First steps in knowing God

"Saint Teresa of Avila's Vision," Pierre Paul Rubens. Art: Musée Boijmans Van Beuningen/Wikipedia
Published January 20, 2021

Recently, a member of our congregational book study group raised a timely question with me. Quoting a front-page article in a local paper, he said, “The pastor of a Calgary church flagged for numerous violations of public health rules says the province’s temporary restrictions make it impossible for us to obey God.” My questioner continued, “Shall we now expect an individual accused of violating Alberta Health Services rules to be found ‘not guilty by reason of obeying God?’”

I tried to answer as best I could by saying that some conservative Christians take a stance against scientific protection from a powerful virus saying that God will safeguard them. We, in this instance at least, attempt to balance our understanding of God’s protection alongside the guidance and support of modern science, and we try to avoid pitting one against the other.

This exchange has continued to stir my thoughts as I seek to understand what it means to know God and God’s will. I continue to think about faith and reason, theology and science, and have sought good historical advice.

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) developed a school of thought known as analytical psychology that has continued to influence our thinking about the relationship between God and humanity for almost a century. Unlike some in his field, Jung struggled with what it meant for God and science to complement and co-exist creatively. Jung’s theories have been challenged over the years, but he continues to be respected and studied.

Jung said that there is something very real yet mysterious which we call God, but the images of God we all hold differ from God’s very real nature and defy human description. “I do not believe in the existence of God, I know that God exists,” he said in an interview. This is not “blind faith” (as some new atheists such as Richard Dawkins have declared) but, according to Jung, is a truth and certainty based on evidence that science can help to verify.  His practice as a psychotherapist and his mythological research convinced him of God’s existence because of what he observed in people’s lives.

For Jung, because of the mysterious and incomprehensible nature of God, no divine image created by humans will ever be adequate. All images of God, including his own, would prove to be inadequate.

So God is first and foremost a mystery, and all the images we construct of God are different from the very nature of God. Once we recognize this fact, in Jung’s view, we have taken a small, practical but significant step forward in our spiritual development. It should make us more modest in our assumptions about God.

What I learn from Jung is that whenever, and no matter how sincerely, we currently attempt to speak on behalf of God concerning our response to the virus, we risk being fraudulent. Yet, the effects of God—based on the verification of God at work in our own lives—can help us to better know God.

I have faith that God is real in my life and science helps to confirm that.

This, I believe, is the more helpful and honest answer I would give to my questioner about obeying divine and human authority together and to challenge the pastor who claimed to speak for God.


  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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