The Eyes of Experience: A Sermon on Job, Part 6 of 6

by Kenneth E. Kovacs, PhD

I’ve found that far too many people fail to honor their experience. I have, regrettably and far too many times, discounted the value of mine. Instead, maybe, just maybe, we’re called to value and anticipate an experience of God, even if doing so means refusing to fit it unquestioningly into traditional teachings. Even if it means opening ourselves “to new possibilities and surprises,” as theologian David Ford suggests, “even in the sphere of [our] core convictions.” And even if it means becoming “[people] who above all cry out with integrity before God and resist all attempts to misinterpret, marginalize, or stifle that cry” (129).

Such openness and integrity were especially true of the depth psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). His experience is especially relevant here, given that he came from a long line of Reformed pastors.  Jung’s father was a Swiss Reformed pastor near Basel, but Jung himself did not find any life in his father’s faith. Jung was told that his First Communion would be a life-altering experience. Instead—nothing. “For me it was an absence of God and no religion,” he said. “Church was a place to which I no longer could go. There was no life there, but death” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections 57). From an early age Jung had profound encounters with the Holy that forever changed the course of his life; even though they overwhelmed and scared him, he knew there was power to heal in them. They offered him hope, and he would spend the rest of his life trying to be faithful to them despite considerable resistance. They were, he said, moments of experience of a “direct living God. . .”—the God that his father lacked and could not give to him. As Jung put it, “God alone was real—annihilating fire and an indescribable grace” (73). I love that. Annihilating fire. Indescribable grace.

In one of his last great works, Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955), Jung writes, “The experience of the Self is always a defeat for the ego” (546). While this might sound like a dogmatic assertion, the ground of this conviction was Jung’s own personal encounter with what he described as the Mysterium, in 1913, just after his break with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).[1] What does Jung mean by Self? “The term ‘Self,’” Edward F. Edinger (1922-1998) explains, “is used by Jung to designate a transpersonal center and totality of the psyche. It constitutes the greater objective personality, whereas the ego is the lesser, subjective personality. Empirically, the Self cannot be distinguished from the God-image. An encounter with it is a mysterium tremendum” (7). Ultimately it’s this encounter with the Self or God-image, the mysterium tremendum, that transforms and transfigures Job’s reality.[2]

Experiences of the Holy are not anomalies or signs of pathology. They should be anticipated. They are occurring all the time and they need to be valued, honored, and respected within worshiping communities (maybe especially there) as well as in the consulting room of the psychoanalyst.[3]

In the end, Job’s story says to us, This is what it’s like to encounter the living God, to know God, not know about God. Not someone else’s encounter, not someone else’s story, not someone else’s experience. Not a dead tradition, but a living faith. It looks something like this: a life-changing, frame-bending experience of earthshattering significance, of radical insight, that comes over, around, in, through, and to us and opens our eyes—our eyes, not someone else’s eyes, but ours—and allows us to see reality transfigured and transformed,[4] to see a new world, which despite all the pain and suffering and sorrow of our lives still has the capacity to yield meaning. It is an experience of the Living God that grounds all of our theological claims and creeds and epistemologies, that sets our hearts on fire and fires our imaginations, that sends us down new roads, wherever God wants to take us, following along with eyes that now can see.[5]

Holy One, give us more to see; give us ever more to see.

This has become my prayer.

 

You can download the complete essay, published by the Zürich Lab here, or find it on Amazon in Kovacs’s recent collection: Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parsons Porch, 2016).

This week, we are revisiting “The Eyes of Experience: A Sermon on Job” by Reverend Kenneth E. Kovacs, PhD, originally published through the Zürich Lab. We are republishing the essay in six sections over six days, part of our preparations for a lecture, book launch and exhibition at our Berlin LabThe Legend of Job in Art, Philosophy, and Psychology on Saturday October 14, 2017 and for our Exploration in Jerusalem this December. With The Legend of Job we’ll celebrate works by acclaimed Newfoundland artist Gerry Squires and calligrapher Boyd Chubbs who, in 2015, created the first illustrated edition of the Book of Job; the work was Squires’ last. A copy of the book will be on display at the Berlin Stillpoint Lab through November, and in December, at the Zürich Stillpoint Gallery.

 

Notes: 

[1] The Mysterium encounter begins on December 21 and concludes on Christmas Day in 1913. Jung writes, “The mystery showed me in images what I should afterward live” (The Red Book 207).

[2] Edinger holds a similar understanding of the Book of Job, in that it “represents an individual ego’s decisive encounter with the Self, the Greater Personality. The ego is wounded by this encounter which provokes a descent into the unconscious, a neykia. Because Job perseveres in questioning the meaning of the experience, his endurance is rewarded by a divine revelation. The ego, by holding fast to its integrity, is granted a realization of the Self” (11).

[3] I explore these ideas in “How Jung Led Me Away From Toward Christianity,” C. G. Jung Society of Atlanta Newsletter, November 2014.

[4] See Loder and Kovacs’ The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter and Conviction.

[5] I’m alluding here to the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus, a passage found in Mark 10.46-52, which could be a companion text to the Job reading. “Jesus and his disciples went to Jericho. And as they were leaving, they were followed by a large crowd. A blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was sitting beside the road. When he heard that it was Jesus from Nazareth, he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!’ Many people told the man to stop, but he shouted even louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me!’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him over!’ They called out to the blind man and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! Come on! He is calling for you.’ The man threw off his coat as he jumped up and ran to Jesus. Jesus asked, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man answered, ‘Master, I want to see!’ Jesus told him, ‘You may go. Your eyes are healed because of your faith.’ Right away the man could see, and he went down the road with Jesus.” (Contemporary English Version)

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