Praise my soul: the king of Heaven
by Ken Myers
“We may distinguish pure religions of self-exploration from religions of historical revelation. Christianity and Judaism are religions of historical revelation. Essential to the Jew’s knowledge of God is the story of the liberation from Egypt: for the Jew, God is identified and experienced as the one who delivered the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage. The Jew’s knowledge of himself is likewise historical. Who is he most essentially, this individual man? He is a member of the people that God delivered from Egypt. He belongs in and gets his identity from that historical lineage. The pious Jew knows God not merely as the one who performed those distant historical actions; he also meets God as a ‘very present help in trouble,’ the source of blessings in the here and now. But this present God is experienced as the God who delivered his people from bondage long ago.
“In the same way, the Christian’s knowledge of God is cradled in the story of Christ. She knows God as the Father of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified to reconcile the world’s sinners to God and was raised by God on the third day. She knows God as the king whose kingdom, inaugurated in the acts of Jesus and furthered in the acts of the apostles and of the disciples in subsequent centuries, will one future day be elaborated before her dazzled eyes. She experiences herself as a member of that past, present, and future kingdom, and in this way she belongs not just to this present moment but to the ages of God. This does not exclude her meeting God in the here and now; on the contrary, she could not meet that God in the here and now if she did not know him as the one who has that history.
“Jung’s religion, by contrast, is one of pure self-exploration. God is known not by reference to any acts that God may have performed in the past (or any ‘doctrines’ that report and interpret such historical data) but purely by a process in which the individual explores the goings-on within his own psyche. The individual finds God only in the depths of his own being. The first principle of this theology is this: There is nothing in true religion that was not first in the psyche.
“This does not rule out our getting help from ‘history,’ for human history casts up artifacts of religious experience — symbols in art, mythology, and dreams— that reflect the self-exploration of earlier individuals and communities. (It is a corollary of Jungian theology that all testimonies about God, insofar as they are genuine and useful, are symbols of psychic transformation.) Such historical symbols may be of use to the individual in interpreting what’s going on in his own psyche, for the process of bringing into consciousness what is going on within oneself is an essential part of the religious quest, and other people’s symbols can aid that process. Thus Jung spent a lot of effort on historical research, especially the study of mythology, Gnosticism, and the symbolism of alchemy.
“But the abundance of Jung’s interest in history should not hide from us the difference between his religion and religions of historical revelation. It is important to see how history functions in Jung’s theology. His many historical studies all aim to provide us with ways of understanding what is already going on inside us and would be going on inside us even if, say, we knew nothing of the Exodus or the gospel history. By showing us historical parallels to our own dreams and fantasies, these historical studies give us keys to unlock the secrets of our minds, thus bringing to consciousness religious truths that are there but might otherwise remain hidden. History and the doctrines about God and man which derive from that history do not function to identify God by his deeds and consequently to identify us as members of his people. For Jung, history functions instead to ‘reveal’ to us what we already are, quite independent of that history. (Notice that the Jungian too has a use for the word revelation, but that it carries a very different concept than the Christian one.) . . .
“Christians should know that Jung affirms Christianity only on the assumption that it can be reinterpreted as a religion of a different kind than original Christianity — as a pure religion of self-exploration.”
— from Robert C. Roberts, Taking the Word to Heart: Self and Other in an Age of Therapies (Eerdmans, 1993)