Christ – the Archetype

Ian Harris (ODT)

Jesus and Christ are linked but not the same, says Ian Harris. So be sure to place the Christ within the human thought-world where archetypes belong.

There’s only one great, interconnected world. But there are worlds within that world, and two biggies stand out. Theologian Sir Lloyd Geering identifies them as the physical world of nature and science, and the world of human thought.

The physical world takes in geology and biology, physics and chemistry, quantum physics and everything where the laws of science apply.

The thought-world is very different. It’s all we experience that isn’t subject to the scientific method of observation, experiment, and replication in order to reach a predictable result. It’s the realm of emotion, imagination, reflection, interpretation, dreaming and creativity. It’s the realm that produces a Shakespeare or Beethoven or Mandela in a way no scientist could predict. It’s the realm that prompts people to affirm values and look for purpose in life.

Obviously there would be no thought-world without the physical world, because we’re physical beings – but the fact of being flesh and bone doesn’t go anywhere near to telling us who we are. Obviously, too, our physical brains and bodies affect our thought-world, just as our thought-world impacts on our brains and bodies, as in helping or impeding healing.

Traditionally, God was located in that physical world – creating it, intervening directly in it, to cause good harvests, trigger earthquakes, help this person recover from illness but let that one die, protect from danger, bring sunshine or rain. Lots of prayers still assume so.

Today, however, many people see God rather as a product of the human thought-world, finding the concept relevant as they reflect on their experience, seek meaning and purpose, think about values and what is ultimate for them, and wonder about the dynamic interconnectedness of all life. That’s the world of religion, because religion belongs within the world of human thought and consciousness rather than the physical world.

The human Jesus belonged in the physical world in the same way as we do, but he contributed to the thought-world in a massively positive and empowering way.

So did the apostle Paul. He built on Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God by tapping into a powerful and universal archetype latent within the thought-world: an archetype of love, grace and transformation, which he and others of his day called “the Christ”.

For Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, an archetype is a primordial image or motif that has evolved in the collective experience of humankind and identifies a basic human model or experience. Examples are the hero, the mother, the wise old man, the caregiver, the one who delivers from bondage, the lover, the visionary. They crop up repeatedly in dreams, in mythology, and in religion.

Jung’s term wasn’t available to Paul, but the messiah or Christ as an archetype of the bearer of love, grace and transformation was at the heart of his thinking – just as those qualities were the core of Jesus’ teaching in his metaphor of the kingdom of God.

So it’s not one or the other, Jesus or Christ, but a fusion of both, with the practical purpose of furthering Jesus’ vision for bringing wholeness to individuals, societies and the world. It’s a wholeness in one’s very being, from which good deeds will flow.

Paul gives that vision wings in a phrase he uses like a signature tune: “in Christ”. Again and again he urges action and reflection “in Christ” as archetype of love, grace and transformation. He greets Christian communities “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus”.

Why not “in Jesus”? Because that would shift the focus to the historical Jesus, a man in the physical world, whereas an archetype belongs in the collective subconscious of the thought-world. Hence Paul talks of “Christ dwelling in you and you in Christ”, echoing Jesus’ image of the vine and the branches, each a living part of the other so that the vine might bear much fruit.

This Christ would mean nothing without Jesus behind it. But as an archetype, it lies deep within the human psyche. It has a dynamic that offers a new way of being, empowering and energising right at people’s core.

The Christ, then, is Christianity’s archetype of the lover, the caregiver, the visionary, and the one who sets free, working out in acts of love and grace, and transforming lives. Other world faiths have their equivalents, and whatever name they give it – such as the Buddha within – it’s the same primordial motif or experience they’re drawing on.

And as archetypes, they belong normally and naturally within the framework of the human thought-world that spans every age, including our own.

© Ian Harris, 11 August 2017

Faith and Reason, Otago Daily Times



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