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    colorful painting of Jesus healing a man

    On Healing

    Are we still able to experience the healing power of the Savior?

    By Paul Tillich

    November 5, 2023

    The Lord healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.
    Bless the Lord, O my soul …
    who healeth all thy diseases,
    who redeemeth thy life from destruction.

    Psalm 147:3; 103:2–4

    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.

    colorful painting of Jesus healing a man

    Arthur Robins, Jesus Healing, oil on canvas, 2020. Used by Permission.

    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, 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 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 John 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.

    The serious problem is, as always, the problem of our own existence. Are we healed by the power of Jesus as the Savior?

    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 counsellors 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?

    Source: Reproduced from The New Being by Paul Tillich by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 1955 by Paul Tillich.

    Contributed By PaulTillich Paul Tillich

    Paul Tillich (1886–1965) was one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century.

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