In a jury room today awaiting a trial not to occur. I brought with me both The Courage To Be and Love, Power, and Justice, two works by the German-American theologian Paul Tillich. I did not pick up The Courage To Be, which I suppose is unfortunate as it is more relevant to me at the time, but the other work seemed more appropriate for a courthouse. I started to make my way through the chapters on power.
It had been years since I read this part of the book. I had late last year read the section on love and wrote about it here, but the section on power I had not picked up since doing so for a Lenten series that brought neighborhood youth together with members of my congregation to discuss the themes. For the record they could discuss power in ways those like me could not. (They had been in many courtrooms.)
My reading took me to Tillich’s consideration of Nietzsche and Luther. Of Nietzsche, he said little other than to make the case that the “will to power” made no sense as an argument because the power it sought to attain was no power at all in the ontological sense. The argument he extended to all logical positivists. (I have often wondered why the religious right do not read enough of Tillich to understand how he gives them the best arguments for a certain orthodoxy.)
His words on Luther were more compelling, though I do not entirely agree with them. (I mostly do.) In considering power, Tillich references the words love and compulsion, certainly two words that express paradox, of which Lutherans have a keener understanding than anyone else. The words also have a certain commonality however, for both express that which belong to God. Luther describes the commonality as “the strange work of love.” Tillich is largely affirming and only very slightly critical of the thing. The few who have read my expositions of Tillich understand he has a conception of love that is empathetic to the Catholic idea of caritas, but he is still a Lutheran.
In mirroring Luther, Tillich speaks of a certain ontological reality about love….that is love is compelled. Christians do not get a pass in the matter. Jesus expresses the thing when he tells us that it is of no credit to love our friends, even tax collectors do that, rather we are to love our enemies. The gospel account does not really speak of compulsion or the power it entails per se, but certainly the Gospel is not speaking of how we normally love for such a thing cannot be compelled.
Tillich offers another, more biting way to think on this and it demonstrates power in the utter sense of the word. He talks of the medieval family who has seen one of their own murdered. That family would exercise their right to see to the execution of one who took away from them a person they loved in the uncompelled way and yet at the execution of the condemned, they would be expected to pray for the soul of the one who wronged them. This describes Luther’s “strange work of love”, of compulsory love.
It is important to understand what is being attested to here. Luther and by extension Tillich are not talking about a mix of retribution and religiosity. What they are speaking of is a love that safeguards God’s children and yet argues for the redemption of those practiced in perdition. A Christian must stand on the side of redemption! The only way such a thing exists in Lutheran thought is the practice of power, but a power that does not punish for the sake of punishment, but exercises itself to the greater good of love, the first ontological reality.
My own take is that the illustration is a good one and yes love is to be compelled, but if we concentrate too much on this “strange work of love” we can forget the ontological reality of mercy or see love as unemotional. There is a place for disinterest in the realm of love, but this is the presence of the agapic side of love rather than love’s totality. Such a thing would not be difficult to compel at all. Most of us can argue for that place where the greater good is served, where all feel worth, and where the will of God is done. One does not have to love in the sense of its totality to be in that place. This is what Tillich is really getting at, for to be in those places does require power and though those places are not love itself, they require love as practiced with power to happen. As I make my way through the remainder of this part of his book, I am sure this will become clearer.
But for now the opportunity does not present itself. I have other things to attend to and as for my own role in the exercise of justice…. that gave me no time to read on the matter more fully.