The coincidence of opposites in Carl Jung’s The Red Book (4)

In this final post on The Red Book I shall try to put down some of the ideas found in the later part.

Some of the opposites that Jung uses for God are familiar from Eastern contemplatives and Western mystics. So God is described as ‘eternal emptiness and the eternal fullness … eternal darkness and eternal brightness … meaning in absurdity … freedom in bondage … yes in no.’ This is the way of contradiction and the experience of paradox.

The importance of appreciating that God contains such opposites is that otherwise when the powerful, productive, good and reasonable aspects of the self have been projected into (a created) all-powerful and all-good God, one is left only with the opposites of these virtues; perhaps this explains why so many atrocities and absurdities are committed by the devoutly religious. Jung was adamant that we recognise the evil both in God and in Self for if God is conceived of as balancing good and evil, the Self can retain such a balance as well. God’s completeness and the fact that the divine is the template for the human personality necessitate the existence of the divine shadow and also necessitates coming to terms with our personal and collective shadow.

Jung believed that if we struggle with the darkness by accepting it as a part of ourselves and part of the world then one gains access to a new ‘room’ in one’s psyche, and enter into a gate leading to salvation: ‘only s/he who knows the darkest error knows what light is’. In this context Jung talks of what he calls ‘the transcendent function’ which unconsciously and imaginatively produces symbols that unite opposites and reconciles conflicts that cannot be resolved through conscious thought. He writes that ‘good and bad must first be united if the symbol is to be created’. The symbol ‘becomes’ as it is ‘neither thought nor found’, and God is one such symbol.

Jung speaks of a divine image or archetype which is accessible to all who make the requisite interior journey ‘he who accepts what approaches him because it is also in him, quarrels and wrangles no more, but looks into himself and keeps silent. He sees the Tree of Life, whose roots reach into Hell and whose top touches Heaven.’

Finally Jung warns against merely trying to imitate Christ and seeking redemption in him; the way of wisdom is instead to follow the way Christ led his own life:  ‘we must make our experiment. We must make mistakes. We must live out our own vision of life … When we live like this we know Christ as a brother and God indeed becomes man.’

Jung, as Stanford Drob explains, is working in ‘the chaotic forest’ that lies beyond the clearing of conventional meaning and we too need to be shaken out of our routinized ways of thinking and living so that we can attain ‘knowledge of the heart’ with the recognition that the other is also within oneself. Such suffering Jung sees is for the sake of God for by accepting the lowest within oneself and in the world, one lowers an invisibly small ‘seed into the ground of Hell’ from which one grows one’s life, thereby conjoining the Above with the Below: for  the highest is only realized when one plants one’s seed in the lowest.