The Sympathetic God

In many mythologies the idea of God and the reality of human suffering are wedded. Elohim commands Adam and Eve not to partake of the fruit of good and evil lest they enter a world of suffering; yet it is Elohim who forges the tree of this fruit and provides the impulse for its consumption. Generations later, Jehova trades a sacrificial ram for the sacrifice of Isaac as both a symbolic but more especially symbiotic gesture of God’s own sacrifice and suffering which is inherent in the affairs of humankind. The fruit and the ram belong together. Even so, Osiris participates in the cosmic suffering of man as he is slain and cut into pieces so that he may become Lord of the Underworld and King of deification. Attis and Dionysus suffer and are sacrificed and each in turn provide a path for the suffering wayfarer’s ascent into blessedness. Nanahuatzin, the disfigured one, immolates himself and through his sacrificial suffering transforms into the Aztec Fifth Sun and restores light and harmony to the mundane world. Jesus is nailed to a cross.

The realization that the divine is willfully sealed to the suffering being of humankind led Henry Corbin to characterize this aspect of deity as an innate σὺμπαθεîν:

In contrast to the deist God who had paled to an empty concept, or the ethical God, guardian of the moral law, it sets forth, with penetrating vigor, the notion of a pathetic God, that is, a suffering and passionate God, a notion which has at all times been a dreaded stumbling block to the rational theology and philosophy of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism alike. The notion of a God who is affected by human events and feelings and reacts to them in a very personal way, in short, the idea that there is a divine παθοϛ in every sense of the word (affection, emotion, passion) […]. (Corbin 108)

Not only does man seek conversion to his God (the traditional Christian, Islamic, and Judaic theology) but also and especially God seeks conversion to man. The affairs of God are the affairs of man and the affairs of man are the affairs of the divine, pathetic God.

This relationship between God and man bears direct correspondence to the state of affairs of the modern world. Man cannot escape his religiosity. Carl Jung notes that religion is “incontestably one of the earliest and most universal activities of the human mind” (Jung 1). Jung contends that the religious aspect of the human psyche cannot be a product of physical processes as they are not created by the individual, but happen to him (2). Modern man, however, has sought the death of God, interpreting the old religious dogmas and creeds as what religion is and as who God is. Severing the old creeds from human conscience and consciousness, modern man has also wholly replaced this crippled idea of God with scientific rationalism–which is to say that man and reason are the sympathetic nodes of creation. Jung insightfully observes:

To a certain intellectual mediocrity, characterized by enlightened rationalism, a scientific theory that simplifies matters is a very good means of defense [from direct psychic experience], because of the tremendous faith of modern man in anything which bears the label “scientific.” […] The [religious] dogma is like a dream, reflecting the spontaneous and autonomous activity of the objective psyche, the unconscious. Such an expression of the unconscious is a much more efficient means of defense against further immediate experiences than a scientific theory. The theory has to disregard the emotional values of the experience. The dogma, on the contrary, is most expressive in this respect. A scientific theory is soon superseded by another. The dogma lasts for untold centuries. The suffering God-Man may be at least five thousand years old and the Trinity is probably even older. (55-57)

Both Corbin and Jung understand that the homo sapien is not a Cartesian product of simplistic cause and effect processes. Much more is going on in this clockwork universe. The human psyche that wills towards reason is also a field of consciousness that penetrates an energetic substrata that permeates all of creation. For Corbin, this interaction links the human being to a sym-pathos of the highest order and gives rise to a deity who seeks to experience His own sub-quantum field of consciousness through suffering in the mundane world. For Jung, these relationships are categorized as consciousness, unconscious, and the collective unconscious, but the relationships remain nearly the same: God and man have need of each other. In fact, there is no other form of existence or experience.

Modernity has declared war on God. If God and man are sympathetic, than this state of affairs is nothing short of a catastrophe of consciousness. God’s suffering is man’s psychic katharsis. Remove this sympathetic relationship and man is left bare in a counterfeit Cartesian wilderness with only his bare wits to face the never ending and unyielding metaphysical cosmos. Meredith Sabini makes note of this in Jung’s writings:

According to Jung, [modern man] suffers from the disease of knowing everything; there is nothing he cannot pigeonhole. He is ‘extraverted as hell’ and shows a ‘remarkable lack of introspection.’ he thinks that the gods and demons have disappeared from Nature and does not notice that they keep him on the run; hence, his restlessness and need for alcohol or tranquilizers. Modern man believes that he can do as he pleases and is perturbed that inexplicable anxieties plague him. True to his rationalistic bias, he has tried all the usual remedies–diets, exercise programs, studying inspirational literature–and only reluctantly admits that he can’t seem to find a way to live a meaningful life. (16)

In other words, the death of God is the birth of meaninglessness. God has been replaced by Self, and God and man’s sympathetic suffering has transformed into Self and man’s sympathetic neurosis. Perhaps never before in the history of the species has man needed a divine sympathos as much. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous need, for history has shown that for the God-less any god will do.

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