Betrayal is a hard topic to look at and hold onto for any length of time. It engenders some of our most intense emotions. In this week’s blog, Murray Stein dives into the Christian Scripture and how it deals with betrayal in the Book of Job and the Gospel story. The following is an excerpt from Dr. Stein’s recent lecture at Jungian Odyssey 2010 in Switzerland:
We should not be so surprised by the behavior of the current bankers and money people. In the Christian scripture, the most infamous example of betrayal is Judas, the disciple who handled the finances for the devoted group of disciples around Jesus. In his act of betrayal, when he “delivered up” (in Latin this is expressed by the word tradere, from which descends the English word “betray”) the Lord to the Romans, he displayed for posterity the archetypal image of the flawed Moneyman. Wisdom counsels caution when sitting with people who deal with money.
It can be a short step from trust to cynicism when one considers the betrayal behavior of human beings in possession of power through the ages. Power corrupts integrity, as does money, and so does desire in all its forms and manifestations. Desire reaches for gratification, and all too often it abuses the trust placed in position and authority. The current fierce controversy burning through the Catholic Church regarding the trust misplaced in predatory priests, who have abused their sacrosanct positions for sexual pleasures at the expense of children, has led more than a few people to question clerical sincerity at all levels and in all places. Many are leaving the church as a result, and with feelings that can lead to cynicism, sneering angrily at all allusions to any possible goodness in human motives. Especially the abused who have now risen up and are calling for transparency are filled with rage. Will the traumas inflicted upon them as children and youths drive them ineluctably into sheer cynicism?
We must recognize that the benefits of the idealizing transference are hard to resist by its beneficiaries, whether they be priests, analysts, weather newscasters, a Miss or Mister Swiss (or America), golf champions, or just simple men or women who are admired and loved too well. Transference objects, be they gods or humans, are dangerous to keep around because of the trust we place in them. The cynic is one who knows this all too well, having been deeply wounded and unwilling to let go of the pain inflicted, but rather hangs on to it and reinterprets the world through the eyes of mistrust, even paranoia.
Is there another possible outcome? Can betrayal lead to wisdom instead of to cynicism? This is a possibility I wish to consider, and to that end propose the following:
Betrayal shatters images that consciousness has built up into seemingly reliable structures in which one can place faith and trust. Out of this shattering of trusted images, which leads to profound darkness and despair, a light of new consciousness may emerge that we would call wisdom.
“In God We Trust”
If we take betrayal to the ultimate – its archetypal apex – we have to consider the greatest betrayal of them all, the betrayal of a blameless man by God Himself. I must confess that it will forever remain a wonder to me that the Biblical redactors would allow what appears to be such a subversive work into the canon. Doesn’t this book blatantly question the faith and trust the community is supposed to place in the Lord with whom they have an agreed upon Covenant, a sacred contract of mutuality?
Here is the problem. In the fifth Book of the Pentatuch, Deuteronomy, the Lord swears for all to hear: “And because you hearken to these ordinances, and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love which he swore to your fathers to keep; he will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will also bless the fruit of your body and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the young of your flock, in the land which he swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples.” (Deut. 7:12-14). This is the promise made by God to Israel.
In The Book of Job, however, the Lord unaccountably takes a contrary position. First he praises his servant Job as faultless, hence his enviable prosperity as represented by his ten children, his thousands of sheep, camels, oxen, and she-asses, and his many servants. He is the richest man of the east, and the Lord is pleased to have kept his promise as stated in the Covenant above. But when the wily Satan challenges Job’s sincerity, God easily yields to his doubting thoughts and to Satan’s seduction: “Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life” (Job 2:9). Therewith he delivers his faithful servant Job over into the hands of the archetect of ruin and destruction who is now going to put him to the test. Job has done nothing to call for this unfair trial. Is this not a betrayal of the Covenant?
So what is the Bible trying to say with the inclusion of The Book of Job? Let’s remember that The Book of Job belongs to what in Biblical Studies is called Wisdom Literature. We need to consider, therefore, the role of betrayal in the attainment of wisdom.
Jung’s “Answer to Job”
In his astonishing late work, Answer to Job, Jung draws some startling conclusions from the placement of The Book of Job in the Biblical canon. Jung puts himself in the position of a psychotherapist listening to a patient’s story.
The protagonist, Job, presents himself as an utterly pious man, innocent of any conscious or unconscious faults or sins whatsoever. God agrees with this assessment. As He looks down upon his servant from his heavenly throne, He praises him as a perfect example of virtue and obedience to the laws of the covenant, a wholly pious and blameless man. Satan, the Lord’s sly interlocutor, challenges this perception and offers to put it to the test. He claims that if God’s servant Job is stripped of his possessions, his cozy family, his health and all that has gone into his rich and successful life he will turn cynical, he will curse God, and he will betray his faith and turn his back on the Lord. So God takes the bait and lets Satan do his worst, save only that he spare Job’s life. And thus the horrible story unfolds. Job loses his children, his entire wealth, his very health, and at this point his wife tells him to curse God and die. He refuses and declares in the famous lines: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destoryed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19: 25-27) To his friends who come and advise him to confess his sins, arguing that he is being punished for some breaches in his supposed righteous conduct, he turns a deaf ear and stubbornly defends his innocence and faultlessness.
Finally the Lord Himself steps into the picture and puts on a great display of majesty and power, showing Job his pitiful smallness as a man compared to His supreme authority as God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Job is silenced. He does not raise the slightest protest or objection to what the Lord has done to him and in no way does he voice an accusation of betrayal on God’s part. Rather, he silently receives this show of power in all humility, after which God restores his wealth, gives him a set of new children, and puts things back in order for him.
As Jung the psychotherapist listens to this story, he becomes enraged. He experiences what Michael Fordham called a syntonic countertransference. He speaks up for Job’s repressed feelings of anger and outrage at being so unwarrantedly played with by God. As a deeply tuned and empathic psychotherapist, Jung registers the unconscious feelings of Job, and in his impassioned text he voices them boldly and without reservation. Going a step further in his role as psychoanalyst, he diagnoses this Deity as being dissociated from his omniscience, as split off from his anima (“Sophia”) and from Eros, and as abysmally unconscious and lacking in integration as a personality. Basically, he depicts the Lord of The Book of Job as exhibiting the features of a narcissistic or borderline personality, lacking in reflection and the capacity to contain his impulses, and totally incapable of empathizing with the troubles inflicted by his own left hand (aka Satan) on his victim. In other words, the Lord is made out by Jung to be the Great Betrayer and Job, an innocent victim, the betrayed. And this makes him very angry. He is in the grips of a profound countertransference reaction, and he lets fly with all his emotion. (For this display of raw emotion, Victor White took Jung to task and called it “childish” and a “venting of spleen.”)
What happens to Job is not fair, so how can justice be served? Jung asks. God must be held to account. This is the surprising turn of events, unanticipated by the Lord who thought that only Job was being tested, whereas in reality He too is under scrutiny. Justice is demanded, compensation, a balance of accounts. Yes, Job has a replacement family and a new fortune, but this can hardly make up for what he lost. Job may have survived, but now justice must still be done and a new consciousness born. To this end, God the Betrayer must be made to suffer precisely what He has inflicted on the human being, Job. God must become conscious, and the only way to consciousness is through an equivalent experience. Therefore, God must suffer what Job has suffered, namely betrayal of the deepest and most devestating sort. And God must do this to Himself, since no-one could of course do this to Him.
Consequently, God incarnates Himself in a man, as Jesus of Nazareth. Jung interprets the story of the New Testament as a direct reaction to the betrayal inflicted on Job. Jesus, the incarnation of God, will experience what Job was made to experience, and through this suffering God will satisfy the requirement of justice and also become conscious. The experiences of betrayal that Jesus is put through – not only that of Judas, which is quite minor by comparison to the betrayal by God as expressed in the words “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” uttered on Golgotha – are God’s sufferings in parallel to Job’s, and these comprise the “answer to Job.” Jesus is the Savior of God in this reprise of the story, not mankind.
Like Job, Jesus survives the betrayal in that he resurrects and ascends to heaven. So in neither case does the story descend into cyncism and to complete breakdown of faith and trust, to a vision of reality that is devoid of trustworthiness and in which there is no redemption. According to Jung, God should have attained to wisdom through this experience of betrayal.
A psychologist, however, must ask: Are these outcomes satisfactory? Do they convey psychological truth? Or are they illusory, defensive, and a mere flimsy patchwork placed over the deep wound of betrayal? Jung the psychotherapist does not buy into the view that all ends well in these parallel narratives. The betrayal is too deep. (In his writings, Jung rarely speaks of the resurrection and the ascension. Easter is not his favorite holiday. Good Friday is more convincing.) For Jung, who is listening to the story of the Bible unfold from his psychotherapeutic chair, the story of Job ends with the revelation of God’s awesome power that silences the human, and the story of Jesus concludes on the note of betrayal cried out from the cross. He will not be drawn into an illusory solution, a folie a deux with the patient that says everything is OK when in fact it is not. As a psychotherapist, he insists on staying with the nigredo state until it transforms from within. No magical solutions allowed, no easy escapes, no defensive flights into fantasy. The tragedy of betrayal must be fuly digested before it can transform into wisdom.
So Jung presses on – again, not as a theologian but as a clinician. One has to come to a state of consciousness that can positively accept and contain evil alongside the good. To simply flee into the good is to set up what Don Kalsched, following Fordham, has called a defense of the self, that is, a defensive structure that is meant to protect the soul from the insult of deep betrayal but does this job at a price too high. The naïve believer in this story’s happy outcome gets stuck in the defense of religious belief in the Good and so cannot cope with the evil within and without. This is a trap with enormous consequences for the individual and for society, as we see in our fundamentalistic age. It isolates the soul from life and from further experience. The consequence is in this sense suicidal. Jung wanted something better for his patient. He wanted to preserve the possibility for life, and to that end he advocated going further into the suffering.
Betrayal shatters the precious and often sacrosanct images a person has lived by, hoped in, found guidance from, and trusted. The idealized transference object is broken, and another reality is presented, a reality that shows the shadow beside the persona, the depths of pathology in the human condition alongside its nobility and glory, the destructive element in God beside the creative, the hateful beside the loving. It is a hard vision to bear, but it is the only way to go on from betrayal toward wisdom and to further life.
The theological image resulting from this psychotherapeutic analysis and treatment as espoused by Jung is a vision of God as a union of opposites. God is to be seen as a complexio oppositorum, a unified complexity that includes good and evil.
I will close with a story that for me illustrates so well the passage from betrayal through darkness to wisdom.
“By the time he was fifteen, Elie Wiesel was in Auschwitz…[where a] teacher of Talmud befriended him… One night the teacher took Wiesel back to his own barracks, and there, with the young boy as the only witness, three great Jewish scholars – masters of Talmud, Halakhah, and Jewish jurisprudence – put God on trial, creating, in that eerie place, ‘a rabbinic court of law to indict the Almighty.’ The trial lasted several nights. Witnesses were heard, evidence was gathered, conclusions were drawn, all of which issued finally in a unanimous verdict: the Lord God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, was found guilty of crimes against creation and humankind. And then, after what Wiesel describes as an ‘infinity of silence,’ the Talmudic scholar looked at the sky and said ‘It’s time for evening prayers,’ and the members of the tribunal recited Maariv, the evening service.” (Brown, p. vii)
Brown, R.Mc. 1995. Introduction to The Trial of God by Elie Wiesel. New York: Schocken
Books, pp. vii-xvix.
Jung, C.G. 1952. Answer to Job. In CW 11.
Lammers, A. (ed.) 2005. The Jung-White Letters. London: Routledge.