Know thyself and know God 2

The incarnation: ‘He turned into a God of Love conquered by the love of a pure virgin, having found peace in her lap at last.’


From the Gospel of St Thomas:

‘They said to him:

Tell us who you are

So that we may believe in you.

He said to them:

You scrutinize the face of heaven and earth,

And him who is before you

You have not Known,

And you know not how to probe this revelation.

If God is a God of Love – why is it that so many of us are vulnerable to a deeper belief in a punishing and vengeful, angry god? This is the primitive god who judges and criticises and keeps each in their place – particularly powerfully described in the Old Testament. Analytic thinking might call this primitive controlling god – the superego. This is based on our experiences of powerful parental figures or others in authority, who when we were small had the power to dispense love or withhold it, and to reject and punish at will. This internalised tyrant can easily be activated throughout life. It would seem that the more we know and understand the critical rejecting part of ourselves, the less we need to project that out onto God – or indeed onto others.

Once God becomes incarnate, God is one of love and mercy. This is the God of the New Testament incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ – here God takes on personality and finiteness. The Jesuit father Nicolaus Caussinus (1583-1651) put it like this: In the Old Testament God was like a raging rhinoceros, but in the New Testament, He turned into a God of Love conquered by the love of a pure virgin, having found peace in her lap at last. (This is like the idea of trust, quoted to me by an analyst as metaphorically being able to fall asleep on the breast.)

However, these two faces of God remain – a problem not often tackled in a sermon but certainly one that Carl Jung was keen to explore. In his correspondence with theologians Jung writes how Christians rather dismiss the ‘God concept’ as it is often found in the Old Testament, this is one where God often displays alongside His power and love, His mistrust, vindictiveness and rage. Instead, the New Testament God is promoted, and yet the traditional New Testament teaching is still based on the punishing Father God and the need “to placate” Him with the martyr’s death of his Son.

So how can these opposites be understood? The more we know ourselves the more we realise that such opposites are firmly part of our human nature – ‘Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast. And each will wrestle for the mastery there’ (Johann Wolfgang Goethe in Faust). Perhaps it is inevitable then that in our search to define God through human experience, is included all of human nature. This is our scrutiny of ‘the face of heaven and earth’.

To get beyond – to ‘probe this revelation’ of Christ is as the extract from St Thomas suggests rather to transcend the opposites. For there is a more interesting precedent than the idea of atonement – rather it is the revelation of Christ crucified as Jung writes ‘between the one going up and the other going down, i.e., between opposites.’ It was Jung who said ‘No tree, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell’, so perhaps here he means the actual wooden cross. A cross where Christ is nailed to each side –good and evil, plus his position between the penitent thief – going to Paradise with Christ and the unrepentant going to hell … however we read it Christ is nailed down holding the opposites and through his resurrection transcends dualism into God.