From Covenants to Consciousness in the Book of Job – Part 1

This is our second post in the continuation of our series bringing you more Wisdom from your fellow students of the contemplative path. We hope you will find these posts enriching, enlightening, and inspiring for your own journey. If you would like to submit a post for future consideration, please email admin@contemplative.org.

Read on for the first part of a series from our deeply knowledgeable audio ministry editor, Peggy Zimmerman. Subsequent posts will be listed below:


Since learning about Jacob Boehme and Teilhard de Chardin through Wisdom School teachings, I have a new appreciation for Carl Jung’s Answer to Job and have been led to reconsider the “law of three” unfolding of the Trinity. This blog initiative by The Contemplative Society provides a welcome opportunity for me, as a layperson, to gain input on my thoughts from a group of seasoned wisdom seekers. If this first post has any merit, I would like to submit a second post incorporating these thoughts into another look at the revolving, evolving Trinity.

William Blake – Job’s Tormentors

The Book of Job raises questions about erratic justice, undeserved suffering, might over right, and the existence of evil. Most commentaries provide answers along the traditional Christian track. Misfortunes, suffering, and injustices happen even to “good” people as “a discipline for misbehavior” if we know the larger picture, “training for their spiritual maturity”, and “an opportunity to glorify God by their faith”, as neatly summarized by Robert Alden (p. 41). He displays his own orthodoxy in his conclusive statement, “But the message of Job is that nothing happens to us that is not ultimately controlled by the knowledge, love, wisdom and power of our God of all comfort” (p. 41). All these commentaries rest on a theology that God’s omnipotence and omniscience are not to be doubted or questioned and that God has a divine plan that is beyond human understanding. Such readings of Job lead us to the dead end of a distant, unapproachable, and inaccessible totally “other” God.

Jung provides a way out of this impasse and recovers the Book of Job as a treasure of the ancient Wisdom stream beyond the mainstream practical Jewish wisdom tradition. Jung’s premise is that the divine plan is for Yahweh to become man, that is to know himself (i.e., become conscious) through his creation. This is in line with the often quoted saying attributed to God: “I loved to be known so I created worlds both invisible and visible.” Without manifestation, the Unity rests eternally as an antinomy (“a totality of inner opposites”; Jung, p. 7), a coincidentia oppositorum (p. 57) rather than a composite of dualistic opposites. All opposites – light/dark, good/evil, unconsciousness/consciousness, etc. – are undifferentiated in the Unity. Differentiation is required to know one’s attributes, qualities, aspects, features, or whatever term is used to identify/define the components of one’s essence.

If the Unity made creation to know itself, how could the divine plan remain inscrutable and the Unity remain unapproachable? If Yahweh is to know himself through his creation, creation would need to evolve into consciousness.

Jung’s answer to Job is basically that Yahweh (the divine Unity) has no answer to Job and therein lies the answer to Job: “I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me” (Job 30:20). What is going on internally for Yahweh at this point? Is he simply judging in stern silence the audacity of Job to doubt him and claim Yahweh has no interest in him? Or is this a cosmic moment of the Unity’s consciousness stirring beneath the dominating shadow of its omnipotence in this manifested realm? Jung would say the latter. Confronted by a creature whose suffering has reached absurd levels and who persists (“stand,” as per the Gospel of Thomas) in his innocence, Yahweh faces the unconscionable results of his bet with Satan and hence experiences a flicker of self-awareness.

Credit: catholicnewstt.com

Yet, it is only an inkling. Yahweh’s reaction, when he finally deigns to speak out of a whirlwind, is to regress and give no real answers. He bombards Job with rhetorical questions and saves face by bringing the divine-human relationship back to the status quo, at least tentatively, for the reader is left unsatisfied. Yahweh’s relentless grilling amounts to challenging Job to surpass the unmatched powers of the supreme Almighty. He does not focus on his goodness and glory by waxing poetic on the beauty and abundance of his creation. Instead, the predominant attribute of Yahweh presented and referenced throughout Job’s ordeal is raw power. Even Alden admits, “Less prominent are mercy, love, and goodness” (Alden, p. 38).

Significantly, nearly two-thirds of Yahweh’s spoken lines to Job (77 out of 123 verses) are devoted to comparisons with wild creatures. And tellingly, he concludes his interrogation of Job by closing with 44 verses about the biggest, fiercest, and most untamable beasts, the Behemoth and Leviathan, created and controllable only by the Almighty. Here are some of Yahweh’s words about the Leviathan:

No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up.
     Who can stand before it?
Who can confront it and be safe?
    – under the whole heaven, who?
. . .
It surveys everything that is lofty;
     it is king over all that are proud.
(41:10-11, 34)

Psychologically, one might say Yahweh is projecting onto these animals his own mindless (without awareness) potency. Presumably, his intended message to Job is that even the dumb beasts know better than to question their lot, so you better close your mouth.

Indeed, that is Job’s final gesture. He had already put his hand over his mouth (40:46) before these last words of Yahweh. Now, either consciously or unconsciously, Job knows that the only saving response in the face of intemperate, non-self-aware, cornered fury is to be submissive and back away. Job says,

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
     but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
     and repent in dust and ashes.
(42:5-6)

These all important final lines of Job elicit several observations. First, the single eye suggests a perceiving beyond the normal senses. He has indeed heard by ear the invisible Yahweh, but now he knows something new about his Lord. Second, as the Oxford annotated NRSV notes, “I despise myself” might better be translated as “I relent” or “I recant”, and alternative meanings of “repent” are “regret” and “console” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 733 HB). Third, Job’s backing off is not a surrender of letting go in equanimity, but a surrender of giving up and defeat.

Exactly what Job “sees” is what Jung declares:

Here Yahweh comes up against a man who stands firm, who clings to his rights until he is compelled to give way to brute force. He has seen God’s face and the unconscious split in his nature. God was now known, and this knowledge went on working not only in Yahweh but in man too (Jung, p. 34).

Job sees and plants deep in humanity for the first time that the supposedly all-good God has a shadow side carried in his unconscious. The possibility of this planting being a cosmic happening on the order of Jesus’ cosmic act I would like to discuss in a second post along with the roles of Sophia and the Holy Spirit. For now, by giving Job no direct or solicitous answer, Yahweh shows his true colors, at least two of his true colors – his lack of self-awareness and “dark underbelly”.

Jung is clear that, at least in his Answer to Job, we are not dealing with some subjective archetypes rising from humanity’s collective unconscious. He is emphatic that the Book of Job presents metaphysical archetypes having “spontaneity and purposiveness”, “laws of their own”, and an “unknowable metaphysical background”. The images, symbols, and statements wrapped around the figures in Job “are psychic processes which are different from the transcendent object: they do not posit it, they merely point to it” and what they point to is the Ens realissimum (Jung, pp. xiv-xv). As Evelyn Underhill states, symbols are “the clothing which the spiritual borrows from the material plane” (Underhill, p. 80). Furthermore, as Cynthia Bourgeault notes, the integration of metaphysical archetypes “is always an objective union of two different realms of being –a szyzgy (‘not one, not two, but both one and two’) of the finite and infinite” (MMag, p. 247, fn. 9); again, evidence of the Job story being a testimony to a cosmic act.

Thus, we may move from metaphor to metaphysics. Is the Job tale witnessing a significant point in what Teilhard calls the complexification-consciousness process – consciousness on the cusp, so to speak? In the next post, both Teilhard and Boehme provide guidance in this direction and a way to account for evil.

Read on – Part 2.


Peggy Zimmerman has been as a technical editor, environmental and urban planner, university instructor, mental health counsellor, and human resources manager. Since retiring sixteen years ago, she has participated in environmental activist work. In that time she also rediscovered her Christian roots and set out on deepening her spiritual life, largely through a personal study of the Christian wisdom tradition. She arranged for the introduction of Centering Prayer to the Comox Valley, facilitates a weekly sit at her church, initiated and continues to facilitate a monthly Taizé service and a monthly One World service (incorporating chants and readings from the world’s spiritual traditions), leads book studies on Cynthia Boiurgeault’s texts and the Gospel of Thomas, and edits Contemplative Society retreat recordings. At her church she serves on the Congregational Education Committee and the Pastoral Care Committee.


References:

  • Alden, Robert L. Job. Vol. II in The New American Commentary series. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1993.
  • Anonymous. Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism. Robert Powell, trans. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putman, 1985, 2002.
  • Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. NY: Random House, 1993.
  • Barr, James. “The Book of Job and Its Modern Interpreters”. Lecture delivered in the John Rylands Library, 10 February 1971. Available at www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk.
  • Boehme, Jacob. Genius of the Transcendent: Mystical Writings of Jakob Boehme. Michael L. Birkel and Jeff  Bach, trans. and eds. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2010.
  • Boehme, Jacob. The Way to Christ. Peter Erb, trans. Toronto and NY: Paulist Press, 1978.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia. (HT) The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2013.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia. (MMag) The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2010.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia. Teilhard for Our Times. Spirituality & Practice, 2016. Available at https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ecourses/course/view/10182/teilhard-for-our-times.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia.  (WWK) The Wisdom Way of Knowing. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, 2003.
  • Bruteau, Beatrice. God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World. NY: Crossroad, 1997.
  • Clement, Olivier. The Roots of Christian Mysticism. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993.
  • Delio, Ilia. The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2013.
  • Gospel of Thomas. Lynn Bauman, trans. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 2004.
  • Hart, David J.H. Christianity: A New Look At Ancient Wisdom. Kelowna, BC: Northstone Publishing, 1992.
  • Jung, C. J. Answer to Job. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
  • Miles, Jack. God: A Biography. NY: Vintage Books, 1995, 1996.
  • The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd ed. Michael D. Coogan, ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Human Phenomenon. Sarah Appleton-Weber, trans. Chicago, IL: Sussex Academic Press, 1999, 2003, 2015.
  • Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism. New York, NY: Image Books Doubleday, 1990.
12 replies
  1. Elaine Fourie
    Elaine Fourie says:

    I fear I am not sufficiently erudite to understand, other than partially, what the author is sharing in Part 1. As a psychologist I have read Jung many years ago but I cannot make the links the author is making into Job. I love the notion of paradox and mystery embedded in this article but I struggle with the idea that God has a dark side but I will continue to open my mind and wrestle with the concept. Thank you for giving me much to ponder on and for shaking the cobwebs clearly gathering in my mind😊. Blessings to all.

    Reply
    • Peggy Zimmerman
      Peggy Zimmerman says:

      Thanks, Elaine, for your comment on the first Job blog. I appreciate your interest. Jung’s “Answer to Job” was first published in Zurich in 1952 when he was 77 years old. It was subsequently published in 1958 in Vol. 11 of the Collected Works. Jung delayed writing the piece because he knew it would be so controversial. I have the R.F.C. Hull translation in a 1973 Princeton/Bollingen paperback edition. He wrote in a 1951 letter to Aniela Jaffe, “If there is anything like the spirit seizing one by the scruff of the neck, it is the way this book came into being.” (quoted in the paperback Editorial Note, p. v) In a prefatory note to the Collected Works edition he wrote: “The book does not pretend to be anything but the voice or question of a single individual who hopes or expects to meet with thoughtfulness in the public.” (p. x)
      I guess we find ourselves in that “thoughtfulness” group of people as we continue to probe into Job.

      Reply
  2. Craigus
    Craigus says:

    I’ve always found the articles on this site to be off somehow and have chosen to stick to other teachers (more than likely it’s just a personality thing). But I always feel like something important is missing but could never really put my finger on it. Personally 😉 I get the sense that the significance of the emergence of the personal is leapt over (almost like the ego is escaping its demise by seeking to remain intact by becoming a mystical ego, an “evolved” ego), the impersonal disguised as the trans-personal.
    But this article seems to me to be an insightful glimpse into the birthing of the “Children of God,” a participation of the human species (and vice versa) in God’s diversifying becoming within the human person. Suffering, it seems, is the one thing that reunites the separation born out of the evolutionary process, birthing the new into the higher levels of consciousness towards which the entire thing is headed as a unified whole.
    In other words, I see the story of Job as the emergence of the Big Bang explosion occurring within the micro-level of the personal. It reminds me of what Thomas Merton said, “I have the immense joy of being a man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” And it is God who is taking us there, experiencing our paradoxes with us, in us and as us, over and over again, integrating the impersonal, personal and trans-personal towards greater and greater unity.

    Reply
  3. Peggy Zimmerman
    Peggy Zimmerman says:

    Thank you for all your comments to date. Your responses have been gratifying to me and have eased my anxieties about airing my thoughts. The references to the self-awareness of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and of the writer(s) of the Book of Job are a perfect overture to the macro-micro interplay that emerges in coming blogs. Keeping blogs to a reasonable length prevents including practical applications of my highly abstract wanderings. I am confident that your own personal wisdom ways will take you there. I look forward to future conversations.

    Reply
  4. Susan Burns
    Susan Burns says:

    I am intrigued by the trajectory of your argument and integrated thinking. Please continue and I will continue to try to enter into understanding.

    Reply
  5. Susan Williams
    Susan Williams says:

    Thank you, Peggy, for this fascinating exploration of Job and Yahweh. Please continue with your series! In reading the “power blustering” lines of Yahweh, I am reminded of the scene in the Wizard of Oz: “I am the great and powerful Wizard of Oz!” and how Dorothy later realizes that in her yearning to return home, she had the power all along. I understand the face to face meeting between Yahweh and Job to be a pivotal point, certainly, but one that every sojourner comes to, and one that is a mutual recognition. This recognition is both once, and for all. Perhaps what Job recants is his own unawareness of the true nature(s) of himself and of Yahweh. “I had heard of you….but now my eye sees you” and he “repents,” or returns to, the vision–the reality, of unity. He is home. “You had the power all along, my dear.”

    Reply
  6. ruth storer
    ruth storer says:

    It seems to me that the idea just discussed, of a god who is becoming conscious , because of desiring to know a manifestation of god self, conflicts with the idea of God as the Eternal Now. Wouldn’t it rather make more sense to think that the authors of the Book of Job were involved in their own rise in consciousness? Of course ,if God is in us and involved in our process, our limitations and growth, then he is both all knowing, and evolving, as, I think Ilia Delio said in one of her books.I guess what I have here is an example of maintaining a paradox, or, as Father Richard says, of “both…and”.

    Reply

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