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Coming to terms with the dark side

12 December 2014

LAST week's leader on the character of Gordon Brown reminded me of Jung's extraordinary essay, Answer to Job. This is an analysis, not of a prominent personality, but of the character of God in the Old Testament. It is intended, however, to shed light on the paradox of figures such as Mr Brown. How can an admirable passion for justice co- exist in one person, alongside paranoid hostility, suspicion, and rage?

Jung sought his answer in the archetype of the Father, God himself. In the Bible, God, who commands us to imitate his mercy and justice, is holy and righteous. But God also has a dark side: he elevates the deceitful (Jacob), ambushes his friends (Moses), and deceives his prophets (Jeremiah). All this suggests that the character of God lacks integrity. His good side and his dark side coexist, without really knowing each other.

In Jung's view, one of the most telling passages is in Genesis 18, where God contemplates thedestruction of Sodom. Abraham bravely challenges God on his destructive intentions, arguing that it is not justice if the righteous are swept away with the wicked. His amazing question "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" suggests that Abraham is more morally advanced than God. He has to remind God's dark side of his true role as the judge of the earth, and he negotiates God down from total destruction to an agreement that he would spare the city if ten righteous people were found living there.

On the basis of this and other examples, Jung argues that God's deepest desire is to be integrated within himself, and that he needs humanity to bring this about. Abraham helps; Job does more; but the only lasting solution is for God to become human and know his human creatures from within. Jesus Christ finally fulfils God's desire.

Needless to say, this is far from Christian orthodoxy. Jung is best described as a Christian Gnostic. His meditation on the character of God may be suspect as theology, but as psychology it is insightful. Christians are called to unity, not only among themselves, but also within the self. Prayer should lead to a deeper integration as we come to acknowledge the splits within our personhood.

Perhaps we should adopt as our Advent prayer Michael Tippett's words for A Child of Our Time: "I would know my shadow and my light so shall I at last be whole." Perhaps some of our politicians, football managers, and other professional sulkers should do so, too.

The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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