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Jung's argument with God
... And why it fails
I intended to hold off until after I had finished my current series of posts on the Gospels to address the topic of C. G. Jung’s concept of God and specifically his 1952 book, Answer to Job, but this past week the Essentia Foundation released a video on this very subject and that was incentive enough for me to go ahead and address it without delay (one can see the video by clicking here). The video is, rather sadly, typical of the high estimation that many undeniably intelligent persons place on Answer to Job, going so far as to agree with Jung’s own estimation of the book as his “most important” work, able somehow even to “save” Christianity itself. I will say here at the outset that I find this uncritical praise untenable on a few levels, and it’s somewhat embarrassing for me to witness – not just in the video, but also more widely – those whose views I tend otherwise to take seriously (for example, Joseph Campbell and Bernardo Kastrup) hold it up as a work of profundity. The keyword in the preceding sentence is “uncritical.” I don’t regard Jung’s text as alarmingly “blasphemous” (Jung had no discernible intention to be sacrilegious). Its champions tend to assume that that would be the standard Christian reaction to it. But I see the book as fundamentally flawed, both in concept and execution. Far from being Jung’s best work, it is… well, to be tremendously charitable… it is simply an oddity. Jung wrote it, we’re told, while ailing and feverish, and in an unusual state of agitation. He was getting something out of his system (more about that below), and no doubt he saw this effort as personally therapeutic. But as I said, it is a very strange little book indeed.
As most readers of my posts are aware, I have due regard for Jung, especially for his concept of “individuation.” In my December 29th post of last year (“Defining terms, part 2”), I defended and succinctly defined individuation in these terms, even citing Kastrup:
“Individuation,” then, is an inward process, an inner integration of all the areas of our psyche, bringing to conscious awareness all those other aspects of ourselves – including those things we consciously and unconsciously repress within ourselves. “[F]or Jung consciousness rests on the unconscious, not the other way around,” writes Bernardo Kastrup. “This implies… that the unconscious and consciousness have the same essential nature, in the same way that a flower has the same vegetable nature of the plant that produces it…” 
What Jung does in Answer to Job is to apply his theory of “individuation” to God. In other words, Jung presents us with the idea that the biblical God – understood as a myth (for Jung, this does not mean “untrue” or “nonexistent”) – has repressed his evil shadow (his “dark side”) and also his feminine aspect (the counterpart of the anima in masculine psychology). God cannot know himself without integrating within himself these psychic elements. The consequence of God’s lack of self-awareness has been the violence and suffering that has afflicted his creation and humankind for eons. When God isn’t just oblivious to the harm he has caused, he petulantly defends himself from criticism when challenged to explain himself (as he does in the book of Job). For Jung, the collective unconscious – which is the source of all the mythological types that emerge into consciousness from our own unconscious selves – is practically identified with “God,” and God in this grand scheme becomes self-aware in our participatory growth into self-awareness; we are, in a sense, “helping” God to become individuated by making conscious what is unconscious within ourselves. We are “helping” God to know himself, to heal himself, to become fully God. God is a psychological reality according to Jung; he is always, in a way, subjective within our psyches (thus, Jung could say that he knew that God exists when asked if he believed), yearning to be inwardly integrated.
Answer to Job is presented as a radical reinterpretation of the Bible. Detailed summaries of the book can be found online, so I won’t provide one here. It’s enough to say that Jung regards the book of Job as central to the myth he is newly constructing after his deconstruction of the Christian mythos. In this “reimagining,” God acts against his wholly innocent servant, Job, instigated by Satan’s challenge. In testing Job cruelly, God causes him immense suffering. Through it all, however, Job shows himself to be God’s moral superior; all God can do at the end, in response to Job’s patience and protestations of innocence, is bluster and verbally beat down the already tormented man. Through this scandalous event, God awakens to the realization that he has a dual nature: he is both good and evil. To understand his afflicted creation and himself, God’s Son is incarnated, and God is humanized. Christ suffers and dies, not for the sins of mankind, but for God’s sins. Thus, the two Testaments are a divine drama through which God’s psychological evolution is manifested.
There’s a lot more, but why go on? It’s a complicated tangle of biblical texts and characters, but basically, that’s the gist. Though it goes unsaid in the text itself, behind the book’s conception was Jung’s wish to bring meaning to his father’s lost faith. His father had been a minister in the church, but in later years his faith had waned, and it became agonizing both to the old man and to the entire family. We find hints of Jung’s motivation for producing his Job book when we consult his autobiographical writings. There’s enough in them to see that God and Jung’s father share certain traits, just as Jung and Job do. For example:
The peculiar “religious” ideas that came to me even in my earliest childhood [wrote Jung] were spontaneous products which can be understood only as reactions to my parental environment and to the spirit of the age [a significant admission, directly bearing on what underlies Answer to Job]. The religious doubts to which my father was later to succumb naturally had to pass through a long period of incubation. Such a revolution of one’s world, and of the world in general, threw its shadows ahead, and the shadows were all the longer, the more desperately my father’s conscious mind resisted their power. It is not surprising that my father’s forebodings put him in a state of unrest, which then communicated itself to me…
At that time his irritability and discontent had increased, and his condition filled me with concern… He had to quarrel with somebody, so he did it with his family and himself. Why didn’t he do it with God, the dark author of all created things, who alone was responsible for the sufferings of the world?…
He struggled desperately to keep his faith. I was shaken and outraged at once, because I saw how hopelessly he was entrapped by the Church and its theological thinking… 
(Paul Achilles (Jung’s father; 1842-1896), Johanna Gertrud (1884-1935), Emilie Preiswerk (1848-1923) and Carl Jung (1875-1961).)
We cannot fail to see in these sad lines the conceptual womb from which Answer to Job was born. We can see why Jung felt so passionately about the book. It was, in short, not just an answer to Job, but to himself and to his father. It was a son’s attempt to heal his father’s psychic wound. More than that, we perceive in those autobiographical reflections the lineaments of Answer to Job: his father had “resisted the power” of “the shadows” of doubt, his “father’s forebodings had put him in a state of unrest”; the consequence of that denial had been “irritability” (indicating denial) and a tendency to “quarrel” (as is the case with God – the “father figure” – in the book of Job); God is described as “responsible for the sufferings of the world” (a theme Jung stresses in his Job book); Jung (like Job, with whom he clearly identifies) had been “shaken and outraged” because of “the Church and its theological thinking.” In writing Answer to Job, Jung was analyzing his father, himself, and his own disturbed upbringing – disturbed, if you will, by the apparently irresponsible “God” who had tormented both his father with doubts and Jung with crucial but unresolved questions about God’s alleged goodness. I can certainly sympathize with Jung. He had much “inner work” to do, and his book was one of the fruits of that – and in his mind, it was the most significant.
But with all that said, we still need to approach the book critically. It proposes to be a book about the God of the Bible, after all; it’s not merely an exercise in Jung’s self-analysis. As a work of psychology, it yields a few valuable insights – but these can all be gleaned from Jung’s better works. As a work of literary analysis, it’s a failure. As a work of both metaphysics and theology, it’s irrelevant. As a work of spirituality (as some, in fact, treat it), it’s a disaster.
First, as a work of literary analysis… well, to be frank, there isn’t any. Jung reads the Bible in line with his Protestant upbringing. The Bible appears in it to stand alone, a monolith, fundamental, separate from any larger, living tradition of which it is just one important component. No Catholic (Roman or Anglo) or Orthodox could have approached the Bible in this almost Evangelical-biblicist manner (with its added “Gnostic” twist). As Jung presents it, the Bible is a book, and the God he finds in it is a single identifiable being. In other words, for Jung, the Bible constitutes a sort of consistent biography of an inconsistent deity, in which we see God “grow up,” make blunders, try to come to terms with his self-identity, and so on.
Jung doesn’t appear to be aware that the Bible isn’t, in fact, a single book at all. It’s a library of books (see my post of March 8th: “The Bible: what it is and how it should be read today”), written over the course of centuries and containing numerous genres. It reveals a sometimes gradual, sometimes volatile evolution, to be sure – but not of God himself as the book’s main character, but rather of the Hebrews’, and later the Christians’, understanding of God, which is “debated” and refined by the writers gathered in its pages. Jung bypasses, with scarcely a nod, even the critical biblical work of his own day in favor of his presumption that “God” can be psychoanalyzed simply by reading this one isolated book cover to cover, cherry-picking what fits his reworked myth. For example, even in the 1950s, when Answer to Job was written, few scholars believed – as Jung assumes – that the writer of the Epistles of John also wrote the book of Revelation. That single fact reduces one of his many dubious psychological “insights” to sheer nonsense. Likewise, he reads the books of Job, Ezekiel, Enoch (a pseudepigraphical work), Revelation, etc. with appallingly little appreciation for the historical contexts in which these books were written. I could go on with a long list of glaring exegetical errors, but again, what would be the use of doing so? Jung was working out his own psychological difficulties and projecting them onto “God.” It seems doubtful that he would have cared about objections to the credibility of his approach – he could, when he wished, brush aside objections to his more edgy ideas with appeals to an almost esoteric power of psychological perceptiveness.
Those who call Answer to Job a “tour de force” are, then, indubitably correct. It’s a tour de force for the simple fact that it couldn’t possibly be anything else. There’s virtually nothing that substantiates his views on any literary-critical level. To psychologize the canon of Scripture as Jung was attempting to do makes almost as much sense as trying to psychologize the contents of one section of a public library’s catalog. In Jung’s case, the result of his endeavor could have been predictable: it reflects his unresolved relationship with his father and nothing else. In trying to “save” God from his sins, he was really trying to save his long-dead father from his doubts, a sorrow which quite obviously had haunted and troubled Jung throughout his life. One feels sympathy even as one can’t accept the book itself.
As a work of either metaphysics or theology, as I said, Answer to Job is irrelevant. This is due to Jung’s foundational premise that God can be understood psychologically (for Jung, God is reduced to a psychological fact). In classical Christian thought, this is a grave category error. One wishes that Jung had been more deeply read in Eastern Christianity – the Greek and Syriac Fathers, or even his contemporaries among the Russian émigrés in Paris. There he might have discovered that his own narrow emphasis on Christ’s propitiatory death, as filtered through his suppressed Protestantism, was outshone in the East by an emphasis on Christ’s resurrection, glorification, and the deifying grace of the Spirit.
At its most basic, Answer to Job is an attempt to “fix” Christian theology (and theodicy in particular). But without making any reference to Christianity’s vast apophatic tradition (odd, given that Jung had read Meister Eckhart, among other representatives of the via negativa) or any effort to address the vital theological distinction between created and uncreated being, he avoided any serious discussion of the subject. In sticking to a dubious psychological reading of scripture, he failed entirely to appreciate that all analogies – “psychological” or otherwise – between God and human existence are provisional and metaphorical. There is no “psychology” in God directly accessible to the human mind, despite the historically conditioned language of the Bible (language which Calvin quite rightly referred to as a sort of inspired “baby talk”). Nor is there an inner division in God between “light” and “dark,” a “good side” and an “evil side” (see John 8:12; 1 Tim. 6:16; James 1:17-18; 1 John 1:5). That’s our condition, not God’s, situated as we are ontologically between nonexistence on the one hand and, on the other, the eschatological hope of God becoming “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). The creation from our perspective in time — though not God’s in eternity — is unfinished, incomplete, still emerging from “chaos,” “on the way.” The Christian mystery, as Paul already indicates, is that God in Christ has begun the process of its (and our) transfiguration (see Rom. 8:19-20; 1 Cor. 2:9-10; 13:12; 15:24-28; 2 Cor. 3:18 – 4:6; see also 1 John 3:1 – 3). Here are the scriptural seeds for that concept of “epectasy,” which I touched on in my last post.
Jung comes across as entirely clueless about any of this. He underestimates – or doesn’t really know – the sophistication of Christian thought. Instead, he is fixated on a myth of his own devising, demonstrably far less sophisticated in nature, paradoxically biblicist in a derivatively Protestant way, culled from his misreading of a few scriptural texts, for reasons related to his personal and family psychology. Needless to say, this isn’t even remotely what will “save” Christianity (I hazard to say that what will benefit Christianity for the future is rediscovering, building on, and living into – without compromise – its own authentic, broad, and versatile spiritual tradition). As a book to inform our spiritual or contemplative lives, Answer to Job is best ignored.
Returning to Jung’s invaluable concept of individuation, its worth lies precisely in that it helps us come to terms with our deepest selves. We do need to be aware of our “shadow” – what in us is repressed, unformed, ignored, and dark. We do need to bring into the light of consciousness those unconscious forces that dominate, enslave, torment, agitate, annoy, or cripple us. Jung was right, too, when he candidly championed the sacrament of confession – he said that if that were more widely practiced, there would be less need for the therapy he provided. And coming to terms with our anima if we’re men, or our animus if we’re women, should be a pressing concern in our own day when so many are confused about sexuality and gender. In short, the individuation process has much to offer us in our unformed, half-baked, constantly emerging psyches. But it does not and cannot apply to God. Jung tried it with Answer to Job, and despite the praise heaped on the book by those who really should know better (and sometimes admirers of Jung verge on the idolatrous), the outcome is mostly a curiosity — only of note because Jung wrote it and the subject was (for 1952) provocative.
If we seek 20th-century voices that might benefit Christianity’s future course, we can do infinitely better than Answer to Job. Do yourself a favor: pick up Sergius Bulgakov or Alexander Schmemann or John Macquarrie or A. M. Allchin or Yves Congar or Henri de Lubac or… but the list is long. If you want to read Jung at his best, read Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Just don’t bother with Answer to Job.
 Bernardo Kastrup, Decoding Jung’s Metaphysics: The Archetypal Semantics of an Experiential Universe (Winchester, UK, 2019), p. 33.
 Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (London, 1961), pp. 110, 112, 113.