Words by Dylan Knibbe
The resurrection of Christ brings new life in many different ways — not just spiritually but also psychologically.
Within the field of psychology, there’s a guy named Carl Jung. Jung tends to be a pretty contentious figure for both mainstream psychologists and the Church, as he had a wide range of beliefs and views. I’m not going to go into all the depth of his theories, but I do want to reflect on one. The idea of the shadow.
According to Jung, each of us has something within us called the “shadow.” It may sound devious or evil, but it’s not. Quite simply, our shadows are the parts of ourselves that we’ve felt others reject or don’t want to see. As a result, we’ve suppressed these parts of ourselves and hidden them. The only issue with this, is that our shadows are still there. We haven’t gotten rid of these parts of ourselves, we’ve simply pushed them down and pretended that they’re not there. This is a problem because as Robert Johnson writes in his book Owning Your Own Shadow, “The only choice is whether we will incorporate the shadow consciously and with some dignity or do it through some neurotic behaviour” (Johnson, 2013, p. 27) – no matter what, the shadow will show up. This leads Johnson to write that, “To honor and accept one’s own shadow is a profound spiritual discipline. It is whole-making and thus holy and the most important experience of a lifetime.”
In all honesty, I struggled with that quote at first. I didn’t see how such a weird psychological concept could possibly be called a spiritual discipline.
However, I then thought about it. I reflected on the ways in which the suppressed parts of myself are still a part of myself and impact much of my life – my perceptions, interactions with others, and my relationship with God. I may want to pretend my shadow isn’t there, but it is – and it’s playing a significant part in my life. This led me to 1 John 1, where John points out that we actually lie when we have an unacknowledged, “dark”, shadow. He writes, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:5-6). We cannot claim to have fellowship with Christ while we still ignore parts of our created nature that lead us to live in ways that are destructive.
So then, we must acknowledge our shadow and find ways to integrate it into our lives in healthy ways.
It is then that we recognize the death and resurrection of Christ brings great hope to our work of integrating the shadow. John continues, saying, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Through the blood of Jesus and the light of His resurrection, we are able to recognize the parts of ourselves that we’ve ignored. The parts that may be motivating us to sin, to hurt others, and cause us to circle around endless patterns of self-destruction.
Then, and only then, are we are able to experience the renewal spoken about in Romans 12:1-2, to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2). Through Christ’s renewal, we are able to experience a renewal of our minds – which will then enable us to better understand our brokenness and hurt, and more importantly, His patience and grace. For He sees our shadows, and He eagerly offers us the opportunity to integrate them and experience deeper renewal.