Besides being very potent words, Love, Power and Justice is also what will be recognized by some as a work by Paul Tillich. It has been years since I have seriously opened this book, though I think I will do so again very soon. Prior to doing so I wish to relate my last experience of studying this work.
In the broadest understanding of the word, Tillich used these terms in an ontological sense. Read a review of his book and you are bound to come across the idea that it is his intent to rescue these words from vagueness and sentimentality, always a danger when one deals with vocabulary that is relational in nature. The relationships he deals with are both human to human and the divine to the human. As I’ve said, I have not picked this book up for some time, so as to what I can offer in way of explanation will stop there.
What I am more interested in is reading this book in light of my last experience with it. This occurred years ago when a number of fellow parishioners from my congregation (including those with theological training and more than a little graduate study under their belts) met with youth from the Chicago area to discuss Tillich’s concepts.
I can only say that to these youth, none who lived very sheltered lives, the vagueness of these concepts disappeared. They appreciated the psychology of language better than any adult in the room and though each of the words represented things they feigned for, they were in no way mere sentimental or abstract constructs.
It is enlightening what you get when you come into contact with those who live in the real and broken world. Here there is a practicality and wisdom not found in mere intellect. The youth of Chicago knew these words and their concepts better than anyone. They dealt with them all the time as they operated in familial systems and jurisdictions that took them from being the center of the world to merely being one part of it. Granted they could behave in ways to set themselves up as the center through bravado and a certain necessity, but they could also get the bigger picture. As for those of us who had comfort and age on our side, we knew better than to succumb to the notion of being at the center of things, but it did not stop us from ordering our lives up in such a way.
It is with this in mind that I will try to pick up Tillich again. I will read it from the perspective of gaining knowledge, but also in knowing that relational terminology goes beyond such knowledge and that truth never dwells in ways that is wholly objective or subjective. We do not get to have those hard and fast answers that give love, power, and justice complete clarity, but we do not get a pass at seeking to understand these either for if we are to be authentic persons and dwell in this world, they are answers to questions which thrust themselves on us. Tillich sought to ask and answer these questions. The youth of Chicago did the same. I hope that I too may be able to follow their example.