Saturday, February 4, 2017

Why is God jealous?

Some people can accept and agree with the idea that God will reward those who do good and punish those who commit evil.  After all, there are plenty of people in the world who do rotten things (just read the newspaper) and they deserve punishment for those sins.  On the other hand, there are many people who do a lot of good and it seems proper for the ultimate Judge to reward those deeds.  This thinking is not even proprietary to the Christian God, but also finds agreement with the Hindu notion of karma.  What you do in this life will come back to you in the next.  The Quran mentions the weighing of good and bad deeds in Sura 23:102-103, which states, “Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy, they will attain salvation:  But those whose balance is light will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell will they abide.”  The difficult part people have with the Christian God is right there in the very first of the ten commandments, “You shall have no other god before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  

Do we need to worship a jealous God?
Most people who have read the Bible – and a few who haven’t – noticed the verses where God describes Himself as “jealous”.  Continuing in the first of the ten commandments, God says, “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, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6)  An initial reading of this may give one the impression that God is like an abusive husband, demanding that his wife and children give him complete adoration or he will bring wrath and destruction upon them.  This strikes some as a bit heavy-handed.  The question that arises is, if someone is a good person who does not harm anyone else, why is it necessary to worship God?  Is it not enough to be a good person?  Even Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  In fact, many atheists and agnostics live better lives than some Christians.  But, this jealous God will reject these atheists simply because they don’t worship him? 

What about the angels?
At first glance, these issues seem to cast a shadow on the goodness and justice of the God of the Bible.  To borrow from Stephen Hawking, let’s look at a brief history of time.  Sometime in the distant past, God created the angelic beings.  We know that, prior to the fall of man, Lucifer had his own fall.  Isaiah 14:12 states, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn!”  Lucifer (light-bearer, shining one) became Satan (adversary) and was there to tempt Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.  Apparently, angelic beings have free will at least in some sense like humans because a third of them chose to follow Satan and rebel against God (Revelation 12:4).  Now, after Satan rebelled against the despotic tyrant of heaven, did he run off and start his own church of good deeds and begin helping little old ladies across the street?  Hardly.  The mission of the leader of the revolution is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).  Satan is described as the “father of lies” (John 8:44).  Satan is the one who brought death, destruction, and physical distress upon Job.  Satan crippled a woman for 18 years in Luke 13:10-17.  He “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Where does the evil in this world originate?  Satan is described as the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11).  God is omnipotent.  But Satan, like a bad dog on a leash, has been given a certain amount of rope to wreak havoc in this world, as people allow him.     

What is God’s nature?
In contrast with the character and intentions of Satan, “God is love” (1 John 4:8; Psalm 145:17).  He does not occasionally demonstrate love; rather, love is an integral part of God’s nature.  In 2 Thess. 1:6, we find that “God is just”, meaning he will punish offenders and help the victims of injustice.  The Lord is also “righteous” (Psalm 11:7, 129:4, 145:17; Lamentations 1:18; Daniel 9:14).  The Lord is compassionate (Exodus 34:6; 2 Chron. 30:9; Psalm 86:15; Joel 2:13).  He is a God of truth (Isaiah 65:16), He sends to us the Sprit of Truth (John 14:17; 1 John 4:6), and the Son of God is the truth (John 14:6). 

How is God different?
The disparity between Satan and God is clearly described in 1 John 3:7-10, where the apostle states, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [God] is righteous.  He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.  No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.  This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”  When we chose to follow God, we are also by default, choosing to follow love, justice, compassion, righteousness, truth, and many other qualities I did not list for the sake of brevity, because they are an inseparable part of God’s nature.  On the other hand, when we chose to reject God, we are rejecting all that is good because Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23).

Is it wrong for God to be jealous?
Ok, so God has a lot of good qualities, but the Bible says He is jealous and isn’t jealousy a negative character trait?  It is true that God is described as jealous in many Bible verses:  Exodus 34:14, Deut. 4:24, Joshua 24:19, Nahum 1:2, and Zech. 1:14.  The first point to note here is that God’s jealousy must be differentiated from sinful, human jealousy.  Humans become jealous of others whom we believe have obtained something we think we deserve.  Someone may be jealous of a person who has a bigger house or more expensive car.  One may be jealous of another who is better looking, more athletic, or more intelligent.  Motivation toward jealousy in those instances is purely self-centered.  We don’t care about the good of the objects of our jealousy; rather, we want what they have.  This is actually one of the most primal and basic emotions.  It can be observed in children not even old enough to walk.  One toddler sees a toy in the hands of another child and he wants it.  He doesn’t care that the other child is currently playing with the toy.  

Definition of jealous
There’s a difference between jealousy for one’s own selfish reasons, which causes most of the confusion here. However, there is also jealousy for another person. For example, when my children were young, I was jealous for them in the sense that I did not want another man raising them. Is God’s jealousy the same?  If we look at the context of Biblical verses that mention God’s jealousy, we see He is jealous for his people.  Zechariah 1:14 states, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion.’”  Jesus stated, “O Jerusalem, How often I wanted to gather your children together, and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34)  When we realize that, before each of us was born, God formed us in our mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5).  He sent His son to experience an excruciating death to redeem us.  It is only natural for Him to be jealous for his children.  If you are a father and you saw your children reject you and run up to another man saying, “Daddy, Daddy”, how would you feel?  And, you have not given as much for your children as God did for His.   

[Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]      

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