Thoughts on Evil

James M. Schultz uses Jung’s text, “Answer to Job,” to discuss the interlaced relationship of good and evil as well as their simultaneous existence within God, portrayed by the testing of Job. Schultz contends that because everything emanates from and belongs to God, there is evil within us. Therefore, the battlefield of choice is within us.


Personally speaking, I find evil a difficult topic to entertain. Like others, I am predisposed to want to do good, to be good not in the do-gooder sort of way or the goody-two-shoes but good, the genuine article, good enough... like finding a way to leave the world a better place than when I found it, or something like that. We like good. It makes us feel good, it makes us happy. We want to surround ourselves with goodness, to embrace it, to steep ourselves in its warmth and nourishment. Good is good. On the other hand, I'd just as soon not have anything to do with evil. It makes me feel bad. It is sickening and repugnant. It robs us, rapes us, tortures us and ultimately kills us, body, soul and spirit. We want it out of us and away from us. It is to be feared and hated. Evil is, after all, evil.

But evil is real and present in the world, inside and out. It's easy to recognize evil out there for anyone who reads the paper or watches the news or has lived long enough. It's another matter to recognize evil inside. To choose to ignore evil, though, only increases the likelihood of being surprised and perhaps overcome by its appearance. Addressing evil is a dangerous endeavor and the outcome is unknown.

C. G. Jung pointed out the obvious fact that good and evil are opposites, and he pointed out the not so obvious corollary that the reality of one requires the reality of the other. If there were not evil then there could not be good, and vice versa. One has no meaning without the other. The same could be said of other pairs of opposites, light and dark, heat and cold, life and death, and so on.

In his essay, "Answer to Job," Jung argues from the human perspective, which is all we have, that though God is good, God is not all good or only good. Monotheism means one God. God is the One, the all encompassing creator of everything, the beginning, a synthesis of opposites. Everything emanates ultimately from God. That means the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. Job, a good man, was robbed of his good life, even his good health, as the subject of Yahweh's experiment to test his faith. Such an experiment would never pass muster with the Human Resources Commission, and the animal rights folks would have a fit with it. From his pitiful human perspective, Job experienced the dual nature of Yahweh that encompasses both good and evil. He knew and feared the dark side of God, and at the same time never gave up his faith in God's goodness. "I know that my redeemer liveth." (Job 19:25) Job's only hope was to appeal to God's goodness as against God's not-so-goodness.

On this point of God's dual nature, Jung says, Job was more conscious than Yahweh. In spite of his omniscience, which he failed to consult or else his testing of Job would have been totally unnecessary, Yahweh was short on Self-reflection. God saw something of Himself in Job, His creation, and was changed by the experience. As a result, He wanted, perhaps needed, if God can be said to need, to become man. Jung says that God intended to become human. Thus the story of Job prefigures God's appearance in human form as Jesus Christ, and the suffering and death of Christ on the cross. Jesus' human cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" is God's answer to Job.

However, this answer is incomplete. Quoting Jung:

"God's Incarnation in Christ requires continuation and completion because Christ, owing to his virgin birth and his sinlessness, was not an empirical human being at all. As stated in the first chapter of St. John, he represented a light which, though it shone in the darkness, was not comprehended by the darkness. He remained outside and above mankind. Job, on the other hand, was an ordinary human being, and therefore the wrong done to him, and through him to mankind, can, according to divine justice, only be repaired by incarnation God in an empirical human being. This act of expiation is performed by the Paraclete (Holy Ghost); for, just as man must suffer from God, so God must suffer from man. Otherwise there can be no reconciliation between the two.

"The continuing, direct operation of the Holy Ghost on those who are called to be God's children implies, infact, a broadening process of incarnation. Christ, the son begotten by God, is the first-born who is succeeded by an ever-increasing number of younger brothers and sisters. These are, however, neither begotten by the Holy Ghost nor born of a virgin." (par. 657, 658)

We are these children. All of us? Maybe. But Jung says that for the purpose of becoming man, God, through the Holy Ghost, chooses the "creaturely man filled with darkness," the natural man. "The guilty man is eminently suitable and is therefore chosen to become the vessel for the continuing incarnation, not the guiltless one who holds aloof from the world and refuses to pay his tribute to life, for in him the dark God would find no room." (par. 746)

The implications of this for us are enormous, and enormously difficult. In order for there to be room for the Holy Spirit in us, there must be room for evil in us. What does this mean? Does it mean that it is okay for us to be bad? No, it does not! Just because evil belongs to God and belongs to us does not mean that evil is not evil. It means that if we don't recognize evil in ourselves and we see it only outside of us, then we feel righteous and justified in trying to stamp it out by whatever means like holy wars and inquisitions and executions and in the process we have become evil without even knowing it. It means that if we don't recognize the reality of evil in the world at all we are creating a very dangerous situation, Ape for enantiodromia (the thing turning into its opposite) with such horrors as holocaust or annihilation.

And what if we do recognize the evil side of our nature? Does that put us ahead of the game? Not much, I'm afraid. Here is where the devil plays one of his most clever tacks. It comes with the notion of the transcendent function, the idea that by holding the tension of opposites in consciousness we allow for the appearance of a third thing, something new, that takes us out of the bind we are in and moves us to another level. We transcend the opposites. So some people, some Jungians (not Jung, I think) believe that by acknowledging the evil within, by working hard to integrate the shadow side of our nature, we are in a position to transcend the problem of the opposites good and evil. Of course that's a "good thing," and there's the rub. What's then to stop us from doing whatever we want? Regardless. There are the commandments and the golden rule and the laws and taboos of society, results of the accumulated collective wisdom of the ages, that are not to be taken lightly. If we choose to go against them we are on our own, with no support. If you want to walk on your hands, Jung says, go ahead.

No, there's no real way out of the problem of evil, or we could better say the dilemma of good and evil, in this life, I'm afraid. The distressing struggle of integrating the shadow side of ourselves, of wrestling with the dark angel within, is ongoing and never ending for those who are willing to take it on. Jung considers it a moral task of the first magnitude, and given the godlike power conferred upon us most notably by the ability to unleash atomic energy, the struggle assumes an urgency and necessity for the future survival of our humankind. Let us hope enough of us are able and willing to enter the ring.

Karl Menninger was an old man when he spoke to the World Congress of Psychiatry in Mexico City in 1972. The Vietnam War was on, and I was a young psychiatry resident. He spoke about aggression. He said he had studied it for many years and had come to the conclusion that there was one and only one way to lessen the amount of aggression at large in the world, and that was to absorb it. He knew it was an unpopular idea, but he said as individuals if we wanted to combat evil we needed to contain our own inner aggressive urges and then, when faced with aggression from outside, to "turn the other cheek." Yes, that idea is about as popular today as it was 2,000 years ago, I suspect.

The battlefield of choice is within ourselves. The enemy is evil. The enemy is us. God has made it so. As we struggle into the 21st century, let us pray for peace and understanding. Amen.

Copyright James M. Shultz 1997. All rights reserved.