A Deeper Truth | Ultimate Concern | Paul Tillich
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Ultimate Concern | Paul Tillich

Ultimate Concern | Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich on “Our Ultimate Concern” in The Essential Tillich:

Why are the many things about which we are concerned connected with worry and anxiety? We give them our devotion, our strength, our passion and we must do so; otherwise we would not achieve anything. Why, then, do they make us restless in the deepest ground of our hearts, and why does Jesus dismiss them as not ultimately needed?

As Jesus indicates…it is because they can be taken from us. They all come to an end, all our concerns are finite.  In the short span of our lives many of them have already disappeared and new ones have emerged which also will disappear. Many great concerns of the past have vanished and more will come to an end, sooner or later. The melancholy law of transitoriness governs even our most passionate concerns. The anxiety of the end dwells in the happiness they give. Both the things about which we are concerned and we ourselves come to an end. There will be a moment – and perhaps it is not far away – when we shall no longer be concerned about any of these concerns, when their finitude will be revealed in the experience of our own finitude – of our own end.

But we maintain our preliminary concerns as if they were ultimate. And they keep us in their grasp if we try to free ourselves from them. Every concern is tyrannical and wants our whole heart and our whole mind and our whole strength. Every concern tries to become our ultimate concern, our god. The concern about our work often succeeds in becoming our god, as does the concern about another human being, or about pleasure. The concern about science has succeeded in becoming the god of a whole era in history, the concern about money has become an even more important god, and the concern about the nation the most important god of all. But these concerns are finite, they conflict with each other, they burden our consciences because we cannot do justice to all of them.

We may try to dismiss all concerns and to maintain a cynical unconcern. We determine that nothing shall concern us any more, except perhaps casually, but certainly not seriously. We try to be unconcerned about ourselves and others, about our work and our pleasures, about necessities and luxuries, about social and political matters, about knoweldge and beauty. We may even feel that this unconcern has something heroic about it. And one thing is true: It is the only alternative to having an ultimate concern. Unconcern or ultimate concern- thoseare the only alternatives. The cynic is conerned, passionately concerned, about one thing, namely, his unconcern. Therefore, there is only one alternative, which is ultimate concern.

…Even God can be made a finite concern, an object among other objects; in whose existence some people believe and some do not. Such a God, of course, cannot be  our ultimate concern. Or we make Him a person like other persons with whom it is useful to have a relationship. Such a person may support our finite concerns, but He certainly cannot be our ultimate concern.

The one thing needed – this is the first and in some sense the last answer I can give – is to be concerned ultimately, unconditionally, infinitely.

…If, in the power and passion of such an ultimate concern, we look at our finite concerns, everything seems the same and yet everything is changed. We are still concerned about all these things but differently – the anxiety is gone! It still exists and tries and tries to return. But its power is broken; it cannot destroy us any more. He who is grasped by the one thing that is needed has 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.

  • Shawn Smucker
    Posted at 11:43h, 04 September Reply


  • JMac
    Posted at 11:57h, 04 September Reply

    Shawn, an aspect you might be interested in: I left out his use of Martha and Mary to illustrate this point, seeing Martha as finitely concerned and Mary as infinitely concerned, something Jesus praised in her.

  • Shawn Smucker
    Posted at 18:26h, 04 September Reply

    I like that idea. I’ll be thinking about it.

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