Paul Tillich sees that there is courage in taking on despair and doubt, such courage, ‘takes despair [into itself] and resist[s] the radical threat of nonbeing by the courage to be as oneself’. So if we are brave enough to accept the negative and face things as they actually are and not be seduced by temporary security Tillich thinks that we arrive at a deeper hope.
‘The faith which makes the courage of despair possible is the acceptance of the power of being, even in the grip of nonbeing…. The act of accepting meaningless is itself a meaningful act.’
There is an affirmation of life even as we suffer. When one has the courage to take the anxiety of meaningless upon oneself, a true power of being is revealed. ‘The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt’.
So how much did I get from this book over thirty years ago when I was trying to unpack and understand Tillich’s rather dense prose – a lot of which I just didn’t understand? Realistically and consciously not that much but the title did mean something and perhaps at a deeper level I began to appreciate that psychology and religion did have meeting places and that one could inform the other and could co-exist and indeed nurture one another. Perhaps most importantly the gift of the book convinced me that my then psychotherapist understood what I needed and where I was coming from and that action in itself gave me courage.
When I looked through the book this week so many years later I found a card inside where I had copied out three extracts from psalms. I wouldn’t have called myself a Christian then though I was attending Quaker meeting and later became a member of the Society of Friends but I clearly did search for biblical inspiration.
The card is headed ‘Thoughts’ and includes the following extracts from The New English Bible version that I then used:
‘When in my distress I called to the Lord, His answer was to set me free’ (Psalm 118)
‘I love the Lord for he has heard me and listens to my prayer … I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living’ (Psalm 116)
‘So every faithful heart shall pray to thee in the hour of anxiety, when great floods threaten. Thou are a refuge for me from distress so that it cannot touch me; thou dost guard me and enfold me in salvation beyond all reach of harm’ (Psalm 32)
The psalmists knew about the courage to be…