If we should choose orthodox language and claim that Jesus died for our sins, then let us find in that language a profound insight. Carl Jung recognized that the Christian ideal commands us to feed the poor, help the weak, and forgive our enemies; however, should we discover the poor and the weak and the enemy to be within us, we turn against ourselves in anger and judgment and further empower the trap that we have sprung for ourselves. Jung says: “In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one's whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ - all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea the very fiend himself - that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved - what then? Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed: there is no more talk of love and long-suffering; we say to the brother within us, ‘Raca,’ and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world; we deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves, and had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed.”5
If we see Jesus as the personification of the weak, the poor and the enemy within us, that “dark side”, then we can claim that he took our sins upon himself and was utterly crucified for them. There is a reconciliation with ourselves in this act. He was judged by the Roman government, condemned by his own people, beaten and scourged and crucified by the soldiers and denied by his own disciples. All of these characters are symbols of the defiant, the violent, and the weak within us. The visceral spectacle of Jesus' beating is necessary because its austerity awakens compassion. This is tied to the idea discussed previously, namely that Jesus died to awaken compassion within the human heart. In this way, we grow to recognize, accept and reconcile the dark but essential part of ourselves. The sinner and the saint within us come to recognize each other, to hold hands and walk together down the aisle of life and to be united in a marriage between heaven and hell. Then, and only then, the sage can be fully realized within us and we can be healed.
In the plain, fact-filled orthodox view, Jesus suffered and was crucified to pay or atone for our sins. This is primarily an intellectual or factual perspective devoid of any of the inner dimensions just mentioned. Orthodox Christians often focus on the suffering, on the blood, on the nails, on the crown of thorns and the physical pains of Jesus' body and fail to recognize them as symbols for inner pain. Herein theology is at work, a system of thinking, composed of several awkward components, which must fit neatly together in order to be coherent. In an attempt to "fit neatly together" this system of thought stretches, twists, contorts and performs some intellectual acrobatics and, in doing so, loses itself in its own philosophy and becomes foreign or alien to human experience. The result is a hollow, foggy sense of pseudo-philosophical understanding that can only be accepted through the belief or faith of the masses, far from personal experience. Much of Christian theology is built upon human concepts of weakness, fallen nature, ransom, redemption, payback, victory, defeat, punishment and reward. These concepts are associated with the dark side of humanity: the idea of personal property or territory, control, ownership, vengeance and a war-like mentality. These are all characteristics of the jealous deity of the Old Testament. And indeed, a closer look at the character of the god of the Old Testament reveals an imprint of mankind’s more primitive impulses projected unto the heavens. And these characteristics in the god of the Old Testament have flourished perhaps because we have denied the “least among the lowly in ourselves.” But forgiveness, love, and compassion: these terms are associated with a more profound intelligence in humans that encompasses and accepts the total individual. Jesus, crucified on a tree, evokes these sensibilities within us. He says in Matthew 9:13: "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice…" This statement goes against the very heart of the orthodox Christian theology. Jesus went to the cross willingly because he loved much, not as a sacrifice to the gods.
To demonstrate the difference between the Old Testament god, as he is imagined by most believers, and the "god" of Jesus, let us consider two types of kings. They are both good and just kings; however, the first rules from his throne. He demands respect. He is the ultimate judge of mercy. He is proud of his kingdom and holds his position in high esteem. He cares for the well being of his people so long as they abide by his commandments; he occasionally tests his people's loyalty, rewards good deeds and punishes those who act against the values of the kingdom. The other king however is weary of sitting with his back to the wall, constantly surrounded by armed guards. He realizes that a king who must always keep his subordinates in check is not a true king. Maintaining his royal stature depends on some form of control. He realizes that a true kingdom has no divide but is a movement of perfect harmony. A true king’s pleasure is in his love for his people but his position creates a gulf between him and his people. And ironically, he cannot force them to be irreverent. He strips himself of his royal robes, puts on ordinary garments, covers his face, and slips among his people. He is now on an adventure. He sits at their dinner tables and on the cold, hard floors, shares the innermost secrets of the night with them in their humble cottages, and learns of their fears and hopes through tears and laughter. The people have no idea of his secret identity. He returns to his palace and asks his court physician to prepare a potion that will allow him to forget his identity as the king. This is the final divide that he wishes to erase. He drinks the potion and relinquishes the memory of his royal identity. He forgoes his wealth, his palace and his servants to become an ordinary citizen. This is the highest form of love and kingship that can never be taken away. That which he gains is an intimacy with his people that is impossible for the other king. Moreover, a true king can never be beheld in his full glory but always passes among his people undetected (See Philippians 2:5-9). Why? Because the glory of a true king is always greater than anyone’s perception. This is the glory of Jesus, but it is also the glory of every human being, unbeknownst to each one. That king is Jesus personified, as an example to all human beings. In other words, we are all born of royal blood; however we have drunk the potion and have forgotten our true identity and have engaged in this playful, adventurous and often painful drama.
5 Carl Gustav Jung, CW 11, Psychology and Religion: West and East, Chapter V, "Psychotherapy or the Clergy," § 519-520