When I first read Carl Jung’s autobiography, I was floored. I realized I had found someone who had put language to some of my experiences, someone I related to in many ways.
Jung was born in 1895. He created some of the best known psychological concepts, including synchronicity, archetypal phenomena, the collective unconscious, the psychological complex, and extraversion and introversion. If you’ve ever taken Myers & Briggs personality test, you can thank Jung. He was a man of tremendous courage and conviction, and embraced the wonder of life, chasing God in his own wild way. I’ve always wondered whether he was a Christian. Of course, he would never call himself a Christian but I wondered if he ever found Christ.
Three things particularly struck me in his autobiography:
1.) An early childhood vision and encounter with the will and grace of God.
2.) A dream he had as an adult about his father.
3.) His conclusion where he references the apostle Paul.
An Early Vision
In the beginning of the book, Jung recounts his first experience with God’s will and grace when he was twelve year’s old. At a young age, he questioned everything and thought often of God. After school one day, he was walking through town where there was a square. In the square, there was a beautiful cathedral and he was overwhelmed with the thought of, “The world is beautiful and the church is beautiful, and God made all this and sits above it far away in the blue sky on a golden throne…”
Next he describes a choking sensation and a horror of a terrible next thought that he dared not enter his mind lest he blaspheme the Holy Spirit, the only sin that cannot be forgiven. How could he do this to his parents, he wondered? For three nights he describes being tormented until finally, reaching an unbearable point of angst, he began wondering whose will was acting on him and why. He wondered where sin came from and whether it was God’s will for there to be sin in the first place and if so, who was responsible for this impending thought? He determined that, “I must search out His intention myself, and seek a way out alone.”
Can you imagine that as a twelve year old? At this point he says another thought began, to act or not to act. According to conventional morality, to act was a sin to be avoided, but he states that “I could not yield before I understood what God’s will was and what He intended for. For I was now certain that He was the author of this desperate problem…Hence there was no question in my mind that God was arranging a decisive test for me and that everything depended on me understanding Him correctly”.
He concluded that “Obviously God also desires me to show courage. If that is so and I go through with it, then He will give me His grace and illumination.”
So Jung gathered all his courage, “as though I were about to leap forthwith into hell-fire, and let the thought come. I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky. God sits on His golden throne, high above the world—and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the cathedral asunder.”
I got such a kick out of this. A God turd! What does this mean? God, in His wildness and unpredictability, doesn’t desire religion or dogma, He desires faith and relationship.
Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound
He says, “instead of sin and damnation, grace had come upon me, and with an unutterable bliss such as I had never known. I wept for happiness and gratitude.
Jung, who had always had issues with his father’s strict dogmatism says that, “The wisdom and goodness of God had been revealed to me now that I had yielded to His inexorable command. It was though I had experienced an illumination. A great many things I had not previously understood became clear to me. That was what my father had not understood, and I thought; ‘He had failed to experience the will of God, and had opposed it for the very best reasons and out of the deepest faith. And that is why he had never experienced the miracle of grace which heals all and makes all comprehensible. He had taken the Bible’s commandments as his guide; he believed in God as the Bible prescribed and as his forefathers had taught him. But he did not know the immediate living God who stands, omnipotent and free, above His Bible and His Church, who calls upon man to partake of His freedom, and can force him to renounce his own views and convictions in order to fulfill without reserve the command of God. In His trial of human courage, God refuses to abide by traditions, no matter how sacred. In His omnipotence He will see to it that nothing really evil comes of such tests of courage. If one fulfills the will of God one can be sure of going the right way…It was obedience that brought me God’s grace, after that experience, I knew what grace was. One must be utterly abandoned to God; nothing else matters but fulfilling His will. Otherwise all is folly and all is meaningless. From that moment on, when I experienced grace, my true responsibility began…Then, came the dim understanding that God could be something terrible. I had experienced a dark and terrible secret. It overshadowed my whole life, and I became deeply pensive.”
I had a similar experience but with none of the same details and it’s powerfully intoxicating. Ten years ago, I was in South Africa visiting a friend from college. At the local church, a woman I had never met and never spoke to again, came up to me and said she had a “word” for me. What she told me later happened. However, it was so much later that I didn’t see a connection amidst my own dark night of the soul, or what Soren Kiekegaard called the great “leap of faith”.
Given this, I wondered was Jung a Christian? Was I now a Christian and if so, what was I before? Jung, in the rest of his book, particularly at the end, dwells a great deal on Job and Christ attempting to think them into a nice little box. Because of this, Jung’s writing captured me and I have turned his words in my head for a couple years now.
One might think that Jung would have become a priest or a minister, but instead he went on to create an entire new branch of psychology, healing schizophrenics and the mentally ill. He gave voice and meaning to “crazy” people. While listening to them, he realized they were having visions of things they could have never known. He showed that physical illness was often spiritual. I believed he was only able to accomplish so much, because of this experience.
He was a confusing and complicated man. I learned later that he elevated Satan to equal status with God or else why would God allow evil reign in the world unless God Himself was evil or He couldn’t stop it. I was confused as to how he was able to arrive at this conclusion after such an experience, but less so after reading later in his book about a dream he had as an adult about his father.
As I mentioned before, Jung had a very difficult relationship with his father. He loved his father, but often wrote of him with an undertone of condescension for he never reached any worldly acclaim or success. Towards the end of his fathers life, he felt his father questioned his faith and Jung seems to think his father wasted his life at least to some extent. Ultimately, this was rooted in the fact that his father never had the “experience” of Jung, which made Jung feel that he had a secret his father didn’t.
Yet Jung’s dream of his father tells a different reality, one where the first are last and the last are first. In his dream, Jung’s father was the wise man, appearing before him with a Bible made of fish scales, speaking with such wisdom and intellect that Jung and the other intellectuals in their “stupidity simply couldn’t follow it”. After the teaching, Jung says, “We climbed a narrow staircase to the second floor. There a strange sight presented itself: a large hall which was the exact replica of the divani-kaas (council hall) of Sultan Akbar at Fatehpur Sikri. It was a high, circular room with a gallery running along the wall, from which four bridges led to a basin-shaped center. The basin rested upon a huge column and formed the sultan’s round seat. From this elevated place he spoke to his councilors and philosophers, who sat along the walls in the gallery. The whole was a gigantic mandala. It corresponded precisely to the real divan-i-kaas. In the dream I suddenly saw that from the center a steep flight of stairs ascended to a spot high up on the wall—which no longer corresponded to reality. At the top of the stairs was a small door and my father said, ‘Now I will lead you into the highest presence.’ Then he knelt down and touched his forehead to the floor. I imitated him, likewise kneeling, with great emotion. For some reason I could not bring my forehead quite down to the floor—there was perhaps a millimeter to spare. But at least I had made the gesture with him. Suddenly I knew—perhaps my father had told me—that that upper door led to a solitary chamber where lived Uriah, King David’s general, whom David had shamefully betrayed for the sake of his wife Bathsheba, by commanding his soldiers to abandon Uriah in the face of the enemy.”
Jung says he, “ought really to have touched my forehead to the floor, so that my submission would be complete. But something prevented me from doing so entirely, and kept me just a millimeter away. Something in me was saying, ‘All very well, but not entirely’. Something in me was defiant and determined not to be a dumb fish.”
Jung knew what these symbols meant—Uriah, stairs, fish, mandala, touching ones forehead to the ground. He certainly knew, yet something in him could not be a dumb fish. It was his father who submitted and achieved what the great Jung couldn’t. It seems that one can experience the blissful grace of God but still refuse the last millimeter.
Love and the Apostle Paul
After this dream, Jung doesn’t discuss much of note until the very end. Jung, a brilliant and learned man, attempts to wrap up his life’s thoughts and work, but feebly ends up in the exact same place his father did—faith. I was dumbfounded when, in an attempt to sound intellectual, he literally admits he knows nothing. This man who travelled to the ends of the earth, studied every religion, births an entire field in psychology admits he knows nothing and that not he, but the apostle Paul, has already come up with the perfect words of which none can be added or taken away.
He says, “I sometimes (emphasis added) feel that Paul’s words—‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not love’—might be the first condition of cognition and the quintessence of divinity itself.”
This is a stunning, albeit a half hearted, admission. This man, who was a slave to his intelligence to such an extent that the millimeter between his forehead and the floor might as well have been a million miles, realizes that he only has cognition because he was mysteriously loved into existence.
He goes on to say, “In my medical experience as well as in my own life, I have again and again been faced with the mystery of love, and have never been able to explain what it is. Like Job, I had to ‘lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer (Job 40:4). Here is the greatest and smallest, the remotest and nearest, the highest and lowest, and we cannot discuss one side of it without also discussing the other. No language is adequate to this paradox. Whatever one can say, no words can express the whole. To speak of partial aspects is always too much or too little, for only the whole is meaningful. Love ‘bears all things’ and ‘endures all things ‘ (1 Cor. 13:7). These words say all there is to be said; nothing can be added to them. For we are in the deepest sense the victims and the instruments of comogonic love.”
Unbelievably or perhaps believably, Jung, even at the end, omits part of the verse, which fully stated is, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” What arrogance to omit the words of a saint and then say nothing can be added! I wish I could say, “Yes, Jung, words can be added to them—how about the words you omitted?”
When I realized this, I knew that even though I wanted to, I couldn’t trust Carl Jung.
Then, continuing, he says “Man can try to name love, showering upon it all the names at his command, and still he will involve himself in endless self-deceptions. If he possesses a grain of wisdom, he will lay down his arms and name the unknown by the more unknown, ingotum per ignotius—that is, by the name of God. That is the a confession of his subjection, his imperfection, and his dependence; but at the same time a testimony to his freedom to choose between truth and error.
The question is, did Jung ever lay down his arms?
No person has ever caused me to re-think Christianity like Jung. I owe him a debt of gratitude, for even in his error, he showed me the truth. Like Jung, I wanted very little to do with religion and the sanitized pretty people version of church. I came back to Christianity kicking and screaming.
I have learned that the heart is endlessly deceptive. It’s easier to be like Jung, and go around popping everyone else’s balloons and saying all is all, and very well at that, when it really isn’t, and that in your brilliance you have found the truth, which is that there is no truth, which is after all a truth statement. He gets all the accolades and all the glory by claiming to seek the truth, but never actually desiring to exist in the truth for he had his chance and denied it—for who wants to be a dumb fish he says, for ascending to the highest place with Uriah meant an end to his scientific career. I say exist in it, because he did find God and the truth as a young boy, yet refused that experience afterward. That is the real reason he didn’t touch his forehead and the real reason he omitted Paul’s words about belief, ironically either consciously or unconsciously, at the end of the book. Even at the end of his book, he can’t bear to lose his scientific legacy by being a theologian or a mystic, which he greatly looked down upon.
Carl Jung has no excuse because he read the Bible through and through, and Jesus already spoke of this when in Matthew, he speaks to the rich man about entering the Kingdom of Heaven, the highest presence. Jesus says to the rich man in Matthew 19: 21-23, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
When Jesus says perfect, he is speaking of being perfected through the last millimeter. It’s then that you ascend to the highest presence and meet God. Jung submitted as a twelve year old, but failed to accept that one must continue daily in their heart to close the last millimeter.
Anyone truly looking for truth will find it, but Jung didn’t want to accept it and we know this not from conjecture or unfairly judging him but because he admits it in a book for everyone to read. Both Christians and non-Christians can withhold the last millimeter. Closing the millimeter is the single hardest thing to achieve in life. Many Christians are more lost than Jung. For at least Jung knew that he had a millimeter gap and has the courage to admit he flat out didn’t want to do it. Many “Christians” have no clue.
Like Jung, I have had issues with the church and what I consider unthinking Christians. I have had issues with the dogma and people I see that are clearly are further away from Christ than people outside of the church. I have had issues with the wealth, the separation by race, and the overall unwillingness of the church to engage in society unless society forces them to deal with reality. Yet, God, as evidenced in Jung’s dream, probably doesn’t like it either.
I have had issues with faith in general, but I realized it’s not the faith that bothers me, it’s the repercussions of faith—namely that I am not my own and can’t do whatever I want. For who wants to be a dumb fish? Not me, but love believes all things and hopes all things.
Wondrously Logically Illogical
This book lead me to a wondrous thought, namely that if there is a God, and He is love, He very well might have suspended the laws of science to experience humanity through his Son, make the ultimate sacrifice and and take the ultimate risk, because being fully human, Jesus didn’t have to obey. What if Jesus didn’t? All would have been lost. For God to be the alpha and omega, both love and justice justice for example, having created a duality on earth, some cosmic event that would have risked everything and hurt God in the only way possible, would have had to been planned before time in order for us to have cognition and choose Him. We were loved into existence. It’s both logical and illogical. As Jung says, and he is correct in this, the truth is always both, because we are all embedded with the God image—the soul.
Tim Keller, pastor of a church in NYC, says lack of faith isn’t the absence of something but the presence of something—Jung says something in him was defiant. That defiance is in us all. I want to conquer things with my mind, possessions, and personality like everyone else. There is something in me that wants to entertain endless self-deceptions. I have had to reluctantly admit that the only answers I have ever found for my experiences and the experiences of people like Jung are in the Bible, fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Believe me, I didn’t want this to be the case, but I have chosen to close the millimeter gap now and daily, rather than be like Jung who even after an entire lifetime of searching, was still flirting with the answer, forever dating, never committing.
Yes, most may be reading the Bible wrong, because the eyes of their heart have not been opened, but I have conceded that I must daily continue to submit in my spirit and soul. For Jung submitted once, and thought he was done, but his father submitted every day. Who was the greater man, Jung or his father? In the Kingdom of heaven, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
I have mentioned being a dumb fish several times, because it essentially communicates what would take an entire volume of book in only two words. The Ichthys is the symbol for Jesus Christ. Jung admits he knew what this symbol was, mentioning it, but glossing over it. It is the symbol that was adopted by early Christians as a secret symbol known now as the “Jesus fish”.
Being a dumb fish—it’s so unprogressive these days. However, it’s not being a dumb fish intellectually, for who would say CS Lewis is a dumb fish? It’s a matter of the heart. As long as there are people who experience the radical grace of God, there will be people searching for answers, and they will find them in the Words of Jesus Christ—the Ichthys—the innocent that didn’t have to die, but willingly did and then rose again. Even the prolifically brilliant Jung ended up right where he started as a twelve year old, but lacking the faith of a child as an adult, he refused the leap of faith.
I am certain that God was speaking to Jung in dreams and I am certain Jung had read this verse: Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me (Rev 3:20).
Did Jung ever touch his forehead? I certainly hope so and I hope he entered through the door to the highest presence where most certainly a feast was waiting for him.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
One thought on “Memories, Dreams and Reflections—Carl Jung and Christianity”
This was an interesting article and just like you, I ran away from Christianity so many times. A lot of things that happened in my life recently have brought me back to Christ again.