The Shadow Side of God

In the face of catastrophes like the recent typhoon that struck Burma, or the earthquake that has devastated the Sechuan region of China, it is easy to see why many ancient peoples were polytheists, or at the very least, like the Babylonians, believed there are two gods, one god who is bad as well as another god who is good.

       Granted that the horrendous death toll of the first tragedy has been exacerbated by human-caused factors such as the military government that has resisted outside help in coping with the emergency, compounding the suffering and spreading disease that could well end up taking several times more lives than the storm itself. Likewise, man-made factors that seem to have accelerated global warming can't be ruled out. But, on the other hand, despite questions raised by many Chinese regarding compliance to or even the adequacy of their building codes, the world has been impressed by the quickness of China's government to respond to the emergency on a massive scale as well as its willingness to accept outside help.

       Nevertheless, the massive destruction caused by these two disasters, which may end up rivaling that caused by the tsunami in that region of the world just a few years ago could cause us to question our Christian theological assumption that God is all-good. Perhaps the psychiatrist Carl Jung, who was the son of a Swiss clergyman, was right when he suggested that, at the very least, Christianity has erred in neglecting to take seriously what he called "the shadow side of God."

       Perhaps so. While scripture scholars point out that the ancient Babylonian viewpoint found it its biblical counterpart in the story of Adam's fall in the Book of Genesis where the tempter replaces the role of paganism's evil deity, logic tells us that it is not all that easy, if one believes in one God who created all things, to not ultimately blame that same God when things go awry. So what can we say in God's defense?

       One possible answer, I suppose, is to point out that God, like any parent, is not totally responsible for what his children may do. As free creatures, certainly we must share part of the blame. But for earthquakes? It is hard to see where we have anything to do with that. In fact, the planet has been in almost constant upheaval for billions of years before humans ever arrived upon the surface of the earth. In fact, we might even say that without this succession of cataclysms, for example, the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, neither humans, nor even our primate ancestors, would have had much of a chance of having survived at all!

       So it seems that if we want to believe in a single God, we have to, like the biblical character Job, accept the fact that "the Lord both gives and takes away." Does that mean that God isn't good, or simply that our definition of "goodness" is instead too limited, even a bit ego-centric? Maybe we have to, like Job, learn to accept both good and bad, and in the face of it all, still "bless the name of the Lord."

       Yet maybe there is another answer as well, one that shows that after all is said and done, that God, or simply the universe itself, contrary to what the philosopher Albert Camus lamented, does have "a heart." For if the universe and its workings reveal what Einstein called "the mind of God", perhaps it is Christ alone who reveals God's compassion, and by taking on our suffering shows us that, in the end, that not only the universe but even more the God who made it does have a heart after all.  

                R W Kropf  5/20/08           ShadowSideofGod.doc 08-05-20.html