“But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
– Romans 5:20
Sometime in his 50s Paul Tillich rediscovered sin. Paul was a Lutheran Pastor, an existential philosopher and theologian who taught at Union Theological Seminary. In his sermon based upon Romans 5:20 entitled, “You Are Accepted” Tillich said, “During the centuries the words “sin” and “grace” have received distorting connotations, and have lost so much of their genuine power…There are no substitutes for words like “sin” and “grace”. But there is a way of rediscovering their meaning…sin is separation. To be in the state of sin is to be in the state of separation. And separation is threefold: there is separation among individual lives, separation of a man from himself, and separation of all men from the Ground of Being. We know that we are estranged from something to which we really belong, and with which we should be united.”
For Tillich, to speak of sin was not to speak of individual immoral acts but to speak of a state of being, specifically the state of separation or rather, being disconnected. Tillich’s description weaves together the various ways scripture talks about sin. Scripture talks about sin as the actions that cause separation (Isaiah 59:2). Scripture talks about sin as a compelling power or a state of being (Romans 6:6; Romans 7:20; Psalm 51:5). Tillich’s definition of sin emphasizes the sacredness of relationship and the life giving nature of connection. More compelling for me though, is what this definition says about grace. “For sin and grace are bound to each other.”
For Tillich, grace, like sin, is a state of being. It is something we cannot manufacture or coerce. We cannot earn or achieve grace. We live and move in an ocean of grace for it has overcome separation. “Grace is the reunion of life with life, the reconciliation of the self with itself. Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful destiny; it changes guilt into confidence and courage. There is something triumphant in the word grace: in spite of the abounding of sin, grace abounds much more.”
For Tillich grace is a constant. Yet it is often in our darkest moments when grace speaks the loudest to us saying, “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you…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!”
To be accepted, to be embraced, to be connected; this is grace.
Dear God, in my life, where loneliness abounds, may grace abound all the more. Where self-doubt abounds, may grace abound all the more. Where estrangement abounds, may grace abound all the more. Amen.