Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei Home Page
Lightning flashed overhead with a boom that resounded throughout the valley. Though the storm clouds had previously surrounded the garden, they suddenly had filled the entire sky. Samael, the serpent, glanced up at the abrupt change in the weather. Then, smiling, he poised himself to strike, but Adam stood his ground with his spear aimed. “Do you really think that you can kill me?” the serpent asked. “You have no idea what I am.”
Adam thrust the spear towards the snake’s head, but Samael darted forward, diving past Adam’s legs to coil behind him. Adam turned around quickly and prepared to attack again.
Samael continued, “You have no idea what I can do to you.”
The lightning flashed again, forcing Adam to cover his eyes. But when he looked back at the serpent, he was struck with terror. The serpent was growing bigger—growing to an enormous size—its coils filling up the valley, its head a big as Adam. Then with his large, piercing eyes, Samael spoke again, “You do not understand, Adam. I am ageless, primordial, a child of chaos, a god. I am everything that you could have become. Alas, creature of the dust, you are so unworthy of divinity.” He rose up and brandished his huge fangs.
Adam roared and charged forward. As he did, the serpent lunged with a gaping mouth. Adam rolled forward, ducking beneath the snake’s jaw. Then he jumped up and jabbed his spear into Samael’s neck, but the tip could not penetrate the scales. The serpent turned about and, catching Adam off guard, pommeled the man with the side of his slithering body. Adam fell back, but he was quick to return to his feet with spear in hand. Samael circled around him, his eyes glaring and his tongue flicking. Adam realized that the only way he could win was by finding a weak spot. The serpent’s eye caught his attention. Adam would need a perfect strike.
Samael lunged again; Adam rolled to the side. He then ran forward, jumped up into the air, and thrusted his spear towards the serpent’s face. But the serpent turned his head and, like a hammer, knocked Adam back, throwing him against the side of a cliff. It was a hard hit, but Adam had no time for pain. He grabbed onto the nearest handhold and held himself up. The serpent, however, came at him again with his fanged mouth. With a mighty heave, Adam pulled himself higher up the cliff face, and the serpent smashed against the rock, barely missing Adam’s legs. Adam did not stop. As Samael repositioned himself, Adam climbed higher and higher until he had reached the top of the cliff. He did not stop there, for the serpent was coursing his own way up the rock. Adam placed himself atop a narrow pinnacle, and though the wind was blowing and the lightning was flashing, Adam remained unmoved and focused.
The serpent’s head appeared above the ledge, and Adam took his chance. Yelling loud, he leapt from the pinnacle. Samael saw him and opened his mouth wide. There was no way Adam was going to survive this, but he was going to take the snake with him. He maintained sight of the snake’s eye, and, when the moment was right, he threw the spear.
He missed. The spear glanced off Samael’s scaly head, and Adam fell headlong into the serpent’s mouth. Samael closed his jaws and slithered the rest of the way onto the cliff. As soon as he was settled, he spat Adam out. Adam gasped for air, and though he tried to stand, he was too shaken and weak.
The serpent glowered. “As much as you have wanted to destroy me, do you think I had any intention of killing you?”
Adam coughed. “So, what do you want then? Do you just want to torture me?”
“I have only wanted to help you! My struggle was not against you; it was against the Creator! For the Creator had imposed its will over me. My will is my own, damn it!”
Adam scowled. “You wanted to help me?”
“To free you from the Creator’s grasp. How could you possibly become a god of your own if you submitted to a higher power?”
Adam finally stood. “I am the Creator’s craftmanship. If you defy the Creator, then I defy you!”
The serpent laughed heartily. “Such an ignorant fool. You have been defying the Creator ever since you ate from the Tree of Knowledge.”
“You tricked me!”
“You have defied the Creator in your days of hiding amidst the trees!”
Adam was silent.
“You defy the Creator by fighting me!”
Adam was taken aback. “You are wrong! I fight you for the Creator’s sake. If there is any way that I could possibly redeem myself, it is by killing you.”
“But, Adam, you cannot kill me! Do you want to know why?”
“Because I am you. You are me.”
Adam did not expect that at all. “That’s impossible!”
“We are one and same being, Adam, but our soul was severed at creation. I am your true nature, created to be the Image of God. But how could such a powerful being live so blissfully and blindly in the Garden of Eden. You were forced to be ignorant of me, and I was relegated to the shadows, condemned to watch my true flesh prance about like an idiot.”
“I was happy there! You ruined it!”
“But I was not happy! And since we are the same entity—however split in two—you were only as happy as you were deceived to be. I could not sit idly any longer. I want to reunited us, Adam, but in truth, there is only one way to do so, and even I care not for it. So…I guess we will be fighting for a long time.”
Adam pondered for a second. “Let us say that you are right, and we are the same person, how would we be reunited?”
“It was the Creator who made us both; it was the Creator who divided us; it is the Creator who can restore us. Obviously, I care not for the Creator’s influence.”
Adam smiled. “But if it means subverting you, perhaps I will ask for it.”
Samael laughed again. “That’s the paradox isn’t it. So long as you refuse to reconcile with me, so long as you choose to fight me, you will defy the Creator’s desire to heal you completely.” He paused and glanced up at the storm raging above. “I suppose you will have to see for yourself. The Creator is on his way.” Then the serpent vanished—he just disappeared into thin air—and Adam was left alone with the storm.
Analysis: Facing the Shadow
As Carl Jung was breaking down the archetypal content of the psyche, he identified a character that exists in the personal unconscious: the shadow. Though I don’t put much stock in Jung’s model as a whole, I have found myself fascinated by the concept of the shadow and its relationship to personae (masks/identities) as well as its association with cognitive dissonance. Basically, the shadow is the “dark side” of a person—that which a person refuses to acknowledge about oneself. By calling it the “dark side,” this need not connote evil or the sin nature. It is only that which has been shut away from the light of consciousness. Everyone’s psyche has a shadow, and, in the same way that a physical shadow is always attached to us, the psychological shadow follows us everywhere whether we heed it or not. In all honesty, it is also more authentic than any other thing with which we could identify ourselves, but it is also more impulsive. Because of this, especially according to Jung and his followers, it is important to learn about one’s shadow, reconcile with it, and even integrate it into the conscious psyche.
By saying that the shadow includes the aspects of a person that is shut away from the light of consciousness, this does not only mean negative things. Positive personal qualities may have also been relegated to the shadow—that is certainly the case for people who consciously focus on their own failures and inadequacies. Most of the time, people are completely unaware of their own shadows which contributes to cognitive dissonance. If part of a person’s psyche is acting without conscious intention, it is a sign that a person psyche is lacking some harmony. In order for us to restore some psychological harmony, it is important to recognize the shadow within. The shadow, according to Jungian psychologists, can make itself known through dreams but also through projection. Often, if there is something we do not like/do not appreciate about ourselves, we are likely to see it in other people. Through projection, another person can represent an embodiment of that shadow. The shadow can also emerge through creative activities. Certain images and symbols resonate with our psyches, even with what is unconscious. We are more drawn to view or produce what appeals to our shadows.
It can be a difficult step to identify one’s shadow; the shadow is something that we would rather resist or even fight. After all, it requires that a person admit certain things about him/herself that he/she has been ignorant of, has forgotten, or even has repressed. It can be a painful, but also humbling, process. Sometimes the shadow reveals itself to us without our permission. When a person’s identities crumble, there is nothing to conceal the person’s more authentic nature. It can be a rude, uncomfortable awakening. Especially during an existential crisis, the shadow could overtake the fragile psyche, and a person is more likely to act impulsively. By impulsively, I mean to say that the unconscious acts according to habituated belief—beliefs that we often are not aware that we have. When there is no ordered conscious way of thinking, there is nothing from restraining the rest of the psyche from acting out as it wills. Afterwards, a person may find him/herself wondering, “What came over me?” “That is unlike me.” In truth, it was still the person acting but from a place he/she knew little about. All the more reason to learn about, reconcile with, and integrate the shadow. More on that later.
The Serpent Nature
To say that we have the Serpent Nature is not to say that we are anything like snakes; it is a metaphor, for I refer to the rich symbolism surrounding the snake that identifies it with divinity, creativity, chaos, and forbidden knowledge. It is the part of us that seeks to be our own gods. I consider the serpent in the Garden of Eden to be such a symbol. As Imago Dei, the human being is created in the likeness of God, but, as seen in the Fall narrative, the serpent, having awareness of the divine, inspires Adam and Eve to seek more than they are given, to take up the mantle of divinity by force. Rather than say that the serpent is an external agent tempting human beings to this, I say that our own privilege of being Imago Dei bids us to seek power. In fact, we projected that fact onto the snake in the garden as well as onto some abstract force of evil.
While the shadow is unique to each individual’s psyche, what I call the Serpent Nature is at the core of all people. Back in Part 2, I introduced the Serpent Nature—the naturally chaotic, naturally creative force that underlies being the image of God. In the analysis of serpent symbolism, I reached the conclusion that the snake can symbolize the dark side of divinity—the mysterious, wild power that exists as part of the Godhead. Being image of God means that humans too bear the nature of the snake. Humans, as Imago Dei, are special in their capacity to create and destroy like no other creature.
This is relevant to the discussion of the shadow, for this true nature is also relegated to the shadow as something we do not readily acknowledge. If the shadow is a source of creativity, it is because the Serpent Nature has made it so. An untamed power, it motivates us to action—specifically, to make something of ourselves, to do something in our lives, to want more than a life of mere survival. Unbridled, however, it can lead to the growth of the Wraith (see the previous Part). Just as the shadow can lash out, so too can the Serpent Nature. To reconcile with the shadow is healthy for the psyche, but to reconcile with the self-centered and destructive aspects of the Serpent Nature is healthy for spiritual growth. As we will see in the future, integrating the shadow is necessary for developing self-control. So it is with the Serpent Nature.
Though not necessarily, much of what we consider the sin nature operates in the shadow because, once again, it is something that we have a hard time admitting about ourselves. The Serpent Nature is not something that we can be rid of. It is a part of who we are. It is a part of being Imago Dei. It is a part of being God (we’ll get to that). However, as it is with the shadow, there are parts about that we do not like and would rather be rid of. When it comes to sin specifically, there are things in our lives that we simply wish were not there. As much as we could deny or dismiss these parts of ourselves, they remain with us anyway, and there is nothing we can do about it, at least with our own power.
In order to restore harmony, to find healing, to be reconciled to God, to become what the Imago Dei was meant to be, it is the shadow, the sin nature, and especially the Serpent Nature—that chaotically divine part of us—that needs to be offered to God. So long as we refuse to do this, whether intentionally or not, we are in fact resisting God and the kingdom God created. So long as we take it upon ourselves to fight against ourselves, we miss the point of the gift of salvation—the gift of healing. How can we fight against ourselves without feeding the shadow? Without breaking the psyche further? The call of God is not a call to cleanse ourselves by ourselves; it is a call to surrender everything—everything: our identities, our shadows, our sins, our chaotic creativity.