulses contributing to a comtemplated action and evaluates them by means of a sense of self, including: one's goals, hopes, fears, needs, abilities, disabilities, and so on up to and including one's sense of what life is about. The last is the crucial part--the sense of what life is about. Because, if a person does not have that sense, then they have no overriding concept or sensibility by which the competing psychological factors contributing to a decision should be ordered. In that case, a person's "choice," though psychologically determined, resembles the account we imagined with the bottlerocket: "these vectors limit each other and converge" on a decision. By contrast, a self centered by virtue of possessing a sense of what life is about has a meaningful criterion by which to order the various factors and decide. It's the difference between what Aristotle called a "passive" and an "active" intellect. The active intellect is not defined by the way in which the various factors "limit each other and converge" on a decision. It defines its own criterion and makes a decision based on it.

At this point we could go in various directions in connecting Tillich's thought. For instance, we could focus on how this provides the groundword for understanding the second of the conceptual bookends quoted in the last post: "If faith is understood as what it centrally is, ultimate concern, it cannot be undercut by modern science or any kind of philosophy." (Dynamics of Faith, p. 126.) The connection here is that the centering perspective referred to above is the sense or idea of what life is about, and that is also the content of one's "ultimate concern," Tillich's shorthand definition of faith. And it would be fun to trace the reason why faith is essential in Tillich's view of freedom. It would also be instructive to inquire further into his ideas on freedom. But here we have another critical point to make.

If we are fully human only in achieving a centered sense of self by which we transcend the various factors that motivate us as beings in the world, then never, ever, can we be fully human and identify the sense of self with any of the possible factors that can compete to determine us as an object rather than a self or person. To do so is to degrade ourselves. Religiously and biblically, it is idolatry--making a mere thing "the object of life." Morally, we distort ourselves by elevating a contingent good into the center of the decision process where the contingencies should be evaluated, not determining the evaluation. But if so, how is it possible to have a sense of self that is definite enough to be the psychological center that gives meaning to our lives without that definite sense of self becoming a distorting, degrading, idoloatrous "object of life" which prevents the active engagement of a human personhood as the determining center of our lives.

It is the principle of agape--good will toward all--which provides the answer needed by our humanity.

"All ethical open to ethical criticism under the principle of agape..." (Vol. III, p. 268.) Agape is not one of the factors determining the psychological forces acting on us, but a commitment to remain open to all possibilities in a spirit of good will to all.

In Tillich's words, "This is easily understandable... the elevation of one element of finitude...necessarily produces the reaction from other elements of finitude... The demonic self-elevation of one nation over against all the others in the name of her God or system of values produces the reaction from other nations in the name of their God. The demonic self-elevation of particular forces in the centered personality and the claim of their...superiority leads to the reaction of other forces..." (Vol. III, p. 103.)

The story of Jesus triumphally riding into Jerusalem and ending up on a cross at the end of the week is precisely a story of a man rejecting the temptation to become the object by which a subjected nation is elevated and offering instead as a picture of perfect humanity the need to sacrifice the idolatry implicit in all self-elevation, an elevation that distorts and degrades our humanity by subverting the only answer by which our humanity is adequately expressed: agape.

To return to the theme of past posts, by the gospel story we can see God in the narrative of Jesus' ministry precisely because in him is depicted our undistorted, undegraded humanity, and in that humanity is depicted the image of God. Now we see that, truly--if Tillich's analysis is correct--our humanity can only be depicted paradoxically by seeing it as essentially requiring transcendence of us.

We believe in God, because we are oriented toward transcendence by our human nature. We believe in Jesus, because he is the picture of our human nature transcended. As such we have faith that our humanity "is directed to God as to an end that surpasses the grasp of our reason." to return to Thomas Aquinas' classic formulation, and complete this little theological circle.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Tillich's Functional God

"The religious principle cannot come to and end. For the question of the ultimate meaning of life cannot be silenced as long as men are men." ( Paul Tillich, Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions (Columbia University Press, New York, 1963) p. 96.) The foregoing statement appeared on the next to last page of Tillich's Encounter. The opening statements of his Dynamics of Faith read, "Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned: the dynamics of faith are the dynamics of man's ultimate concern." ((Harper and Row, New York, 1957) p. 1.)These statements function as conceptual bookends to Tillich's thought in this sense; they are two ways of stating the place of religion in human life. The first says, in effect, that it is human nature to ask about life's meaning, while the second says, in effect, that this asking (and consequent answering) can be traced in terms of a definite "dynamic" in human life. More emphatically, this dynamic of question and answer centered on the meaning of life is inherent in our human nature--as an essential part of it, no less--since it "cannot be silenced as long as [human beings] are [human beings]."

If we call the object of ultimate concern God--and that is precisely what Tillich intends--then it follows that whatever one thinks about the reality of God, that a functional deity presides in the hearts and minds of all human beings.

It is for this reason that we began the Tillich posts with a consideration of the "primary question," as I called it: How can Jesus Christ represent God to Christians when Christianity originates and extends a tradition in which the representation of God is forbidden? The answer, that Jesus lived in a way that made God transparent through his human nature because he embodied the image of God in human nature by the way he lived, was the answer. We must now turn to the question of why we think that the way that Jesus lived can meaningfully and really be called the embodiment of the life of God. As we will see, for Tillich, the answer "is derived from the basic christological assertion that in the Christ the eternal unity of God and man becomes actual..." (Systematic Theology, Vol. III, 269-70)

And that leads us to an elaboration of the meaning of faith: " is the state of being grasped by the transcendent unity of unambiguous life--it embodies love as the state of being taken into that transcendent unity." (Vol. III, p. 129.) So, how does "love as the state of being taken into that transcendent unity" play out?

Unity is achieved by overcoming the plethora of ambiguities that compete with each other in human life. There are ambiguities of religion, culture, morality, life, and creativity. To take the moral sphere as an example the following ambiguities vie with each other. In the moral act "a large amount of material is present in the psychological center--drives, inclinations, desires, more or less compulsory trends, moral experiences, ethical traditions and authorities, relations to other persons, social conditions. But the moral act is not the diagonal in which all these vectors...converge; it is the centered self which actualizes itself as a personal self by distinguishing, separating, rejecting, preferring, connecting, and in doing so, transcending its elements." (Vol. III, p. 27-8.)

Here it is important to note that the ability to transcend the psychological interplay of competing, ambiguous motives and make a moral decision does not imply that one has made a decision about which one is not conflicted. In other words, the ability to decide does not imply the ability to resolve the dilemmas of being a finite being who wishes to fulfill ends and ideals that compete for our limited ability, attention, energy, and time. Failure is built into human experience.

That is the meaning of Tillich's important concept, "existential estrangement." It is human to have ideals and goals and morals, etc., and it is universal to human experience to have only limited success in fulfilling those ends. We thus become estranged from ourselves when we consider the gulf between what we believe we should be, what we want to be, what we desire to accomplish, etc., and what we are and do, "for life is neither essential nor existential, but ambiguous." (Vol. III, p. 32.) This follows in that our ideals and morals, etc., are expressions of our essential side and our limited abilities to fulfill those essential ends, against which our human limitations ensure that our experience will include a large doses of failure. Better stated, our best wishes "burden our consciences because we cannot do justice to all of them." (Tillich, The New Being (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2005) p. 158.)

What are we to do? In this context that question is a meta-moral. It asks, how does one solve a problem embedded in morals and life itself, more generally? The answer that Tillich gives us has two parts.

First, we are to solve the ambiguity of our attitude toward the moral frameworks which have authority for us by adopting love as the lens through which we view our moral obligations: "Love contains and transcends the law. It does voluntarily what the law commands." (Vol. III, 272.) But if we adopt the law of love, aren't we just bound by law on another level? Tillich asks and answers this question by saying, "" is not a law; it is a reality. It is not a matter of ought-to-be...but a matter of being." (Ibid.) The ought/is divide which estranges us is conquered, in this case, by being motivated by love.

But what about our finitude? Aren't we still estranged by our failure to fully achieve our goals in the moral sphere and so many others? Yes, we are. And here we need the Christian message of forgiveness as acceptance by God despite our unacceptability. When we are united to the reality of love, we are accepted into the reality of God. In Tillich's words again, "He who is grasped by the one thing that is needed has the many things under his feet. They concern him, but not ultimately, and when he loses them he does not lose the one thing he needs and that cannot be taken from him." (The New Being, p. 160.) It is possible to enter into love in a way that our wills overcome the ought/is divide and our experience tells us that we are united with God, despite our moral failures, and the experience of failure is inescapably part of human nature.

It is possible to make love one's ultimate concern, and it is possible to make belief in the God who is love the object of a faith that heals the estrangement that can rob our lives of any credible moral meaning. In the story of Jesus the Christ we are told of a life in which the preliminary concerns that compete with love never eclipse the picture of human life unconditionally committed to portraying the love of God as a reality open to all people. Isn't that what the cross means--that abandoned on all sides by human failure that God still loves us? Tillich's thought should be seen, most basically, as a theological picture of why the answer "Yes" to that question is the very answer that is most needed for the sake of our humanity. And when that answer is accepted, it is accepted because it is seen as the true representation of God to humanity precisely because it is the best representation of our humanity.