“No tree can grow to Heaven, unless its roots reach down to Hell.”
Carl Gustav Jung
Such a statement should give everyone who encounters it pause. There was no possibility for movement upward, in that great psychiatrist’s deeply considered opinion, without a corresponding move down. It is for this reason that enlightenment is so rare.
Who is willing to do that? Do you really want to meet who’s in charge, at the very bottom of the most wicked thoughts? What did Eric Harris, mass murderer of the Columbine high school, write so incomprehensibly the very day prior to massacring his classmates?
It’s interesting, when I’m in my human form, knowing I’m going to die. Everything has a touch of triviality to it .
Who would dare explain such a missive?—or, worse, explain it away? In the desert, Christ encounters Satan (see Luke 4:1–13 and Matthew 4:1–11). This story has a clear psychological meaning—a metaphorical meaning—in addition to whatever else material and metaphysical alike it might signify. It means that Christ is forever He who determines to take personal responsibility for the full depth of human depravity . It means that Christ is eternally He who is willing to confront and deeply consider and risk the temptations posed by the most malevolent elements of human nature. It means that Christ is always he who is willing to confront evil—consciously, fully and voluntarily—in the form that dwelt simultaneously within Him and in the world. This is nothing merely abstract (although it is abstract); nothing to be brushed over.
It’s no merely intellectual matter. Soldiers who develop post-traumatic stress disorder frequently develop it not because of something they saw, but because of something they did. There are many demons, so to speak, on the battlefield. Involvement in warfare is something that can open a gateway to Hell. Now and then something climbs through and possesses some naive farm-boy from Iowa, and he turns monstrous. He does something terrible. He rapes and kills the women and massacres the infants of My Lai. And he watches himself do it.
And some dark part of him enjoys it—and that is the part that is most unforgettable.
And, later, he will not know how to reconcile himself with the reality about himself and the world that was then revealed. And no wonder.
In the great and fundamental myths of ancient Egypt, the god Horus—often regarded as a precursor to Christ, historically and conceptually speaking —experienced the same thing, when he confronted his evil uncle Set, usurper of the throne of Osiris, Horus’s father.
Horus, the all-seeing Egyptian falcon god, the Egyptian eye of supreme, eternal attention itself, has the courage to contend with Set’s true nature, meeting him in direct combat. In the struggle with his dread uncle, however, his consciousness is damaged. He loses an eye. This is despite his godly stature and his unparalleled capacity for vision.
What would a mere man lose, who attempted the same thing? But perhaps he might gain in internal vision and understanding something proportional to what he loses in perception of the outside world. Satan embodies the refusal of sacrifice; he is arrogance, incarnate; spite, deceit, and cruel, conscious malevolence. He is pure hatred of Man, God and Being. He will not humble himself, even when he knows full well that he should. Furthermore, he knows exactly what he is doing, obsessed with the desire for destruction, and does it deliberately, thoughtfully and completely. It has to be him, therefore—the very archetype of Evil—who confronts and tempts Christ, the archetype of Good.
It must be him who offers to the Savior of Mankind, under the most trying of conditions, what all men most ardently desire. Satan first tempts the starving Christ to quell His hunger by transforming the desert rocks into bread. Then he suggests that He throw Himself off a cliff, calling on God and the angels to break His fall. Christ responds to the first temptation by saying,
“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
What does this answer mean? It means that even under conditions of extreme privation, there are more important things than food. To put it another way: Bread is of little use to the man who has betrayed his soul, even if he is currently starving. Christ could clearly use his near-infinite power, as Satan indicates, to gain bread, […] in the broader sense, to gain wealth, in the world (which would theoretically solve the problem of bread, more permanently). But at what cost? And to what gain? Gluttony, in the midst of moral desolation? That’s the poorest and most miserable of feasts. Christ aims, therefore, at something higher: at the description of a mode of Being that would finally and forever solve the problem of hunger.
If we all chose instead of expedience to dine on the Word of God? That would require each and every person to live, and produce, and sacrifice, and speak, and share in a manner that would permanently render the privation of hunger a thing of the past. And that’s how the problem of hunger in the privations of the desert is most truly and finally addressed. There are other indications of this in the gospels, in dramatic, enacted form.
“Throw yourself off that cliff,” Satan says, offering the next temptation. “If God exists, He will surely save you. If you are in fact his Son, God will surely save you.”
Why would God not make Himself manifest, to rescue His only begotten Child from hunger and isolation and the presence of great evil? But that establishes no pattern for life. It doesn’t even work as literature. The deus ex machina —the emergence of a divine force that magically rescues the hero from his predicament—is the cheapest trick in the hack writer’s playbook. It makes a mockery of independence, and courage, and destiny, and free will, and responsibility. Furthermore, God is in no wise a safety net for the blind. He’s not someone to be commanded to perform magic tricks, or forced into Self-revelation—not even by His own Son.