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The Eternal Now

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
July 2018
Fred's Rating: 
Paul Tillich
Total Pages: 

This is the third volume of Paul Tillich’s collections of sermons, dating from 1955 to 1963. Because of the title – a subject of interest but much ambiguity, I bought and read this book before buying his first and second collections – books 764 and 765. The three volumes reflect changes in his development of his theology. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

The Amazon website for the paperback edition delivered to me on 6/11/18 is newer than the fuzzy image now shown at this website:

This may be because my book came from a third-party source. (This change of image never happened to me before.)

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this book's covers at the website above.]

The home page has a single-sentence summary. It also has a very long summary and a very positive rating by Steven H. Propp in the ‘Top customer reviews’ – you need to click on ‘Read more’ to get all the details in his lengthy positive review. He also gave a similar review for the second collection ‘The New Being’ (book 765). Propp includes an edited version of the 1-p Preface by Tillich. I give here the unedited Preface by Paul Tillich as of 1963:

“Most of these sermons were delivered in university and college chapels, as were those in the preceding volumes, ‘The Shaking of the Foundations’ and ‘The New Being.’ The present collection dates from 1955 to 1963. The title ‘The Eternal Now,’ taken from a sermon in the second section of the book, indicates the presence of the Eternal in the midst of the temporal is a decisive emphasis in most of the sermons. I could have chosen ‘The Spiritual Presence’ as the general title, but the many unfavorable connotations with which the word ‘Spiritual’ is burdened excluded this possibility. Only for a particular sermon in which every sentence interpreted the meaning of ‘Spiritual,’ could the word be used.

“It is my hope that this collection, like its predecessors, will show that the Christian message – be it expressed in abstract theology or concrete preaching – is relevant for our time if it uses the language of our time.” [I will comment on language after I’m done with Tillich’s Preface.]

“My thanks go to Mrs. Elisabeth Wood, who did the hard and necessary work of stylistic correction, as she has done for the earlier volumes.

“I dedicate this book to the memory of a man whose friendship has enriched and deepened the largest part of my adult life, and with whom I experienced moments in which the Spiritual Presence was manifest.” [The page before the Preface names him thusly: ‘To the memory of Hermann Schaft, Friend for more than half a century.]

Now, as for the title ‘The Eternal Now’, the apparent referral to time – the ‘now’ in which we are always alive and aware (except in deep sleep or other forms of unconsciousness) is not what the word ‘now’ means here. This was recognized especially by William Law (1686 – 1761) in book 751 ‘The Power of the Spirit’ since book 751 emphasizes in nearly every chapter that we Christians must experience ourselves ‘awakening’ to the presence of the eternal ‘Great Spirit of God’ in our hearts and minds in order to fully experience all that we can know in an awakened state of heart and mind. To me this is a state that requires the explicit recognition of the Great Spirit’s ‘timeless’ presence in our lives. Somehow the word ‘eternal’ has replaced the intended ‘timeless’ nature of the Eternal Spirit in our living human heart and mind. It is from my life of science with religion, or religion with science, (different fields that are fully compatible and crucial to a full life for me) that I understood what William Law meant and said so often and well. The more recent misunderstood use of an ‘Eternal Now’ does not involve time (or space-time). In both classical and quantum physics the word ‘timeless’ can be made explicit when we realize that the potential energy V of a system is usually indicated by the symbols V(x,y,z,t) or, if timeless, V(x,y,z). So, to be timeless means that there is no change of the potential energy of the isolated system with time.

Timeless is the same as eternal as long as the system, which is consistent with V(x,y,z), remains isolated. But if the system interacts with a particle or wave, we must deal with effects of this interaction, in which the system may gain or lose energy, thus may change its state after the interaction. So to apply this language to the Great Spirit always present within us (after our awakening is realized) means to us that the Great Spirit will not change its Godlike character, but we will usually change ours in important ways. We Christians recognize that God’s character, when seen as the Great Spirit within us, is indeed timeless. It is in this sense that it is eternal (or independent of time) – a state we can only and always strive to grow closer to on our spiritual path within Christianity. And also within all other religions, including those who do not require an explicit theism, but also recognize what we often call the ‘ineffable Godhead,’ hidden from us by the ‘cloud of unknowing’ that lies between a human’s ability to fully know and the ineffable being that lies beyond a human’s ability to know in full. As I understand it, this means our spiritual growth is a way that will never end during our time as a living human. This endless endeavor does not discourage me in the slightest. Why? To imagine our spiritual growth ending means to me to become stagnant – a real downer!

Here are the book’s 1-pp Contents, given below in the three Parts Tillich used in this book:

Part One: The New Human Predicament (pp 13-78): Ch. 1 – Loneliness and Solitude; Ch. 2 – Forgetting and Being Forgotten; Ch. 3 – The Riddle of Inequality; Ch. 4 – The Good That I Will, I Do Not; Ch. 5 – Heal the Sick; Cast Out the Demons; Ch. 6 – Man and Earth.

Part Two: The Divine Reality (pp 79-132): Ch. 7 – Spiritual Presence; Ch. 8 – The Divine Name; Ch. 9 – God’s Pursuit of Man; Ch. 10 – Salvation; Ch. 11 – The Eternal Now.

Part Three: The Challenge to Man (pp 133-185): Ch. 12 – Do Not Be Conformed; Ch. 13 – Be Strong; Ch. 14 – In Thinking Be Mature; Ch. 15 – On Wisdom; Ch. 16 – In Everything Give Thanks.

I’ve already said enough above about Ch. 11 – The Eternal Now, so here I point out that Ch.7 – Spiritual Presence – was partly included in what I said above about the Great Spirit being inherent in a human, once awakened to its timeless spiritual presence within. I also found very inspiring Ch. 9 – God’s Pursuit of Man and Ch. 15 – On Wisdom and Ch. 16 - In Everything Give Thanks.

The three collections of Paul Tillich’s special sermons are dated, respectively, 1948, 1955, and 1963. I found great value in each collection. I also saw growth in Tillich’s theology, growth such that his theology became more and more respected worldwide – leading to many theologians, philosophers, clergy and laity recognizing him as one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. I could find no short expression to characterize Tillich’s theology. But, after reading these three collections, I feel justified in using for Tillich a very short expression from John Shelby Spong: “The heart cannot worship what the mind rejects.”

By his deep and thought-provoking discussions, I feel that this third collection was his best. I reread every chapter, trying to synthesize them into a coherent and inspiring whole. I feel certain that the coherence is inspiring. So I rate this third collection at five stars, but I add my comment: think six stars!