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“You are Accepted,” in A Chorus of Witnesses

Tillich, Paul (essay), book edited by Thomas G. Long and Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. | Eerdmans, 1994


pp. 99 - 100

Tillich states eloquently the nature of grace, even though, as is often the case with him, he generalizes up from a Christian particularity to an existential generality. So, at the key point where we would expect to read the name of God, we get instead “that which is greater than you.” So Christian preachers will have to Christianize the passage. But it’s still eloquent, and is one of the most famous passages in all of Tillich’s work. Gracelessness leads us “by necessity either to arrogance or to despair. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness . . . It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged . . . It strikes us when, year after year, the longed for perfection of life does not appear, and the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, in this name of which you do not know. Do not ask for that name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now. Perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted. If that happens to us we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.”