Eternity Reclaimed: The Significance of Resurrection
Easter is upon us. Undoubtedly, the resurrection is one of the main themes of the Christian faith: the son of God, after being crucified, returned from the dead and in doing so treaded upon death and offered the prospect of post mortem salvation to believers henceforth. Accordingly, Christ’s resurrection asserts his divinity. If you are outside the Christian world, this might sound like a preposterous belief. Yet, the theme of resurrection is by no means unique in Christianity. Several gods and goddesses have resurrected from the dead, e.g. Dionysus, Inanna, Osiris. In fact, it’s a very common motif. But let’s stick to Christ.
At the risk of being accused of blasphemy, let’s assume that it’s irrelevant whether or not Christ actually resurrected; in fact, let’s assume that it’s irrelevant whether or not he even existed (and this argument holds true for all resurrected gods and goddesses). In assuming so, I am in no way original. I am following Carl Jung’s writings, more or less to the letter. For the purpose of this non-theological argument, whether or not Christ was real is of no importance since even if he was a historical figure he is “smothered under an avalanche of projections.”[i] Likewise, whether or not he actually, i.e. physically, resurrected is of no importance, since what is of essence is that we have projected onto the symbol of the resurrection an important part of our own nature.
Let’s take a small step back and briefly examine the way Christ died, in the context of Jungian theory. Jung’s theory rests heavily on the concept of the tension of opposites: through ongoing creative opposition, wholeness is achieved. This concept is as fundamental as it is complex. Conversely, approaching it symbolically via the Christian narrative elucidates its dynamics. The death of Christ upon the cross is the quintessential symbol of opposition and its desirable outcome, that is, wholeness: On this “most perfect symbol” [ii] – think of the shape of the cross: two perpendicular lines with a central interception point – the definitive opposites of life and death unite, and wholeness emerges. Christ’s resurrection is the culmination of this process. According to the Christian faith, this turn of events was necessary. Due to Adam’s sin humans were henceforth stained by sin and lost eternal life, and this is the wrong that Christ’s sacrifice overturned. Through his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, humanity reclaimed salvation and post mortem access to paradise.
In his essay On Resurrection, Jung writes about the archetype of the Self as representing “a numinous wholeness, which can be expressed only by symbols.”[iii] The Self, in other words, is inconceivable in its totality, and so we need to employ a symbolic language to approximate its nature. As incomprehensible as this might be, we are part of this numinous nature. This contradictory, or perhaps more accurately paradoxical statement, is akin to the Christian doctrine of Christ’s divine-yet-human nature: the son of God who incarnated in order to reclaim divinity via dying by humans, like a human.
Things get even more paradoxical when we consider the assumption that the Self is not bound by the physical aspect of our nature. Since our psyche does not depend exclusively on space-time, we can psychically intuit our existence before our physical birth and after our death, as well as beyond matter while we are bound to it. Thus, the idea of the resurrection is within our reach, at least in its symbolic form. This would explain the frequency of the motif of resurrection in world religions and mythologies, i.e. our psyche produces these images/stories since they represent an integral part of our nature. Christ’s fate is important because it functions as a symbol of the Self, which exists outside space-time.
Through our evolution as a species we have created stories, i.e. mythologies, in an attempt to understand ourselves – indeed, our Selves. We have evolved from a ‘primate state’ where we no longer depend exclusively on the concrete aspect of reality. “To the primitive Christians as to all primitives, the Resurrection had to be a concrete, materialistic event to be seen by the eyes and touched by the hands, as if the spirit had no existence of its own.” As if. Jung’s assumption, in other words, is that the spirit does have an existence of its own, and the physical is a hindrance, or at best a weight keeping us, quite literally, grounded.
Resurrection, however, is not a concrete experience, but rather a psychic experience. “It is funny that the Christians are still so pagan that they understand spiritual existence only as a body and as a physical event.”[iv] I’m not sure how many Christians would find this funny, but it is certainly a fact that the physical is still predominant in our so-called modern understanding and experience of our existence. The spiritual somehow evades us, and we need to bring it down to the material in order to assimilate the information. Eternal damnation is assumed to be a body-bound experience, in an actual location, i.e. Hell (Heaven is equally localized). Logos has still not quite sunken in as a hypostasis.
In our materially-bound concretization of our nature, we have lost conscious connection with the symbolic. We are collectively incapable of examining the symbolic level of our experience and to employ it in our interpretation and creation of narratives. We have built our ‘modern’ culture around Death avoidance. The end-of-time is the most predominant anxiety of the modern psyche, be it at a personal level, or at the collective. Death is intimately linked to linear time, which assumes a unidirectional unfolding towards an end point. We are inexorably running out of time. This temporal limitation of our existence is the source of our most profound agony. Answers/solutions to its defeat or its surpassing is the source of the vast majority of world religions/mythologies and scientific achievements alike. Just like Eternity promised to Christ’s followers, there are timeless/eternal realms in every religion/mythology. There is a non-linear, boundless temporal order outside Chronos as experienced by our mortal body, be it Heaven/Hell, Akhirah, or Atman. What deems gods, goddesses and their dwelling spaces divine is their immortality, i.e. their relationship – or more accurately, lack thereof – with linear time. They can interact and intervene with time at will, but they don’t abide by Chronos’ rules.
Mortals, Jung argued, can see beyond death because we partake in eternity. Thus, symbols of eternity, such as Christ and his resurrection, are significant and even necessary for our psyche. Jung ends his essay On Resurrection with a statement that is at the core of the concept: “We know positively only of the fact that space and time are relative to the psyche.”[v] Archetypes reach beyond space and time: they are timeless, eternal. Our psyche participates in the archetypal nature of the cosmos, and thus we have access to timelessness and eternity; we partake in divinity.
The symbol of resurrection is brought forth as profoundly potent in human narratives. Time’s finality is inspiring: it has inspired fear, art, and world religions since the beginning of recorded Time (pun indented), and so has its surpassing. “We are badly in need of a spiritual counterbalance to…concretism.” The unconscious seeks eternity through the divine and its symbolic presentations, and resurrection can offer an entryway to the eternal reality. Of course, other symbols can have the same function. What is of essence is to allow for transformation and emergence of our being to a timeless realm while bound within our body, where “God seeks consciousness in man.”[vi]
[i] Carl Jung, CW 18. Psychology and Religion: On Resurrection (1954). Para 1570
[ii] Carl Jung, CW 5. Symbols of Transformation (1911-12/1952). Para 303
[iii] Carl Jung, CW 18. Psychology and Religion: On Resurrection (1954). Para 1567
[iv] Ibid. Para 1574
[vi] “Nature wants me to be simply man. But a man conscious of what I am, and of what I am doing. God seeks consciousness in man. This is the birth and the resurrection of Christ within.” C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. Bollingen Series (1987). Page 75.