Monday, 26 February 2007

James' Answer to Jung (1)

Please excuse the tendency towards rambling - this is a blog, not an academic essay! What I write in these posts will mostly be directed at Jung. I shan't attempt to construct a theodicy. Many greater, wiser and more godly Christians have done so and doubtless will do so. In an case, my faith is not dependent on a theodicy constructed by men and women, but on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, and on His unfathomable love and the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to the Father.

Jung is keen to paint a picture of God as amoral.

As certain as Job is of the evil Yahweh he is equally certain of the good… Yahweh is not split but is an antinomy – a totality of inner opposites – and this is the indispensible condition for his tremendous dynamism, his oimniscience and omnipotence (10).

Just as an aside, this is typical of the style of the work – no attempt is made to defend the assertion that “antinomy is indispendible to omniscience”. Indeed it is difficult to think of a defence of such a claim! One would have thought that God’s radical alterity could suffice (from a human perspective) to ‘explain’ those qualities (though some might think that such an argument would be ‘cheating’). But more importantly, God is simply not dependent on our attempts to justify Him: He is ‘of himself’, He is who He is. And we are dependent on His revelation of Himself for any genuine knowledge of Him. Following Jung, someone might want to argue that divine revelation indeed reveals a God of antinomy, but this is not logically connected to the divine attributes and is certainly not an “indispensible condition” of them.

This pschoanalysis of Yahweh’s personality/character is in some ways the central theme of the work. But the textual evidence is slight. Jung relies on Psalm 89 for his accusations that Yahweh is an oath-breaker (12) and goes on to speculate that Yahweh was about to loosen his matrimonial ties with Israel (44) but was unwilling to admit this to himself and so sought out Job as an unfaithfulness-scapegoat. The many pages devoted to this idea are hardly built on solid ground: the apparently impressive edifice is a sham. Psalm 89 asks many hard questions about present judgement on Israel and the house of David, but is steadfast in its trust in Yahweh. The typology of the Psalm clearly points to the reign of the Messiah, just as the House of David in history was a type of the Messianic throne. And the covenant itself contained provision for disobedience, as the Psalm makes clear (verses 30-32), so a temporary interruption to Davidic continuity should not be much of a surprise, and can be accommodated in a sensible reading of the covenant. Our time is not God’s time – so if He chose to humble and judge Israel for several centuries before restoring the glory of the Davidic line, that would hardly be outside His prerogative!

Of course, since a central plank of Jung’s overall argument is that Yahweh is essentially pre-personal, lacking in self-relection and without consciousness (despite his tremendous power), this begs the question of how there is a ‘he’ to hide anything from ‘himself’. If he is not conscious or reflective how can ‘hiding’ be a meaningful word? Jung has imported a duality of selfhood into his description of Yahweh – the very thing he is trying to exclude with all his insistence on Yahweh’s amorality and unconsciousness.

In passing, note the non sequiturs at the heart of the argument: Yahweh behaves inscrutably and apparently in contradictory fashions, so he must be both good and evil and yet be unconscious of that. Yet unconsciousness does not follow from morally divergent actions, nor is a verdict of moral ambivalence necessary when dealing with the actions of God from a mere human perspective. God might be completely evil, and Jung is in fact happy to accuse Him of this – the plea of unconsciousness is invalid given that he flagrantly violates three of his own commandments (22) – so the question remains as to why he spends so much time trying to categorise Yahweh as unconscious (as opposed to man, who is conscious and thus superior in the Jungian framework) and amoral.

Further, Jung accuses God of being psychologically dependent on human praise and human consciousness (16), which is flatly denied by the Bible, and relates this dependence to a deeper metaphysical question. The character thus revealed fits a person who can only convince himself that he exists through his relation to an object. Such dependence on the object is absolute when the subject is totally lacking in self-reflection and therefore has no insight into himself (14). However, it is far from clear that any subject can exist without a relation to an object. Jung’s whole psychol-analytic system can only be constructed in a analyst-patient duality (not to mention all the rest of the real stuff of life, universe and everything that must already exist for the analyst-subject to relate at all). He appears to rely on a simplistic pseudo-Cartesian understanding of reality, which is totally inadequate. Human beings are already-in-relationship: Jung’s uses “dependence” as a slur, when in fact it is the very ground of consciousness and possibly of matter itself, since all matter is created by the only being for whom it might be possible to subjectify without an object. And yet even this may be an unecessary step. Our God is a glorious Trinity – he is not a speck, a mere subject. He is already-in-relationship, too. A robust trinitarian theology can doubly dispense with Jung’s accusations here.

And finally (for now) the motor for Jung’s Answer to Job is the Biblical narrative of this man’s suffering at the hands of Yahweh and Satan. This raises many questions for faithful believers as well as for sceptics, and I am not suggesting that they can be brushed aside. Several excellent books treat these questions – see, from an evangelical perspective, the recent works of Christopher Ash and Don Carson, and there are many other reflections from across the Christian tradition. Yet Jung brushes aside one of the major ‘orthodox’ explanations, that Yahweh did all this in order to exalt Job, simply because the text does not record that Yahweh ever told Job that this was His reason (24). I regard this possibility as improbable, he says, because it would only have been fair and equitable to Job to explain all this to him. Leaving aside the exemplary shape of the narrative and the possibility that those words were exchanged off-screen, why is Jung so happy to accuse Yahweh of all manner of evil, and yet not be willing to see Him as unfair and inequitable on this point of communication!?

I sometimes wonder whether Jung was fully conscious when he wrote this work… ;-)