Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Jealous God

What a crazy couple of weeks I've had! I've experienced trouble and comfort, disappointment and joy, harried confusion and relaxation. Last night capped it all off. It was my 25-year high school reunion. That's right, a quarter of a century. Seniors to Senior Citizens. Get all the jokes out of your system. (It really doesn't matter, since I'm a bit hard of hearing anyway...)

The 25-year reunion went well -- at least for me. My wife did not have fun. My wife was not pleasantly entertained. My wife was not a happy camper. My wife was bored stiff. I can't blame her though. She didn't know anyone at the party aside from me, so there wasn't much for her to do. The music stunk; an obvious statement since most any music popular between 1977 and 1980 stunk. So she had to watch me greeting people whom I had not seen in years. But even that went better than the last reunion she attended with me.

Fifteen years ago I attended my 10-year reunion with my bride at my side. We had been married for just over one year and she was dutifully walking with me as I reminisced with old classmates. Suddenly there was a shrill "ED!" followed by a female reaching out toward me. It was Penny, a family acqauintance and friend from school. I turned to give her a hug when she grabbed hold of me planted a kiss on my lips, right in front of my young wife!

Now I knew that Penny didn't mean anything romantic by the kiss -- the action was just a part of her personality. Everybody around us knew that too. However, my wife didn't know anything of the sort! I spent more time that night explaining that "That's just Penny," that it became a bit trite. Sure she was jealous. She had every right to be. I would have been jealous if the situation had been reversed. Thankfully last night a hug was all I got from Penny, saving me from another evening of hollow-sounding explanations.

Jealousy is nasty business, right? We should never be jealous... right? Well then, what do we do with the various descriptions of God as a "jealous God"? In the Second Commandment, God comes right out and tells us, "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God..." Then when God has to write them out again on a second set of tablets fourteen chapters later, He really drives the point home: "Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."

It's pretty much hard to deny that God is a jealous God. And we know that God and sin are not compatible in any way. So how do we reconcile these two ideas?

J. I. Packer argues in Knowing God that any description of God's characteristics are anthropomorphic; or in other words, descriptions of God are "dumbed down" to enable human understanding. A description of God's love or His forgiveness has to be put in human terms so that we have a chance to grasp it. The same thing is true of God's jealousy. Where we see jealousy as having a sinful, selfish and often immature root, we must remember that God doesn't have any of that sinfulness or selfishness or immaturity which color our own feelings. So God's jealous nature is not some green-eyed monster lurking within, but a zealousness to preserve the relationship between Himself and His people -- namely us.

I attended one high school reunion where a group of ladies were chatting about one of their former classmates. It was a catty chat, with three ladies try to drag down the reputation of their beautiful, former cheerleader classmate. They ripped her up one side and down the other -- from the perfect blonde hair to her hip-shaking walk. The sad part was that these girls were displaying their jealousy, but it wasn't the same kind of jealousy that God admits to. This was a jealousy designed to tear something apart.

But God's jealousy is designed to build up that relationship between Creator and His created. His jealousy is more clearly understood as zealousness. It's the same zeal we see in Christ as He walked through the temple kicking tables and taking names. Jesus cleansed the temple from the corrupt dealings of the moneychangers et. al. and it was because He stood for the honor of His relationship with His heavenly Father. It was a zealousness to strengthen, not a jealousy to destroy. My wife's jealousy fifteen years ago was a justified jealousy. It was rooted in the desire to preserve that relationship to which we had each committed ourselves. That jealousy was concerned with preserving a marriage, not in tearing down an individual.

God's jealousy is for His people. As Christians, we are His people. He wants us to live for Him, not to get sidetracked on self or to chase after any old "idol" that comes down the pike. He is jealous for us. So why is it that we aren't so jealous for Him? Where is our zeal? Where is our passion for that relationship with our Creator?

"Lord, I want to be jealous for You and for my relationship with You. But, like Israel, I am a stiff necked person. Grant me Your strength to be jealous. Just like You."


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Shane Sowden said...

Great post on the jealous God. I am going to use this explanation in my high school Christian ethics class. God Bless.