Monday, April 04, 2011

A Jealous God?

I recently received the question, “If God is love and love is not jealous. How can God be jealous?”

The person who asked me correctly identified the problem:

God is love -- Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 NIV)
Love is not jealous -- Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, (1 Cor 13:4 NAU)
God is jealous -- You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, (Exodus 20:5 NIV)

While this appears on the face of it to be a contradiction, I think it is fairly easily resolved if we clarify two things. First, what do we mean by “jealousy”? Most of the time we associate the word with a negative emotion that is something like envy or selfishness. And, I think that is how the word is used in 1 Corinthians 13:4. Love isn’t that way. Yet, there is a sense in which jealousy also indicates an appropriate feeling/action that protects the object of love from other rivals. In fact, in that case it would be unloving not to be jealous. For instance, if Marcia started going out dancing with some young handsome cowboy, it would be wrong of me, in fact unloving, not to be concerned or jealous for the special relationship we are supposed to enjoy. So, jealousy would be right, not wrong.

In addition, it also helps to clarify the differences between God and us. When I am jealous I can have mixed motives. Some of my motives are selfish and small, controlling or envious. If someone started talking about another preacher and I got jealous, it would be out of my insecurity not out of my interest in the good of that person. It might be great for them to listen to that preacher. God’s motives are never mixed. The best thing that can happen to those that God loves is for them to love him completely in return. He loves us enough to insist on our best! No other god is as good for us as our God, so for Him to be jealous is a completely loving thing that seeks our best.

While it appears to be a contradiction, it seems that way because we are thinking of the same word in a couple different respects. It applies differently to sinful and selfish people than it does to a perfect and loving God. Great question.

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