John 12:36-43 – The Shadow Self

“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

For this reason, they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”

Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God. (NIV)

The season of Lent is a time of preparation for Easter, and of repentance from sin. It is a time to consider our ways and the state of our hearts. In doing so, we find that the grace of God in Christ can heal all wounds. 

Today’s Gospel lesson gives perhaps the most succinct and convicting statement about the shadow places of our lives. Many of the religious authorities believed in Jesus, but they did not speak of it because they were afraid of being put out of the synagogue by the Pharisees. When push came to shove, they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.

The word “glory” has its roots in the Old Testament and has the meaning of being heavy or having weight. In other words, we might picture God descending to earth among humankind with divine gravity and heft. If we were back in the ‘70s we could say, “heavy, man, heavy!” Glory is really a reference to God’s presence among us. So, if we plug this thought into the religious authority’s attitude, we see that they preferred the presence and accolades of their peers to God. To put the matter even more succinctly, the leaders wanted the limelight and would push their weight around to get it.

Carl Jung (1875-1961) described this hidden shadow self as an unconscious aspect of the human personality. In other words, the shadow results from the conscious self being unaware or unconscious concerning areas of its own personality. Without the light of conscious awareness, the shadow self runs amok within the psyche of a person and far too often calls the shots in speaking and behavior.

“Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” (Psychology and Religion, 1938). According to Jung, the shadow side of a person is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. If those projections remain hidden, they eventually come out sideways by harming others because there is a dark illusion, even delusion, that others are stealing what is rightfully mine. Hence, the sinless Jesus is tortured and killed by those who think they are doing a good thing.

It is easy to be hard on the religious rulers in the New Testament, but this is Lent, and, so, we must shine the light of Scripture upon ourselves. This is the time to deliberately gain awareness of our own shadow selves. Perhaps the burning question for all believers at this time of year is: Do I seek the presence of God more than the presence of anything or anyone else?  

Over the decades, I have preached in many churches. Many of them have empty pews or seats in the first several rows during worship. I admit that has always bugged me. I don’t like it. There are times when I am more concerned about the presence of people than the presence of God in a worship service. Maybe you live in fear at work and are more concerned about the presence of people around you than the presence of God, so you keep quiet when you ought to speak up or turn a blind eye to the shadows of an organization.

Lent is not just about identifying sin; it is also about receiving grace. So, let us find that the cleansing work of the Spirit through the work of Jesus is active through our confession of sin. And let us pursue the glory and praise of God in all we do and say as grace permeates deep in our souls. Let the shadows dispel, and the light shine, for the benefit of self and others.

Glorious God lighten our darkness—be our true light. Keep us from the powers of darknessthe perils and dangers of the night. Shine as a kindly light in our spiritual darkness—in our mental turmoil and anxious confusion. We pray this for the love of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns as one God, now and forever. Amen.

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