Symbols of God and Jesus
Excerpt from: ‘A Joseph Campbell Companion –
Reflections on the Art of Living’ pp164 – 171
Selected and Edited by: Diane K. Osborn
All imaging of God, if the word is going to mean anything besides “this is what Mother taught me,” is supposed to refer to that which transcends all knowledge, all naming, all forming; and, consequently, the word has to point past itself. In our tradition, the idea of God is so strongly personified as a person that you get stuck with that problem whenever you think of God.
God is not an illusion, but a symbol pointing beyond itself to the realisation of the mystery of at-one-ment.
Jung, in his book Answer to Job, deals with the image of God that has come down through the centuries. How can we relate to it? Well, the Old Testament image, Yahweh, is of a lawgiver, a very strong dictator, and an angry father. And in the Book of Job, you have the epidermization of that image.
Here is this Job, who has been a good man, and Yahweh, the God, boasting to the devil, Satan, says: “Have you considered Job? How loyal he is to me? How he loves me?” And Satan says, “Well, you’ve been pretty good to him. Make it tough and see how long this is going to last.” Yahweh says, “I bet ya.” And Satan says, “I bet ya.”…
So that’s the situation, and after the wager, things get rough. What a time Job has! His family is killed, his wealth is taken from him, and he ends up on a heap of ashes with a case of boils. His friends, so-called “comforters,” annoy him further by saying, “You must have been a pretty bad chap to deserve all this.” He says, “No, I’m good.” And he’s right: he is good.
Well, with this challenge to God, he finally has to come through and show himself. I mean, it’s a big deal. So, God shows himself, and what does he say? He says, “Who are you, you little worm, to question me? How dare you even consider that you could understand what is happening to you? Could you fill Leviathan's nose with harpoons? I did. Try it.”
Job is completely cowed. He suspends human judgement. He says, “I have heard of you with the hearing of my ears. Now I behold you with my eyes, and I am ashamed. I cover my head with ashes.”
Now, reading that in terms of its real spiritual message, what it means is that you cannot judge your destiny in terms of something that was done to you by somebody. I mean, what is actually happening there – although it is not admitted – is that the image of God as a person is exploded. When you get to the trans-personal, you can’t speak of “justice” and “injustice.”
What about all the landslides along the Big Sur coastline and the millions of dollars of damage they’ve caused? If you take these acts of nature as something that somebody has done to the people living there, you have the whole thing messed up. But that’s not the way the Book of Job has been understood. It has been understood in the way of submission to a person. And a person who would pull a deal like that on somebody is a pretty unappetising type.
Actually, the Book of Job, which dates from around the fifth century B.C., is anticipated by a Babylonian text from about 1500 B.C. called the “Babylonian Job,” in which a king, who has been sacrificing to the deities and building them temples, has been overcome by, I think it was, leprosy. He tries to interpret his afflictions in terms of what he has done in worship as a payment. Now, if you think of worship as a form of payment for something, you’re on the wrong track altogether.
The Book of Job really breaks down that idea. But if you are going to hold to the image of God that is presented in the Book of Job, you have something that needs a little bit of refreshment.
So then the Christians, as a next step, take the idea of the Incarnation of the second person of the Blessed Trinity offering himself in love to the world to be a higher, more illuminated, form. In other words, God has been tempered by taking the form of man and experiencing the world of man.
But, says our friend Jung, this is not the answer either, because Christ was a divine incarnation born of a virgin, so he really wasn’t man, he was God. Yet, Jung argues, “God wanted to become man and still wants to.” So he provided for his continuing incarnation, as it were, within man as the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Blessed Trinity. So, if you want to see God in the world, recognise it in mankind. That’s the essence of Jung’s answer to Job: Don’t throw this blame back on God, on the universe, or on anything of the kind. Realise that all notions of God are historically conditioned images for qualities that are to be recognised as actually being in man.
There is a darling little woman who comes to my lectures in New York, who was a nun. She left the convent after hearing a couple of my talks. She did. That’s one of my great credits, you old bastard up there. The last time I was lecturing and she was in the group, she came up to me afterwards and asked.
“Mr. Campbell, do you think that Jesus was God, was God’s son?” I said, “Not unless we all are.” “Ahh!” she said, and off she went.
And that’s what Jung is saying in his Answer to Job: it is actually the work of man that is projected in the image of an imagined being called God. And so, historically, the God image is really a mirror image of the condition of man at a given time.
Yet, I think most people take their image of God very concretely. Except for the French. A survey was taken in which people were asked, “Do you believe in God? Do you believe in hell?” The French – I think, seventy-five percent of them – did not believe in God, but did believe in hell! I like Alan Watts’ reply: “If you believe in God, I don’t. If you don’t, I do.”
My belief is that nobody experiences the ultimate rapture, because it’s beyond pairs of opposites, so if anyone did, there’d be nobody there anyhow. Jung is amusing on that point. “If you go beyond subject and object,” he wonders, “who is there to have the experience?” I think to give oneself a ground for anything other than monastic living, all one has to do is realise that such a thing is implied; that is to say, a mystery that is beyond subject, object, and all pairs of opposites is a mystery on the ground of which we ride.
When the physicist explores the depths of the atom or the outer reaches of space, he discovers pairs of opposites and mysteries that science hasn’t been able to penetrate. When it does penetrate to the next level, it’s still mysterious. They’ve got so many sub-atomic particles. One is named after Joyce’s “quark.” It seems to me that’s about as mysterious as you can get. There is the transcendent. Know it’s there, and then don’t worry about it. Simply behold the radiance everywhere.
That font of life is the core of the individual, and within himself he will find it – if he can tear the coverings away.
Jesus and the Crucifixion
What has always been basic to Easter, or resurrection, is crucifixion. If you want resurrection, you must have crucifixion. Too many interpretations of the Crucifixion have failed to emphasize that relationship and emphasize instead the calamity of the event. If you emphasize the calamity, you look for someone to blame, which is why people have blamed the Jews.
But crucifixion is not a calamity if it leads to new life. Through Christ’s crucifixion we were unshelled, which enabled us to be born to resurrection. That is not a calamity. So, we must take a fresh look at this event if its symbolism is to be sensed.
If we think of the Crucifixion only in historical terms, we lose the symbol’s immediate reference to ourselves. Jesus left his mortal body on the cross, the sign of earth, to go to the Father, with whom he was one. We, similarly, are to identify with the eternal life within us. The symbol also tells us of God’s willing acceptance of the cross, that is to say, of his participation in the trials and sorrows of human life in the world, so that he is here within us, not by way of a fall or mistake, but with rapture and joy. Thus the cross has dual sense: one, of our going to the divine; the other, of the coming of the divine to us. It is a true crossing.
In the Christian tradition, Christ’s crucifixion is a major problem: Why could the saviour not have just come? Why did he have to be crucified?
Well, various theological explanations have come down to us, but I think an adequate and proper one can be found in Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, where he writes in chapter 2 that Christ did not think that God-hood was something to be held to – which is to say, neither should you – but rather, yielding, he took the form of a servant even to death on the cross. This is joyful affirmation of the sufferings of the world. The imitation of Christ, then, is participating in the suffering and joys of the world, all the while seeing through them the radiance of the divine presence. That’s operating from the heart chakra, where the two triangles are joined together. [The Star of David. Ed.]
That’s what I see in the Crucifixion. Of all the explanations I’ve read, it is the only one that makes, what I would call, respectable sense. The others are all concerned with a wrathful god who has to be appeased by the sacrifice of his son. What do you do with a thing like that? It is a translation of the sacrifice into a very crude image. The idea of God being entity that has to be appeased is just too nasty a concretion.
Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery. Man is that alien presence with whom the forces of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be reformed. Man, understood however not as “I” but as “Thou”: for the ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century, can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us.
The Kingdom of God is within us. Easter and Passover remind us that we have to let go in order to enter it. The space age demands that we change our ideas about ourselves, but we want to hold onto them. That’s why there is a resurgence of old-fashioned orthodoxy in so many areas at the present time. There are no horizons in space, and there can be no horizons in our own experience. We cannot hold onto ourselves and our in-groups as we once did. The space age makes that possible, but people reject this demand or don’t want to think about it. So they pull back into one true church or black power or the unions or the capitalist class.
Easter and Passover offer the perfect symbols, for they mean that we are called to new life. This new life is not very well defined, which is why we want to hold onto the past. The reality of living in space means that we are born anew; not born again to an old-time religion, but born to a new order of things: there are no horizons. That is the meaning of the space age. We are in a free fall into a future that is mysterious. It is very fluid, and this is disconcerting to many people. All you have to do is know how to use a parachute.
St. Augustine speaks of Christ’s going to the cross as a bridegroom to his bride. There is an affirmation here. In the Prado, there is a great painting by Titian of Simon of Cyrene as he willingly helps Jesus with the cross. The painting captures the free, human, voluntary participation we all must have in the Easter-Passover mystery. That is what we are all challenged to do. Self-preservation is only the second law of life. The first law is that you and the other are one.
The hero’s death and resurrection is a model for the casting off of the old life and moving into the new.
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