THE JEALOUSY OF GOD
Jealousy is an exhausting emotion for all parties, and you have to resolve it in some way; it isn't possible to live always on the edge of your emotions. If you are giving cause for it, the honourable thing is to remove the cause, to part from the “other”.
Is God jealous? It is a large theme in the Old Testament. In one place, ‘Jealousy’ is even said to be God’s name (Exodus 34:14). Who or what do we have to get rid of to satisfy God’s jealousy?
What other gods are you flirting with, then? Odin? Thor? Isis? I have reason to be suspicious in particular about the first two: you talk about them almost every day! (These Scandinavian gods gave their names to two days of the week: Odinsday = Wednesday, and Thorsday = Thursday.) Is God jealous of these? One can safely say no! Who is God jealous of, then? If not of ‘gods’, then perhaps of people? But we are expressly told to love other people. Is God unreasonably jealous, like an insecure husband or wife? When jealousy goes too far, you develop dull responses: “Of course I love you,” (without lifting your head from the newspaper). If we understand God’s jealously wrong we may get into the habit of saying the right things, but without sincerity.
If the jealousy of God is not to be just an archaic expression, we have to look for it in experience. It can make itself felt. It may appear in a very diminished form - as a vague unease, or a scruple, or a disturbing memory of a time when we were closer to God - but it can still pack a punch, even with tough characters. In certain atmospheres it dares to show itself. God wants to be God in our lives, and there are times when we know it.
God is absolute. This means: God is not prepared to be part of anything. A God who was less than absolute would only be a plaything for human beings. This doesn't stop us from turning the absolute God quite often into a plaything. To confine God to a corner of our life - Sunday morning, for example - is to make God a plaything. The question is: what god do we worship for the rest of the week? Not Thor, not Odin...who then?
Quite often Mammon, I think: God’s great rival. Older translations of the Scriptures called it by this name, but most modern translations say ‘wealth’. “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Mammon means not only money but any possession. But why should God be jealous of our possessions? All these things are God’s creatures.
It is not our possessions that God is jealous of, but our possessiveness. “When God wishes to give us Himself and all things in free possession,” said Meister Eckhart, “He wishes to take from us, once and for all, all possessiveness.” If parents saw their child turning out to be greedy, grasping and selfish, they would be very worried. We can think of God’s jealousy in this light. God is a loving Father and is constantly watching to see how we are turning out. God is not ‘needy’ or possessive or neurotically jealous. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and neurotic jealousy is no part of love.
Is God jealous of other people in your life? Again, think with the heart of a father or mother. If you saw your daughter getting into an intense friendship with an abusive person, you would be very jealous indeed! This does not mean that you want to keep her locked up forever. You want her to meet people who will not use her as a plaything, but instead respect and love her. Likewise God, only infinitely more so. Jealousy is so often neurotic - excessive, obsessive and gloomy - that we have to adjust quite a bit when we talk about God’s jealousy. There is a wonderful passage in Jeremiah (31:3,4), describing the joy of God’s love for us, like the joy you have in your favourite daughter:
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have always been faithful to you.
Again I will build you up, and you shall be built….
Again you shall adorn yourself…
and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.