BY: PAUL TILLICH
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity. MATTHEW 10:1
Recently I spent three months in Germany and what I saw was a sick people, sick as a whole and sick as individuals. Their faces are shaped by burdens too heavy to be carried, by sorrows too deep to be forgotten. And what their faces expressed, their words confirmed: Tales of horror, stories of pain and despair, anxieties dwelling in their blood, confusions and self-contradictions disturbing their minds. And if you look deeper into them you find guilt-feeling, some times expressed, mostly repressed. For it hides itself under passionate denials of guilt, under self-excuse and accusations of others, under a mixture of hostility and humility, of self-pity and self-hate. The nation is split externally by the split between East and West which divides all mankind politically and spiritually. And the nation is split internally. Old hostilities are smoldering, new hostilities are growing, and there is no peace. A sick nation.
But within this nation I found people who were healthy, not because the sickness was not written in their faces also. But something else was in them, a healing power, making them whole in spite of their disruption, making them serene in spite of their sorrow, making them examples for all of us, examples of what could and should happen to us!
To us? But are we not a healthy nation? That certainly is what you believe when you return from Germany and Europe to this country! The faces of most people are shaped by smiles and not by tears. There is benevolence towards each other and even towards enemies. People here are willing to admit their short-comings, such as discrimination, exploitation, destructive competition. They are used to acting spontaneously and not under compulsions imposed on them by tyrants or conquerors, or what is even more difficult, imposed on them by newspapers, radios and public opinion polls, these tyrants of modern democracy. A healthy nation!
But we read that in this nation almost 40 per cent of all those young men who are rejected by the Armed Services are unacceptable because of mental disturbances and maladjustments. And we hear that of all illnesses mental illness is by far the most widespread in this country. What does this mean? It is a symptom of serious danger for our health. There may be something in the structure of our institutions which produces illness in more and more people. It may, for instance, be that the unlimited, ruthless competition which deprives everybody of a feeling of security, makes many in our healthy nation sick; not only those who are unsuccessful in competition, but also those who are most successful. And so something surprising occurs: We have fought victoriously against many forms of bodily sickness. We have discovered drugs with an almost miraculous power. The average length of our lives has been stretched beyond any former expectation. But many in our nation cannot stand this health. They want sickness as a refuge into which they can escape from the harshness of an insecure life. And since the medical care has made it more difficult to escape into bodily illness, they choose mental illness. But does not everybody dislike sickness, the pain, the discomfort and the danger connected with it? Of course, we dislike our sickness with some parts of our souls; but we like it with some other parts, mostly unconsciously, sometimes even consciously. But nobody can be healed especially of mental disorders and diseases who does not want it with his whole heart. And this is why they have become almost an epidemic in this country. People are fleeing into a situation where others must take care of them, where they exercise power through weakness or where they create an imaginary world in which it is nice to live as long as real life does not touch them. Don’t underestimate this temptation. The basic insecurity of human existence and the driving anxiety connected with it are felt everywhere and by everyone. It is human heritage and it is increased immensely by our present world, even in this country full of vigor and health.
As in ours, so in the period of Jesus much talk was going on of sickness and healing. Jews and Greeks wrote about it. People felt that they lived in a sick period; they called it “this world-period” and they described it in a way which is very similar to the way in which we describe it today. They saw not only the bodily infirmity of all of us, the innumerable bodily diseases in the masses of the people; they also saw the destructive powers possessing the minds of many. They called the mentally ill the possessed or the demoniacs and they tried to expel the evil spirits. They also knew that nations can be sick and that the diseases of social classes infect every individual in it. They looked even beyond the boundary lines of mankind into nature and spoke in visionary ecstasy about this earth becoming old and sick just as we did when we were under the first shock of the atomic power of self-destruction. Out of this knowledge of a sick period the question of a new period, a reality of health and wholeness was asked. Salvation and a savior were expected. But salvation is healing. And the savior is the healer. Therefore, Jesus answers the anxious question of the Baptist about whether He is the Savior, by pointing to His healing power. This is what He says: “If I am able to heal the deaf and the blind, if I am able to liberate the mentally sick, then a new reality has come upon you!” There are many healing stories in the Gospels, a stumbling block for scholars and preachers and teachers, because they take them as miracle stories of the past instead of taking them as healing stories of the present. For this they are. They show the human situation, the relation between bodily and mental disease, between sickness and guilt, between the desire of being healed and the fear of being healed. It is astonishing how many of our profoundest modern insights into human nature are anticipated in these stories: They know that becoming healthy means becoming whole, reunited, in one’s bodily and psychic functions. They know that the mentally sick are afraid of the process of healing, because it throws them out of the limited but safe house of their neurotic self-seclusion, they know that the process of mental healing is a difficult and painful one, accompanied by convulsions of body and soul. They tell of the relation of guilt and disease, of the way in which unsolved conflicts of our conscience drive us to those cleavages of body and soul which we call sickness. We are told how Jesus, knowing this, pronounces to the paralytic first the forgiveness of his sins and then his regained health. The man lived in an inner struggle with himself, with his feeling of guilt. Out of this conflict his illness had grown; and now when Jesus forgives him, he feels reconciled with himself and the world; he becomes whole and healthy. There is little in our recent psychology of depth that surpasses these insights in truth and depth. These stories also describe the attitude which makes healing possible. They call it faith. Faith here, of course, does not mean the belief in assertions for which there is no evidence. It never meant that in genuine religion, and it never should be abused in this sense. But faith means being grasped by a power that is greater than we are, a power that shakes us and turns us, and transforms us and heals us. Surrender to this power is faith. The people whom Jesus could heal and can heal are those who did and do this self-surrender to the healing power in Him. They surrendered their persons, split, contradicting themselves, disgusted and despairing about themselves, hateful of themselves and therefore hostile towards everybody else; afraid of life, burdened with guilt feelings, accusing and excusing themselves, fleeing from others into loneliness, fleeing from themselves to others, trying finally to escape from the threats of existence into the painful and deceptive safety of mental and bodily disease. As such beings they surrendered to Jesus and this surrender is what we call faith. But he did not keep them, as a good helper should never do. He gave them back to themselves, as new creatures, healed and whole. And when He died He left a group of people who, in spite of much anxiety and discord and weakness and guilt, had the certitude that they were healed, and that the healing power amongst them was great enough to conquer individuals and nations all over the world. We belong to these people, if we are grasped by the new reality which has appeared in Him. We have His healing power ourselves.
Jesus was called a physician, and it is the physician for whom we ask first when we are looking for health. And this is good. For, as all generations knew, there is healing power in nature. And much healing is possible if this power is wisely used and skillfully aided. Those who despise this aid and rely on the power of theirs will ignore both the destructive might and the constructive friendliness of nature. They do not know that our body contains not only forces of discord between its elements but also forces of concord. The great physician is he who does not easily cut off parts and does not easily suppress the one function in favor of the other, but he who strengthens the whole so that within the unity of the body the struggling elements can be reconciled. And this is possible even if deep traces of former struggles in our body remain as long as we live.
The physician can help, he can keep us alive, but can he make us whole? Can he give us salvation? Certainly not, if discord, cleavage, restlessness rule our mental life, if there is no unity and therefore no freedom in our soul, if we are possessed by compulsions and fantasies, by disordered anxiety and disordered aggression, if mental disorder or disease are threatening or have conquered us. Then if we want to be healed, we ask for the help of friends or counselors or analysts or psychiatrists. And they, if they know what to do, try to aid the healing powers of our soul. They do not appeal to our will power; they do not ask for removal or suppression of any trend, but they work for reconciliation, reconciliation of the struggling forces of our soul. They accept us as we are and make it possible for us to look at ourselves honestly and with clarity, to realize the strange mechanisms under which we are suffering and to dissolve them, reconciling the genuine forces of our soul with each other and making us free for thought and action.
The counselor and psychiatrist can help; he can liberate us, but can he make us whole? Can he give us salvation? Certainly not – if we are not able to use our freedom and if we are conquered by the tragic conflicts of our existence. None of us is isolated. We belong to our past, to our families, classes, groups, nations, cultures. And in all of them health and illness are fighting with each other. How can we be whole if the culture is split within itself, if every value is denied by another one, if every truth is questioned, if every decision is good and bad at the same time? How can we be whole if the institutions in which we live create temptations, conflicts, catastrophes too heavy for each of us? How can we be whole if we are connected, often intimately connected with people who are in discord with themselves, in hostility against us, or if we have to live with people, individuals, groups, nations who are irreconciled and sick? This is the situation of all of us, and this situation reacts on our personal life, disrupts the concord we may have reached. The reconciliation in our souls and often even in our bodies, breaks down in the encounter with reality. Who heals reality? Who brings us a new reality? Who reconciles the conflicting forces of our whole existence? We look at those who are most responsible for our institutions, for our historical reality, the leaders, the statesmen, the wise administrators, the educated, the good people, and the revolutionary masses. There are healing powers in all of them; otherwise there would be no more history. And it is understandable that in the period of Jesus just rulers were called saviors and healers. They can maintain human life on earth; but can they make us whole, can they bring us salvation?
They cannot because they themselves need wholeness and are longing for salvation. Who heals the healer? There is no answer to this in the old reality. Everybody and every institution are infected, the healer and the healed. Only a new reality can make us whole, breaking into the old one, reconciling it with itself. It is the humanly incredible, ecstatic, often defeated, but never conquered faith of Christianity that this new reality which was always at work in history, has appeared in fullness and power in Jesus, the Christ, the Healer and Savior. This is said of Him because He alone does not give another law for thought or action, because He does not cut off anything or suppress anything that belongs to life, but because He is the reality of reconciliation, because in Him a new reality has come upon us in which we and our whole existence are accepted and reunited. We know, even when we confess this faith, that the old reality of conflict and disease has not disappeared. Our bodies ail and die, our souls are restless, and our world is a battlefield of individuals and groups. But the new reality cannot be thrown out. We live from it, even if we do not know it. For it is the power of reconciliation whose work is wholeness and whose name is love.
The Lord healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds – Bless the Lord, 0 my soul who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction. PSALM 147:3; 103:2, 3, 4
How do we paint Jesus the Christ? It does not matter whether He is painted in lines and colors, as the great Christian painters in all periods have done or whether we paint Him in sermons, as the Christian preachers have done Sunday after Sunday, or whether we paint Him in learned books, in Biblical or systematic theology, or whether we paint Him in our hearts, in devotion, imagination and love. In each case we must answer the question: How do we paint Jesus the Christ? The stories in the Gospel of Matthew contribute to the answer; they add a color, an expression, a trait of great intensity, they paint Him as the healer: It is astonishing that this color, this vivid expression of His nature, this powerful trait of His character, has more and more been lost in our time. The grayish colors of a moral teacher, the tense expression of a social reformer, the soft traits of a suffering servant have prevailed, at least amongst our painters and theologians and life-of-Jesus novelists; perhaps not so much in the hearts of the people who need somebody to heal them.
The gospels, certainly, are not responsible for this disappearance of power in the picture of Jesus. They abound in stories of healing; but we are responsible ministers, laymen, and theologians, who forgot that “Savior” means “healer,” he who makes whole and sane what is broken and insane, in body and mind. The woman who encountered Him was made whole. The demoniac who met Him was liberated from his mental cleavage. Those who are disrupted, split, disintegrated, are healed by Him. And because this is so, because this power has appeared on earth, the Kingdom of God has come upon us; this is the answer Jesus gives to the Pharisees when they discuss His power of healing the mentally possessed; this is the answer He gives to the Baptist to overcome his doubts; this is the order He gives to His disciples when He sends them to the towns of Israel. “And as ye go, preach, saying, the kingdom of God is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” That is what they shall do and for this He gives them authority and power; for in Him the kingdom of God has appeared, and its nature is salvation, healing of that which is ill, making whole what is broken.
Are we still able to experience this power? I do not speak of theological inhibitions about the acceptance of such a picture of the Christ. They do not weigh very heavily. Of course we were worried about miracle-stories for many decades; today we know what the New Testament always knew – that miracles are signs pointing to the presence of a divine power in nature and history, and that they are in no way negations of natural laws. Of course, we were and we are worried about the abuse of religious healing for commercial and other selfish purposes or about its distortion into magic and superstition. But abuses occur when the right use is lacking and superstitions arise when faith has become weak. All these are not serious problems; good theology and good practice can solve them.
But the serious problem is, as always, the problem of our own existence. Are we healed, have we received healing forces, here and there from the power of the picture of Jesus as the Savior? Are we grasped by this power? Is it strong enough to overcome our neurotic trends, the rebellion of unconscious strivings, the split in our conscious being, the diseases which disintegrate our minds and destroy our bodies at the same time? Have we overcome in moments of grace the torturing anxiety in the depth of our hearts, the restlessness which never ceases moving and whipping us, the unordered desires and the hidden repressions which return as poisonous hate, the hostility against ourselves and others, against life itself, the hidden will to death? Have we experienced now and then in moments of grace that we are made whole, that destructive spirits have left us, that psychic compulsions are dissolved, that tyrannical mechanisms in our soul are replaced by freedom; that despair, this most dangerous of all splits, this real sickness unto death, is healed and we are saved from self-destruction? Has this happened to us under the power of the picture of Jesus as the Savior? This is the real problem, the true Christological problem (theologically speaking), the question of life and death (humanly speaking), for every Christian and of Christendom of today. Do we go to the physicians alone, or to the psychotherapists alone or to the counselors alone in order to be healed? Sometimes, of course, we should go to them, but do we also go to or – more precisely – do we also receive the healing power in the picture of Jesus the Christ who is called the Savior? This is the question before us, and this question is answered by those who can tell us that they have experienced His healing power, that the New Being has grasped their bodies and their soul, that they have become whole and sane again, that salvation has come upon them. Not always, of course, but in those moments which are moments of grace and in which they anticipated the perfect wholeness, the wholeness of God being in all. Can we join this answer?
ON HEALING [Paul Tillich] 1