In the Kingdom of God, authority is wielded paradoxically: by way of selfless surrender and service to others, as Jesus exemplified when he washed the feet of his disciples. Authority not based on this model very often leads to suffering and, at worst, leads to great injustices. As Christians, we are called to weigh carefully the models of authority to which we look for guidance, as well to assess those that dwell in our own hearts. In this article, I want to explore a perhaps unexpected source of wisdom on authority: the archetypes of Carl Jung. Jungian archetypes can teach us about the nature of true authority in Christ.
In the early twentieth century, Carl Jung contributed the idea of archetypes to modern psychology. According to Jung, archetypes are images and themes that run deeply through our culture and psyches, which help to subconsciously shape our sense of identity, our desires, and our beliefs. Jung and his later students explored many possible archetypes; the primary ones for our purposes here are the Ruler and the Tyrant.
Our inner Ruler expresses itself in a healthy manner when we serve something other than our ego. Otherwise, we become Tyrants, using whatever small or great power we possess to elevate the sense of our own worth and importance. We don’t have to look very far to see examples of Tyrant leaders. Unfortunately, most people who strive to gain power, even for ostensibly good reasons, tend to place the needs of their egos above the needs of those they are meant to serve.
In our own lives – perhaps in small ways – we too can easily fall prey to the narcissism of our inner Tyrant. We might at first recoil at the suggestion that we qualify as narcissists, eager to instead point a finger at someone else who portrays an egregious example. However, even if we don’t outwardly exaggerate our own importance or worth, or subjugate others, there are more subtle ways in which we make everything “about us.” For example, someone who is depressed might have a thought like “everyone hates me.” Believing that thought to be true requires the depressed person to assume for themselves a central and all-consuming importance, one typically realized when challenged: “Really, everyone hates you?”
Whether subtle or overt, our strong tendency to constrict our attention around the needs of our ego – at the expense of others – will bring out our inner Tyrant. We will use whatever power we have, trivial or otherwise, to manipulate others, cause others to suffer for our selfishness, and deny the reality of others’ suffering. This tendency is not because we are evil, or wish to behave in tyrannical ways. Rather, these behavior patterns can stem from our fear and our need to protect ourselves from wounds received in the past.
Yet we can make a different choice. Instead of falling prey to the lure of the Tyrant, we can embrace our wise and benevolent internal Ruler. Jesus said “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34). Following the Way of Jesus, we learn that our own nourishment, too, comes from submitting to God’s will. It’s only in this way that we will find our inner Ruler. The more completely we surrender to God’s will, the more our inner authority will reflect the truth of who we are in Christ. When our self-surrender is complete, we die to our false selves, leaving only our True Self: our identity in Christ. When we act in unity with our identity in Christ, God’s authority is acting through us in world.
From a worldly perspective, this sounds completely backwards. Our egos might strongly object to this strategy by insisting that in order to claim authority we shouldn’t be surrendering to anything. Authority seems to be the opposite of surrender. Any act of surrender, let alone “dying to our selves,” appears weak and foolish in the eyes of the world. But we are called to look with the eyes of faith. Consider the words of Saint Paul: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
Allowing ourselves to rest in God’s Kingdom inverts worldly values. A Tyrant seizes power over others; a Ruler uses power in service of others. A Tyrant claims authority by fear and domination; a Ruler discovers authority in the ground of love and compassion. A Tyrant demands to be served by those in their sway; a Ruler considers how they may be of service to those in need. As followers of Jesus, our authority can never be wielded by our small, ego-driven selves – that is the way of the Tyrant. Instead, our authority must be God’s own authority, realized when we recognize our oneness with God in Christ.
On our journey following Jesus along the path of cross, death, and resurrection, we must be willing to encounter our inner Tyrant, and we must be willing to let this part die before we can rise with Christ as our True Self. In truth, this is simply an act of remembering what we’ve somehow forgotten: that who we truly are is who we’ve been all along. We are one with God, resting in God’s Kingdom.
One of the hardest elements of this journey is claiming those parts of us that we keep hidden from ourselves, whether by denial, by repression, or by false subconscious beliefs. And while we might cringe at recognizing the inner Tyrant who dwells within our hearts, the truth is that many of us find it just as hard to recognize our inner light. We find it extremely hard to accept our Oneness with God, our infinite beauty and preciousness.
Yet it is essential that we recognize this fundamental truth of our being, if only because the most reliable way to bring out the Tyrant is to harbor a deep feeling of insecurity and inadequacy about ourselves. If we deny our sacred identity made in God’s image and likeness, we can often develop habits of thought, feeling, and behavior that either support false premises of worthlessness or attempt to prop us up, by constantly trying to prove our worth or create security. All this psychological and spiritual effort results in more suffering both for ourselves and others. The only way out of this pattern of suffering is to surrender to God so thoroughly that the truth becomes obvious: just as Jesus was, so too we are God’s Beloved, and with us God is well pleased (Mark 1:9-11). When we know this to be true, only then can the lies and false beliefs we hold about ourselves and others die, and we can we rest in the peace and joy of Christ’s resurrection.
This is hard work. We might not relish the idea of surrendering all to God if our entire lives have felt like a war, with surrender not being an option. Yet this fear of surrender is only another lie in a system based primarily on lies, built on beliefs that deny our inherent goodness and falsehoods that deny our “enoughness,” encouraging us to fearfully wield power in the world so that we will feel safe and in control.
But there’s another way, the Way of Jesus. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is near, very, very near, but he never promised repentance would be easy (Mark 1:14-15). Repentance – a fundamental change in the way we see ourselves, God, and others – is difficult, but this is the only way to true healing and transformation. In this world that can often seem to be overflowing with Tyrants, we are called to find the inner authority of the just Ruler, to claim an authority based on God’s will being done, not ours.
Committing to the Way of Jesus means we must practice resting in the stillness of God, courageously facing whatever shadows our inner journey may unveil. We can trust that God will be there for us every step of the way, supporting us with love and compassion. And as we leave ourselves receptive to the healing power of God’s grace, the sense of who we are shifts, leaving the Tyrant’s lies behind, until we recognize our True Self in Christ. Letting God’s will unfold through us, we in our servanthood can share with others the peace and joy of Christ.