The Paradox of Intention

In a letter written in November 1951 Carl Jung explores the idea of the paradox of intention when he refers to Symeon the Theologian (949-1022) also known as Simeon the new Theologian, a mystic venerated by the Orthodox church who searched for God wherever he could in the world but was unable to find him, ‘until God rose like a little sun in his own heart’. Symeon has been called ‘the prophet of Christian experience’ with his life as a testimony of inner continuous conversion.

Jung’s comment is that God is contradiction and paradox so the only place where this can be transcended and become unity is in the human heart. The contradiction includes beliefs and conclusions that are each reasonable but these can then seem to cancel one another out. The classic contradiction or as Jung terms it ‘God’s antinomy’ is the assertion that God is love and yet as we all know and experience suffering is part of all life; so we are left with fundamental and apparently unresolvable dilemmas: a kind and loving God who allows us to suffer, similarly we see and experience beauty but also evil; freedom and slavery, and so on.

Jung in his letter to Hans Schar, a Swiss Protestant theologian, writes that God has prepared us for this purpose of holding these contradictions within ourselves – we are the ‘vessel’. However this cannot happen if we persist in turning to God as the Father and so seeing ourselves as ‘bad’ in contrast to the good God and in this sense remaining as children under the Father’s protection – and as Jung adds shunning ‘the problem of the opposites’. The aim says Jung is for each person to attain their own humanity and that is in fact God’s desire in us. He describes those who can separate in this way as having ‘the courage to stand on their own feet’.

This has clear similarities to Thomas Merton’s message (see December Bangkok talk 3 post) warning us not to rely on structures that in the end frustrate our own potential. Merton tells us that what is of supreme importance is that ‘everybody stands on their own feet.’ In other words don’t rely on structures – use them but don’t rely on them. The essence is rather that of inner transformation. Jung puts it like this: ‘By remaining with the Father, I deny him the human being in whom he could unify himself and become One, and how can I help him better than by becoming One myself?’ Merton too sees that it is only within ourselves that we can go beyond division to an inner liberty: ‘We accept the division, we work with the division, and we go beyond the division.’ For the moment any of us stand on our own two feet, the moment we find contemplative life at the root of our life, deep down in our own hearts, we go beyond division.