Friday, June 18, 2010
Jealousy: Monster or Guardian?
Jealousy. We all know the power of never being satisfied with what we have. We know the seductive temptation of seeking to possess something exclusively. Jealousy tears apart families when siblings indulge in it. It is so common that Dr. Deborah Tannen wrote You Were Always Mom's Favorite, where many of the conversations between sisters revolve around jealousy. Worse, yet, jealousy destroys marriages when one partner attempts to control every thought and every action of the other one. As a part of the jealousy, this partner simultaneously withholds true intimacy, creating double jeopardy for the marriage. Jealousy destroys contentment and sabotages peace, because it promotes selfishness and suffocates generosity.
When we read in the Old Testament, "…I the Lord your God am a jealous God…" what are we to think? (Deuteronomy 5:9) From Exodus to Zachariah, the Bible says that God is "jealous" fourteen times. Five of those times, God describes himself that way. Are we to think of God in a jealous rage, zapping everyone and everything in His path? If that is the first thought that comes to mind, maybe we should give the idea more consideration.
What is the object of God's jealousy? Under the New Covenant, Jesus bought us with His blood. We belong to Him. That means that we are the object of His jealousy.
God displays an extreme, holy possessiveness toward us. He longs for us to experience Him to our absolutely highest capability. When we spend time with Him, honor Him by our obedience, and display His glory in our lives, He rejoices at these first steps of our experiencing Him. When we live selfishly, disconnect from His presence and dishonor His Name by our actions, He does not leave us in our sin. Instead, a different expression of His jealousy kicks in. He orchestrates circumstances – sometimes-painful ones – that call us back to the closest relationship we can experience with Him. Both His rejoicing over us and His discipline of us are evidences of His jealousy.
We are the objects of God's jealousy in another way. When Satan or any person through whom he works attempts to destroy us, God's jealousy protects us. Just as with Job in his pain-filled misery and Peter when he denied Jesus, God sets boundaries around His people. He limits the damage to His children to that which will promote growth in their faith. Suffering will come to us all, but we can trust God in His jealousy to protect us from destruction.
This drives us to a new question: since God's jealousy is a reason for us to rejoice and to trust even more in Him, why is human jealousy so destructive in our lives? I believe the answer lies in the facts that we are trying - in our jealousy - to be God and that when we become so obsessed with the object of our desire, it becomes a "god" to us. The capability to possess something or someone exclusively and entirely is an attribute of God that becomes, in the hearts of humanity, a twisted weapon.
So, yes, jealousy is both a monster and a guardian. It all depends on who holds the power.