Is God’s Jealousy a fault? In his book “The God Delusion”, atheist Richard Dawkins describes God this way:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Biting words to be sure. This characterization of God is a prevalent one in today’s society. The description of God as presented by Dawkins and other New Atheists is designed to cast God in a bad light. While rhetorically powerful, the description needs some fleshing out.
Is God Jealous?
One of the first objections raised by Dawkins is that God is “Jealous and proud of it”. We tend to think of jealousy as a bad thing. And in certain cases, it is. We’ve all known someone that was or is in an abusive relationship where one party was jealous of the other. This type of jealousy is restrictive and oppressive. Certainly not the hallmark of a healthy and loving relationship.
But is this the type of jealousy being described in the Bible when referring to God? I think not. There is also a type of appropriate jealousy that exists in relationships. This type of jealousy seeks to protect the other party from harm. It’s also is protective of the relationship itself.
A good example of this is husbands and wives. When a healthy relationship exists between the two, there is a natural protectiveness of the relationship and the other person. This doesn’t mean that the two are forbidden from speaking to anyone outside the marriage. Meeting someone of the opposite sex for lunch in a public place is fine. Intimate meetings with members of the opposite sex are situations that should be jealously discouraged.
So which category does God’s jealousy fall into? Is He a tyrannical bully that wants to control all relationships? Does He try to isolate and cut off his people from any outside interactions? Or is he placing healthy restrictions on relationships that are between two beloved parties.
Is God’s Jealousy Good Or Bad?
Looking at scripture seems to give a clear indication as to which type of relationship this is. God is trying to protect the people he is in relationship with. First, it was the nation of Israel. Then, with the institution of the New Covenant, with all believers. God protects these relationships because He knows the harm that can come from straying outside of them.
God also tries to protect not just the relationship, but the people IN the relationship with Him. In the same way a spouse tries to protect their significant other from harm, God attempts to keep us from harm. He jealously guards His beloveds. He knows that we engage in things that are not conducive to a fruitful life. God jealously guards our hearts and minds so we might live fruitful lives, not waisted ones.
Jealousy That Protects
God’s jealousy is nothing more than His desire to see the best for his children. We have a difficult time grasping this in our fallen state. As C.S. Lewis rightly points out:
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Have you ever been challenged with the charge that God’s jealously is a fault? How did you respond?
Discuss your thoughts on this post on our Facebook Group here.