C. G. Jung, Answer to Job

Answer to JobAnswer to Job by C.G. Jung

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The back cover advertises Answer to Job as “one of Jung’s most controversial works.” He wrote it toward the end of his life, in the early 1950s, and according to the introduction to the 2010 edition by Sonu Shamdasani, he composed it in a kind of fever and later considered it the only one of his works he would not wish to alter. A short, swift book, written in a dryly sardonic style, it is a plea to update Christianity, or monotheism more generally, so that it can face the dangers of the atomic age.

For Jung, Judeo-Christian monotheism dangerously denies that God, as a concept of wholeness and totality, must contain both evil and the feminine. He further claims that much of western religious history, from the moral protest against God’s injustice in the Book of Job to Pope Pius XII’s 1950 doctrine of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, has been an attempt to redress these imbalances in the deity.

Answer to Job also has a meta-thesis: because “[w]e cannot tell whether God and the unconscious are two different entities,” and because God as an image of wholeness is the archetype of the self, humanity has to get God right—our idea of God is in a sense our own self-concept, and now that we have the power to destroy the world with nuclear weapons, we cannot afford to ignore our own dark side or the appeal of affects and values other than masculinist domination:

Since [man] has been granted an almost godlike power, he can no longer remain blind and unconscious. He must know something of God’s nature and of metaphysical processes if he is to understand himself…

Jung’s method of demonstrating these theses will probably not persuade either the Biblical scholar or contemporary psychologists, but it should not offend the literary critic at all. He treats the books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation as a single continuous narrative, albeit composed at different historical moments by different sensibilities, that shows the development (or circular non-development) of God’s personality. God goes from the jealous and dangerous deity of the early books through the attempt at reform and atonement in the Hebrew Bible’s wisdom literature, and then to the Incarnation in the New Testament, after which He returns to being an unintegrated omni-destructive force as described in Revelation by John of Patmos (whom Jung construes, wrongly I believe, as the John of the Gospels and Epistles).

Throughout the Bible, Jung claims, both God and His people made many attempts to reform the God-image. Job is a turning point because it is the first time God is called to moral account by a mortal man as Job continues despite his suffering to believe in God’s justice. According to Jung, Job therefore becomes more just than God: “a mortal man is raised by his moral behaviour above the stars in heaven, from which position of advantage he can see the back of Yahweh,” Jung writes. The Book of Job coincides, Jung further argues, with a body of Hebrew wisdom writing that describes a feminine force called Sophia, which supplements the excessively masculine deity with a feminine counterpart. Jung argues that “[p]erfection is a masculine desideratum, while woman inclines by nature to completeness“; so this “anamnesis of Sophia” portends the next stage in God’s development, wherein God—through the agency of a mortal but perfect woman—will incarnate himself as a man in His continuing quest for wholeness rather than unconscious self-division. In the crucifixion, we find the “answer to Job” of Jung’s title: “God experiences what it is to be a mortal man and drinks to the dregs what he made his faithful servant Job suffer.”

The elevation of Mary to the status of quasi-divinity shows that the feminine becomes more central to the God-concept, but Mary’s immaculateness, i.e., sinlessness, means that though God now at least partially includes the feminine, He still excludes the evil that is necessarily part of any whole. Mary is “the incarnation of her prototype, namely Sophia,” but because “[b]oth mother and son are not real human beings at all, but gods,” then “Yahweh’s perfectionism is carried over from the Old Testament to the New” and “the feminine principle…never prevailed against the patriarchal supremacy.”

God’s dispatch of the Holy Spirit to dwell in humanity implies that all human beings, not only Christ, should incarnate God, a “Christification” of man that will realize divinity on earth; yet, again, as long as God, however newly feminized or humanized, remains an impossible idea of perfect goodness, the evil part of the psyche remains unintegrated, which means that it will continue to be expressed in destructively unconscious ways. Hence the Bible’s concluding outburst in the wild violence and apocalypticism of Revelation, on the images and scenes of which Jung offers this mildly sarcastic clinical opinion: “Their author need not necessarily be an unbalanced psychopath.” Nevertheless, Revelation also imagines a female divinity and a new birth (the sun woman and her child): the struggle to integrate the God-concept will continue.

Accordingly, Jung concludes by praising the Catholic Church for its doctrinal enshrinement in 1950 of Mary’s Assumption, itself a response to a popular cult of the Blessed Mother including visions and revelations, which restores to the court of Heaven a figure of female divinity, a mother-bride of the deity: “The feminine, like the masculine, demands an equally personal representation.”[1] This flexibility on the part of Christian religious authority, Jung suspects, is a good sign that we might still productively revise the God-image now that, with modern technology and weaponry, we really have assumed God’s power and so cannot afford fantasies of self-righteousness.

What to think of Jung’s ideas? As long as they are stated at a high level of generality, I agree with them. An enormous amount of trouble in the world is caused by wishing away unpleasantly intractable emotions and psychic forces or imputing them wholly to “the enemy,” in which locus they can be annihilated. Jung’s recommendation of psychic balance based on a realistic assessment of the individual and collective personality and what it cannot help but contain seems unexceptionable to me—and even timely: we may be in less danger from nuclear apocalypse than in Jung’s time, but no one can deny that American and perhaps global politics is now in death spiral of self-devouring self-righteousness and hypertrophic “identities” that blame all badness on others. While there is often real justification for blaming bad behavior on others, this cannot be accompanied by a refusal to recognize the complexity of the self or the absolutely universal capacity for evil. Keep this Jungian sentence in mind as you browse social media: “Irritability, bad moods, and outbursts of affect are the classic symptoms of chronic virtuousness.” In this way, Jung is faithful to Freud’s Enlightenment intention for psychoanalysis: we cannot deny the irrational, but must strive to understand it so that we are not wholly controlled by it.

On the other hand, there is the New Agey side of Jung. He can, like Job’s annoying counsellors, seem a bit too optimistic about the possibility of cosmic justice. What if it is not only our psyches but the universe itself that is out of order? What if there is no containing evil? What if the psychic forces cannot be brought into an alignment that will remove the possibility of danger? What if Jung is a bit of a chivalric sexist and overrates the beneficence of what he calls “the feminine”? I was raised within mid-to-late-20th-century Catholicism, in the atmosphere of Mariolatry that Jung praises—every spring, we schoolchildren would be lined up in the garden of the rectory to crown the Blessed Mother statue the Queen of May—and it did not notably reduce the puritanical attitudes of the faith, nor did it prevent various abuses in the school or in the church at large. I agree with Jung that the feminine, however understood, needs to be a part of metaphysics, but I do not agree that this will make the moral difference he seems to think it will.[2]

I wonder, ultimately, about Jung’s own need for a humane monotheism. He seems to find polytheism superior in some ways (“in Greek mythology matriarchal and patriarchal elements are about equally mixed,” he observes), but believes that the human self and the God-image are too united for us not to need an idea of one God. Plenty of people throughout history and culture, though, have gotten along without this idea, have relied on multiple psychic and cosmic agencies controlled, perhaps, by a single law, but not ruled by anything that looks like a human person. This is why the Book of Job itself may in the end be more compelling (and more radical) than Jung’s answer to it, for its disturbing message out of the whirlwind is that we should not and must not assume the humanity of the universe:

Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?


Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.


[1] Jung’s contemporary and fellow psychologist William Moulton Marston had a similar conviction about the necessity of female divinity to modern consciousness, which is why he created Wonder Woman, whose latest adventure is now playing at a theater near you. I saw it yesterday and found it a bland, inoffensive film, more Marvel than DC in mood and tone; but Gal Gadot’s emotionally complex performance, persuasively uniting iron will and conviction to winsomeness and compassion, does justice to the idea of bringing together traditionally masculine and feminine ideals.

[2] On the other hand, I don’t think Jung’s positing of the masculine and the feminine is oppressively essentialist as it applies to actual people; here, Jung’s controversial idealism saves him, as masculinity and femininity for him are not rooted in bodies but are autonomous psychic vectors that can be imagined or incarnated in various ways. This rejection of Freud’s biological determinism is probably what Deleuze and Guattari had in mind when they observed in passing in A Thousand Plateaus that “Jung is in any event profounder than Freud.” For a good essay on Jung in a Deleuzean vein, see here.



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