Posts Tagged ‘archetype’

Philippians 2:5-11

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

This passage is frequently used as a “proof text” for the orthodox doctrine of Jesus as God – even though the passage itself makes a very clear distinction between God (“the Father”) and Jesus (“Christ the Lord”). But isn’t being “in the form of God” equivalent to saying that Jesus was God? No, and here’s why.

We already know that New Testament authors made quick work of anchoring the identity of Jesus in a deep heritage of scriptural prophecies and mythic metaphors. The Suffering Servant, Son of Man, Son of David, Son of God, the New Moses, the Cosmic Christ, Lady Wisdom, and the Second Adam (or New Man) were titles with rich histories of their own. They covered the continuum of time from creation, through Israel’s national history, up to the Day of Judgment and beyond.

In this poem, which Paul may have taken from an existing tradition, Jesus is compared with Adam – the archetypal First Man and “son of God” (as we read in Luke 3:38). According to the Genesis myth, Adam (along with his consort, Eve) was made in the “image” of God, which is another way of saying that he was in the form of God. God placed the couple in a grove of fruit trees and flowing streams. Among the different types of trees in the garden was the Tree of Immortality (at the center) and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

According to the myth, one virtue that distinguished God from his son and daughter was his “knowledge of good and evil” – that is to say, his rightful authority to judge the difference and make the rules. God warned his children that partaking of this tree would result in their death; it was forbidden.

The children, however, were stirred in their ambition for this exceptional power by a crafty serpent, who encouraged them with the promise that its fruit would make them “equal to God” in that way. They took the fruit and ate it, whereupon they were suddenly aware of their “nakedness” (a metaphor of the self-conscious guilty conscience). Shortly thereafter the couple was evicted from the garden, and a sword-wielding angel (Death) was posted as guardian to its entrance. Without access any longer to the Tree of Immortality, the pair was condemned to live out a finite number of days “east of Eden.”

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The First Adam, then, was in the form of God but tried to make himself equal to God. As a consequence, he and his descendants (the entire human race) are subject to suffering, toil, time and mortality. Because of the First Adam’s disobedience, we all share the fate of death.

But Jesus was the Second Adam. He was in the form of God but did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Whereas (the First) Adam was defiant, Jesus (the Second Adam) was obedient. Instead of ambition for glory, he demonstrated humility in suffering. In that way, not only was Jesus our example of faith and devotion, but in staying true to God’s will even unto death he has made salvation (immortal life) available to the rest of us. How so?

As a reward for his humble obedience, God granted Jesus entrance to Eden and access once again to the Tree of Immortality. Thus we have here a mythic representation of the central metaphor of early Christianity, resurrection. Now, with the Second Adam alive and inside of paradise, we who commit our lives to him and follow his example can look forward to our own future resurrection and safe transit to life everlasting.

So through this archetypal comparison of the Two Adams, Paul is making the point that egoism, the unbridled ambition for glory, is what excludes the individual – every last one of us – from sharing in the higher life of God. The more tightly we twist our desires around “me” and “mine,” the deeper we sink into mortality and its complications: attachment and loss, pain and suffering, futility and despair. The ego’s arrogant presumption to decide between good and evil is what spins us out and away from God’s will for our lives.

Salvation, then, involves “putting on the mind of Christ Jesus” instead, living for God and giving our lives for his sake.

EPHESIANS 5:8-14

8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake!
    Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

The last quoted phrase was likely a piece of baptismal liturgy used in Paul’s mission churches, marking the moment of a new convert’s crossover into New Life. It was a sacrament, not magic, and the ritual was conducted as a way of demonstrating publicly what was happening in the depths of the person.

The dramatic contrast of light and darkness is certainly the most ancient and universal polarity found throughout the world cultures. Its power and attraction is likely rooted in our evolutionary past, when the darkness of night, forest interiors, and storm-laden skies represented dangers our daytime intelligence couldn’t easily detect or comprehend.

Darkness came eventually to represent not only obscurity and potential dangers, but savagery (our earliest predators were probably night-stalkers), chaos and ignorance (since order and distinction are lost in the dark), irrationality and insanity (the moon, Luna, was the inspiration of lunacy), as well as criminal behavior, secrecy, and sin.

The forces, conditions, and virtues associated with the light come to mind intuitively – probably even instinctively: clarity, order, knowledge, enlightenment, rationality, decency, righteousness, rebirth (think sunrise and winter solstice), vision – and by extension, foresight, prophecy, planning and purpose.

Light-and-dark as a polarity is what’s known as an archetype, or First Form, which lies deep in the primitive layers of consciousness and functions as a catalyst for the creative imagination. Insofar as religion is a symbol system that ties the conventional arrangement of life to the primal force and primordial mystery that is life itself, the contrasting interplay of light and darkness can be discerned in its art, mythology, ceremony, and doctrines.

New converts to the Christ movement – we hesitate to call it “Christianity” at this point since it still lacked the internal coherence, widespread agreement, and a centralized authority that eventually developed into the “official” Christian religion – needed confirmation in their dramatic life-change.

Paul exhorted them to dedicate their lives to the good, the right, and the true. While it may sound as if he is pushing for a strong definition of early Christian orthodoxy, Paul is really encouraging these new Christ-followers to become promoters of what is life-affirming and wholesome, advocates for decency and fairness, and seekers after what is genuine, authentic and real.

It’s not about what you believe, so much as how you live. “Christian” is more a verb than a noun.

ROMANS 5:12-19

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Earlier cultures, by virtue of being farther upstream and experientially closer to the wellspring of mythological thinking, apparently did not labor as do we, over whether a particular sacred story (myth) was factual or fictional. The story simply was, and its truth lay in the power of the narrative to draw the audience (primitive stories were oral performances, not written texts) into its magical depictions, dramatic situations, and moral conflicts, in order to either confirm or challenge the current worldview and way of life.

It’s important for us to remember that Paul was not a sixteenth-century Protestant reformer, but a first-century religious personality still steeped in the mythological world of his period. The question is not whether or not Paul believed Adam to have been an actual individual who lived as first in the series way back in the mists of primeval time, but rather who is Adam in the constellation of symbols and meanings that is Paul’s present worldview.

When the question is put that way we begin to sense that, for Paul, Adam is an archetype, an ideal type, exemplar, or primary pattern for what human beings are at some primitive level of their psyches. Adam represents what psychologists today call our “inner child,” the part of us that thinks, feels, and reacts out of a center of self-interest, who struggles beneath the burden of insecurity, guilt, and the fear of being out on our own.

His counterpart in Paul’s mythology is Christ, the New Adam, who is the resurrected higher self, our embodiment of grace, freedom, and love.

                                                                                                

In an earlier letter to the congregation in Corinth, Paul makes explicit use of this functional contrast between Adam and Christ, referring to Christ as “the last Adam” who has become for us a “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). This creative duality between the two great exemplars of our human mythstory (history interpreted through the templates of myth), one representing our lower and the other our higher nature, was clearly Paul’s theory of choice for explaining the mystery of salvation in Christian terms.

As he set forth this mystery, it was imperative for Paul that his prospective converts to the Christian way see Adam not as simply a figure of past history but as a present force in their own personalities, and the same with Christ as well. Very early in his missionary career Paul had declared, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I [Adam: my lower impulsive self] who lives, but it is Christ [my higher self: the spirit of wisdom and love] who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

As we can see, then, early Christian mythology as formulated by the apostle Paul and others offered to the world a new way of conceiving the nature and destiny of human beings. The revealed path is one of growth, discovery, awakening, breakthrough, and fulfillment.

MATTHEW 2:13-23

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Already in the opening chapters of Matthew’s story we become aware of the guiding archetype (creative image) in his portrait of Jesus. His story is intentionally shaped according to the narrative figure of Moses.

The narrow escape in infancy from the murderous plans of an imperial ruler, a visionary experience in the wilderness where his mission is tested and confirmed, a miraculous victory over the sea, the revelation of a new ethic (commandments/beatitudes) from a mountaintop, his message of God’s kingdom, his provision in ratifying a covenant between God and the community, and his central role as liberator – such are merely the broad strokes of comparison between the Moses of old and the New Moses in Jesus.

Some of us begin to get nervous when we learn that there is no historical record whatsoever of Herod the Great’s pogrom against male infants in or around Bethlehem. And when we are made aware of the significant discrepancies between the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke, we might begin to question the truth and reliability of their conflicting “reports.”

In Luke, for instance, Jesus is born in a Bethlehem manger behind an inn with no vacancy, while Matthew tells us that Joseph and Mary had a house address in Bethlehem. Luke has to get the unborn Jesus from Nazareth to Bethlehem, simply because Bethlehem was in the prophecy of the messiah, and Nazareth – well, he was called Jesus of Nazareth after all. Who’s right? The non-logical answer is that they both are, depending on the story you’re in.

                                                                                                 

The reader may believe that all this comparing and contrasting of the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke only raises the possibility for confusion and a crisis of faith. Why push us to an edge where we must make a choice between one or the other, or even discard them both as ungrounded fictions?

We should note, however, that this was never the claim. The point is that we don’t have to choose one or the other, and furthermore, that they are not ungrounded fictions at all. They are indeed grounded fictions, and the ground in this case is not historical fact but spiritual truth.

Underneath the dramatic action of Matthew’s story is his personal conviction that Jesus is the New Moses. And just as Moses was the heroic liberator of God’s people from their bondage in Egypt, so is Jesus the one who sets people free from their spiritual captivity to guilt, fear, and futility.

Moreover, as Moses revealed the covenantal principles of the Law, so also did Jesus reveal the principles of a New Covenant – this time not based on the logic of retribution (“and eye for an eye” or “you get what you deserve”) but of forgiveness (“Your sins are forgiven!”). It is as if Jesus is recapitulating the life of Moses, but at a spiral turn higher up, so that salvation history is seen as shifting to a new level of fulfillment.

As long as our critical relationship to these stories is held to the task of determining (or denying) their factual reliability we will be prevented from stepping through the narrow gate of a deeper understanding.