It seems like there is a lot of confusion going around recently about the jealous nature of God, and in the past week I have had the subject brought up several times in my youth small groups. The idea of a God who is both perfect and jealous is a difficult concept to understand. It is not something that can be easily grasped or ignored. Having said all that, I feel that now is probably as good a time as ever to try to tackle this theological kerfuffle.
So the first question we have to address is simply is God a jealous God? To me scripture seems to point to yes:
“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 parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”
God is a jealous God and very few things seem to frustrate God more than when we do not give him his due place in our life. The question then becomes, can we still say that God is good if he seems to be so petty and covetous of our praise and worship? If I demanded praise like God does then people would call me prideful, arrogant, and a megalomaniac, so why is God allowed to act this way? It seems most people understand that any being who demands to be worshiped under pain of punishment is a very faulty and emotionally fragile being, right?
To this I’d say no. As with any passages that deal with God’s nature we have many obstacles in our path that can trip us up. We are confined to the limitations of our anthropomorphic and finite language. This makes it extremely difficult to describe a being that is by His own admission, incomprehendable outside of what he divinely reveals about himself to us.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.”
– Isaiah 55:8
It is extremely hard to write anything about God without drastically limiting Him in the process. For example, when we say that God is “good” it is extremely hard for us not to undermine him in the process. If God is God then he must truly be the greatest thing in existence. For this reason, “good” seems a bit underwhelming when applied to God. We cannot compare God (the ultimate) with anything except what is beneath him, since anything greater than him would nullify the whole ultimate being thing. We have to use words and phrases that human being can experience if we are ever going to have any meaning conveyed in them, but by doing that we have to be careful not to give the wrong idea.
If we can establish that God is the ultimate greatest thing in the universe simply by nature of being God, and if we also know from scripture that God loves us and wants what is best for us, then by putting the two together we can conclude that if God is the best and he wants what is best for us, then he wants us for himself and himself for us.
If I had a child and I saw that he or she was striving after something harmful rather than what I knew to be the best for them, I would want to do everything I could to turn them in the right direction. For us the best direction is always going to be back to God. He deserves to be worshiped and he wants us to be with him because that is what we were made for. God made us to worship him and so that he could love us. We saw from the first few pages of Genesis and the last pages of Revelation that a life with God is the best of all possible realities. In this light God’s “jealousy” serves not only Himself, but also all others. No other form of jealousy I know of can be said to be both self-serving and yet universally beneficial. In this way I feel it is safe to say that God is both jealous and good.