Answer to Job, by C. G. Jung: book synopsisStephen Farah
Answer to Job was first published in 1952 in German and was included in Jung’s “Collected Works”, as part of volume 11. It was published in English in 1954. It is regarded as one of Jung’s most controversial works.
In Answer to Job, Jung demonstrates his in-depth knowledge of the Bible; however, what makes the book remarkable is the fact that it is a personal and authentic exposition of the subject of human suffering as it relates to the Christian religion.
Jung wrote Answer to Job in his old age when he was ailing and feverish. It is written in a passionate, unrestrained style in which Jung often repeats himself. One gets the sense that he felt compelled to write the book, that it was urged from the depths of his unconscious. Jung faced his own set of personal, religious and professional challenges and was grappling with the idea of good and evil that he saw in himself and in the world around him. This was at a time when the world was asking questions around humanity and even insanity, after the atrocities of World War II.
Jung feels repressed anger towards God and he seems to be wrestling with God the same way Jacob wrestled with the angel of God. He asks an emotionally charged question, similar to the one Job and Christ asked, asking why God had forsaken him. In Answer to Job, Jung projects his inner conflict around religion and suffering onto the core nature of God.
Jung’s relationship with religion was influenced by the conflict he experienced in his relationship with his strictly religious, authoritative father, as well as the issues he had with the Christian church of his time. In using the story of Job, Jung demonstrates his belief that one should be permitted to challenge God. Critics of the book have said that Jung judges God, but such criticism is mostly based on uninformed naiveté. Jung viewed God as a phenomenon. He addresses the idea of God from the perspective of his own personal processes that related to his individuation; individuation for Jung was a form of religion.
The book reveals much about Jung’s personal unconscious. The dynamics between Job and God can be equated to Jung’s dynamics between his ego and self. It is an example of an exploration of Jung’s and God’s consciousness, and can be interpreted as a parallel for the exposition of the unconscious, particularly in the way that man relates to religion.
Jung uses the Book of Job, specifically Job’s relationship with God, as a metaphor for man’s relationship to suffering. He says, God is insufficient as an answer for the question about evil in the world.
He emphasises that religion as a symbol can have an impact on our personal psychology. It is through our personal psychic processes that we interpret the character of God, based on the experience of the ‘numinosum’ and the meaning that this holds for us. We must confront the numinous as a means of protesting against the premises of religious dogma. Jung argues, the idea of God is based on unconscious aspects and relates to archetypal images which are ‘metaphysical objects’. It is only through the lived experience of the archetype, if we are prepared to engage with the tensions, that we may be able to understand life in a spiritual context. He says, if we integrate the numinous, the ego will in the same way come to terms with the self. God and the Christian myth was very much a reality for Jung, but he viewed formal religion as a defence against having a religious experience.
The story of Job is relevant in the context of modern-day psychology as it serves as an analogy for coming to terms with God by directly confronting the ‘numinosum’. Throughout Answer to Job, Jung demonstrates the importance of imagination when relating to the numinous. He says concepts about religion are based on human imagination, on things merely heard about, not physically and empirically seen, and are therefore not finite.
In the introduction, Jung says he wishes to address the ‘revered subject of religion’, specifically, the tradition of the Christian faith. He refers to the conflict that accompanies the traditional Christian belief system, namely that a thing is only true if it can be scientifically proven, i.e. that faith depends on whether you believe that Christ was really born from a virgin conception vs the argument that considers it scientifically impossible. Jung agrees, there is no logical answer to this conflict and says, both sides are wrong in as much as they are right. He stresses, ‘physical’ is not the only criterion of truth, there are psychic truths which are equally true although they cannot be proven the same way that physical truths can. Beliefs cannot be said to be wrong or untrue, they exist as facts in the minds of men as independent psychic experiences; they do not need any other physical proof. Jung argues, beliefs cannot be contested and do not need to be proven in the formal sense of the word. He writes: “The psyche is an autonomous factor, and religious statements are psychic confessions which in the last resort are based on the unconscious, i.e. on transcendental processes.” (p. xii)
Jung explains that the concepts we create around the idea of God are not finite or absolute, they are based on human imagination. He emphasises that language, as a finite means is limited in conveying the precise meaning of these objects. We experience beliefs through the medium of consciousness based on influences from the internal and external world, as metaphysical objects. There is however an aspect of our knowing that goes beyond consciousness. Jung refers to the knowing that relates to basic principles or archetypal images which function as ‘unknowable inadequate constructs’ in the psyche. He writes: “But, although our whole world of religious ideas consists of anthropomorphic images that could never stand up to rational criticism, we should never forget that they are based on numinous archetypes, i.e. on an emotional foundation which is unassailable by reason. We are dealing with psychic facts which logic can overlook but not eliminate”. (p. xiv)
The Book of Job is a book of lament, similar to other books on suffering and woe in the Bible. Jung uses the suffering of Job to draw a parallel between man’s shadow and self, to the dark and light in God’s nature. He reflects on the opposites that existed in God’s nature and explores this as it relates to the duality of his own nature. He says, God rages against Job because of Job’s conscious reflection. God’s weakness, according to Jung, is that God does not reach full consciousness in his interaction with Job. Jung believes, Job defeated God and had the moral high ground and was in a superior position to God. Even though this idea is considered blasphemous by some critics, it serves as a metaphor for the questions Jung and the world were asking about the existence of evil, questions Jung felt God could not answer.
Jung continues to explore the evolution of God in man’s consciousness. He says, because of God’s omnipotence and omniscience, it was not required of the God of the Old Testament to demonstrate consciousness or self-reflection. He says, consciousness and self-reflection imply morality. God, as he related to his people in the Old Testament, is amoral, and Job is the ‘better man’ because he was able to project human characteristics onto God which in the end caused God to become more ‘human’. Jung says, the Creator needs man to reflect on him; Yahweh can only become conscious through man’s reflection. He writes: “Existence is only real when it is conscious to somebody.” (p. 11)
The theme throughout the first half of Answer to Job relates primarily to the story of Job. Jung says, Job must let go of his right to expect that God will come to the rescue and remove the evil suffering in the world. When God allows Satan to cast suspicion on Job, it confirms God’s inability for consciousness and reflection; this is the reason why God insisted that man must fear him, because Yahweh in turn lacked faithfulness toward Job. Jung argues, since Adam and Eve, man’s reasoning capacity was evolving, and this consciousness would threaten the omnipotence and omniscience of God. God ties man to himself through the covenant in the story of Noah and the rainbow, to ensure man’s faithfulness. If man were to question God, it would threaten the autonomy of God.
The first half of Answer to Job relates to Job’s relationship with the Old Testament Yahweh. Jung explores the mind of God and compares the key differences between man’s nature and God’s nature. He gives an exposition of the evolution of the God image that began with Adam and Eve and progressed to the God of the Book of Revelations. Jung says, God was preparing man for the transition from the Old Testament Yahweh image to the fallen Christ, thus, Job stands as a prefiguration of Christ. The ambivalent character of God regarding suffering relates to both Job and Christ. The unjust suffering links them. This is a central theme in Answer to Job.
Jung considers man’s response to suffering at the hand of the symbol of the coincidential oppoitorium as a primary archetype of the human psyche. He says, the paradoxical quality of human nature is inherent to man and God. The tension of the opposites plays an important role in the process of becoming conscious. Jung explores the concept of the opposites throughout the book. He says, traditionally it is challenging to visualise the contradictory aspects of God, Satan must first be hidden. This is as a metaphor for how God hides from his own consciousness. Jung gives an emotional account, as if to say there is no answer to the evil in the world. He says God and evil seem to be allies, and when he considers Job’s story, he views Yahweh as not human, but sees him as a monster. Jung says unconsciousness has an animal quality, therefore God cannot be judged morally because he is inhuman, he is merely a phenomenon.
Jung continues with the exposition to show how the archetype of Wisdom, characterised by Sophia resulted in the evolution of God. Sophia changes the nature of God. She is the forerunner of Mary and of the Holy Spirit. The incarnate God is announced by introducing Sophia as the feminine ‘numen’ of Jerusalem, which is the mother city. Jung says the appearance of Sophia affected Yahweh’s relationship to man in that he symbolises self-reflection. Because God lacks Eros and relatedness in his marriage to Israel, Sophia comes to the rescue. Sophia, while co-existing with God, symbolises the hieros gamos; she becomes the vehicle from the unconscious to consciousness. Jung’s view is that evil does not exist in the absence of good, but rather that good and evil is a fundamental aspect of God’s nature. Previously it was believed that only man had this dualistic nature.
The mother of God is now protected against Satan because God has consulted his own omniscience and is conscious of the evil in Satan. God is conscious of his own dualistic nature, but God is not split in the unhealthy psychological sense; he is the totality of inner opposites, just like man. Jung shows how this is the co-existence of opposites which signifies inner psychic and religious health as symbolised through the birth of Christ. Jung illustrates that God’s nature is both that of helper and of persecutor. This serves to address the religious doubts man would have if we were to assume that God was only good. It would not be reconcilable with the realities of evil in the world; the divide between us and God would become too wide if we were to imagine God as only good.
Jung refers to God’s evil side as the elusive fourth side of the Trinity, and calls it the ‘Quaternity’. He says it is the missing aspect, the 4th piece that symbolises God’s feminine nature which manifested symbolically through the assumption of the Virgin Mary by the Pope in 1950. Mary and her son became gods as a symbol for the completeness of the God incarnate.
The other biblical characters that Jung explores after the story of Job present as archetypal relationships of God to man. They feature as aspects of God in a complex exploration of how man continues to relate to God while he evolves in our time and the minds of men. As archetypes, they cannot be directly experienced or articulated. It is a testimony of Jung’s brilliance that he uses symbols and myths that exist in our religious thinking to explore the evolution of God in this way.
After Jung discusses the role of Sophia as wisdom, as the one who symbolises the first step in the right direction for God, he explores the character of Abel as the imperfect prototype of God’s son. He moves on to discuss Christ as the hero archetype, Satan as the symbol for God’s wrongdoing to Job and subsequent enlarged consciousness which caused God to eventually evolve into the loving father. He discusses the incarnation of Christ as the way in which God restores the wrong that was done to Job. The incarnation of Christ also addresses the existence of the opposites in a single archetypal whole that manifests as consciousness. The latter is the precursor for Christ as a highly numinous character who symbolises the union that Ezekiel announced, that man will be assimilated into the Divine Drama through the humanization of God. Christ is announced as the hero, the half-god, the mediator who introduces the role of the Holy Spirit as the continuation of God’s incarnation.
Jung challenges the traditional Christian myth that says God sent his son to die for man’s sins. He says, God realised that Job was treated unjustly, and God repents by sending his son to die for his, God’s, sins. Jung argues that this serves as a metaphor for God’s own psychological evolution over time.
Jung spends some time discussing the book of Revelations. He illustrates how God is not all good and describes God’s unpredictable nature. Based on his own personal view, he argues that the John of the Epistles is the same John of the book of Revelation. He discusses how an extreme transformation of the unconscious took place based on the dynamics of the Book of Revelations. For Jung, the John of Revelation symbolised the ongoing virtuousness that the early Christians upheld, but the John of the Apocalypse symbolised the breach between the opposites. He says, the split erupted from the deepest depths of the unconscious. He views it as similar to the unconscious of the God of Job, but suggests the events of the Apocalypse did not contain a shadow and was not a marriage of the opposites, but was a pathological dive away from God’s good side.
Jung uses this as a metaphor to describe the defences in the human psyche which caused a split form sexuality, from man’s deepest self and from God. One can imagine that Jung was possibly projecting his own internal split and the divide that he witnessed in the Christian church of his time.
The myth comes full circle when God, in the form of Jesus experiences the human crisis of being abandoned by God. Jung says this is the answer to the question of why Job had to suffer. At the time of Job God already wanted to become conscious by integrating evil and good and Job was the starting point of God becoming more human, more conscious. Jung illustrates that God, by becoming half man, half God, was communicating to man his most profound acknowledgment of human suffering in the world.
However, God, according to Jung, can still not be trusted for being fully conscious. Because even after the death on the cross, the Lord’s Prayer is proof that God still had the ability to tempt man because man must ask God not to lead him into temptation. Jung argues that even this event was not the complete picture of the incarnation of God. It continued to evolve even after the crucifixion of Christ.
In Answer to Job, Jung illustrates his own deep-seated curiosity about religion as an experience of his own psychology as it relates to the nature of God’s psychology. It is probably Jung’s most thorough communication about psychic truth regarding religion. He emphasised that for him it was enough to know God as part of his own personal psychology as this was proof that God existed. He felt it was not necessary that he had to say he believed in God, yet he was not agnostic. To his mind he merely challenged his own ideas as well as the ideas of his time which informed the ideas about the nature of God.
Jung engaged in a multi-layered way with the meaning of the Christian myth. He reflected on the aspect of evil in the world, but was not able to reconcile the conflict in the psyche of the God of Christianity that he knew.
The problem that Jung faced in Answer to Job centred around the difficulty in trying to portray God as having a human character, while at the same time being omnipotent. This would normally be a contradiction in terms and by addressing this Jung describes the challenges we face around defining an infinite concept such as God in finite terms. He says, the personal ego is limited, and we project this limited view onto the symbol of God. We cannot ever know the unknowable God, and we are forced to accept this as a mystery of incomprehensible depths that manifests in our own psychology.
The book can be considered as a specific paradigm relating to one’s experience about God. Jung believed the paradigm that he worked with in Answer to Job made the most psychological sense, and for this reason it could be viewed as the most sustainable one for others to adopt. This was based on Jung’s own authentic process of discovering an answer for himself which he wanted to share with the world. Jung believed that authentic accounts about life and human existence held the potential for human culture to evolve within these truths. He portrayed Job as the archetype of our relationship to suffering in the hope that the book would increase our wisdom around our experience of suffering.
Answer to Job seems to imply that man must set God straight because both God and man has a shadow, and these two shadows mirror each other. If God was seen to be only good then there would be no explanation for the evil that man experiences in the world. But Jung says, the reason why he addressed the story of Job’s suffering is because it serves as a metaphor for how man can correct the imbalance in the psychology of God, and at the same time correct the imbalance in his own psychology regarding the subject of religion.
Book synopsis written by Lynelle Pieterse.
Join the Jungian Book club on Facebook
ebook available for purchase from Taylor & Francis