A sad reality is that many people who call themselves Christians really believe and act little differently than atheists. Both share a common trait. Both don’t want God meddling in their lives. Both live and act as if they are the centre of the universe, and both resent the very idea of a God who makes demands and commands allegiance.
An atheist recently complained about the fact that I mentioned the judgment of God. One can understand why. A judging God means a God whose holiness is the standard of what is right and wrong. A judging God means we are not our own boss, but we all must submit to the Lord of the universe.
A judging God means not everything we do or say is pleasing to a holy God, and it means that we will all one day have to give an account of our lives. A judging God means an end to our autonomous lifestyle, and the beginning of personal responsibility, accountability and a final reckoning.
But sadly many Christians also find these truths to be uncomfortable. The carnal, worldly Christian, just like the atheist, simply does not want God sniffing around in his life. A deistic conception of God may be OK – that is, a remote, uncaring, impersonal God who makes no demands of us, has no expectations of us, and does not love us enough to intervene in our lives.
Both pagans and carnal Christians want to be left alone to live life the way they want, with no pesky God telling them what to do. Thus they hate the idea of a judging God. But the truth is, the judgment of God is good news indeed. It tells us God is so concerned about us, that he will always act when a breach in our relationship occurs.
Another way of looking at this is to speak of God’s jealousy. That word sounds offensive to modern ears. We think of people who are angry and emotive, motivated by fear, envy and insecurity. But the biblical concept is different than what we normally have in mind.
God’s jealousy is a function of his love for us and his commitment to us. As K. Erik Thoennes puts it in his important study, Godly Jealousy, “Does not exclusivity demand intolerance to any breach of that exclusivity?” He argues that this is a “real and deep passion of God. To be sure, the jealousy here is not the suspicious, petty, envious kind we often see arising out of human insecurity. This jealousy is based in God’s right to be exclusively worshipped and served.”
Many dozens of texts can be appealed to here. Let me just focus on the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10). This speaks of God as a jealous God, which is why he commands us to have no other gods, and to avoid idolatry like the plague. God is inimitable and cannot be imaged.
John Goldingay puts it this way: “The risk in making an image is that Yhwh is a passionate or jealous God. Indeed, Yhwh’s very name is ‘Jealous.’ That is how radically Yhwh is ‘a jealous God’ (Ex. 34:14). Jealous passion is very close to the center of Yhwh’s nature.”
But the important thing to note here is how divine jealousy is part and parcel of divine love. As Alec Motyer states, jealousy “is part of the essence of true love, and the Lord so loves us that he cannot bear it when our desires and loyalties go elsewhere.”
Walter Kaiser says that “jealousy is that emotion by which God is stirred up and provoked against whatever hinders the enjoyment of that which he loves and desires. The greatest insult that can be done against love (in this case, God’s love for us, his people) is to slight it and to embrace a lesser, more base love.”
Philip Graham Ryken says this about the commandment: “No husband who truly loves his wife could possibly endure seeing her in the arms of another man. It would make him intensely jealous, and rightly so! God feels the same way about his people. His commitment to us is total. His love is exclusive, passionate, intense – in a word, jealous.”
Christopher Wright in his commentary on Deuteronomy says that we moderns dislike this very concept. It “easily grates on the modern person because of the infectious pluralism that disapproves such exclusivity”. But he reminds us that the “jealousy of Yahweh is a function of his covenant commitment to his people.”
He continues, “Having committed himself exclusively to them, he requires loyalty in return. In a context of committed love, the exclusion of rivals (i.e., jealousy) is a perfectly proper concern. . . . A God who was not jealous for the reciprocal commitment of God’s people would be as contemptible as a husband who didn’t care whether or not his wife was faithful to him.”
We too should exhibit this
Not only does God rightly show a deep and passionate jealousy for his own glory and his beloved, but so too should his people. There are numerous examples of this found throughout Scripture. One thinks of the life of Moses for example, and his profound commitment to God’s honour and reputation. Or David’s. Or Jesus himself.
Let me here offer just one New Testament example: Paul. And let me select just one text – of many possible – which bears this out. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-14 Paul speaks of his deep concerns for the Corinthians, and how they are allowing themselves to be turned away from Christ.
In verse 2 he says “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy”. In this he fully shares God’s own heart. He wants only the best for these believers, and he knows that anything that will separate them from God will be injurious to them, and must be fiercely resisted.
Thus he strongly and unflinchingly resists the false teaching found there. In verse two he also uses a metaphor of the church being engaged to Christ. This picks up a key Old Testament theme of Yahweh being the bridegroom and Israel being the bride.
Here Christ is the bridegroom and the church is betrothed to him. As D.A. Carson explains, “Paul, acting as the father, has betrothed the Corinthian church to Christ. As an honourable father, he desires to present his daughter as a pure virgin to her prospective husband when he comes for her (at the parousia).
“Instead, Paul hears reports that she is playing around with other lovers, and he is appalled. More, he is jealous for his daughter (not ‘of’ her, but ‘for’ her): incensed at the seducers, lovingly concerned for her purity and her future, hurt, outraged at her fickleness.”
And recall that in ancient Near Eastern culture betrothal was seen as a binding commitment, basically as binding as marriage itself. It was a far more serious commitment than modern Western engagements are. Thus complete sexual faithfulness was expected during the betrothal period.
Given that the endpoint of history is about “the marriage of the Lamb” in which “the bride has made herself ready” for the bridegroom (Revelation 19:7), this is very important indeed. It is all about, as Paul says, the attempt “to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
No wonder such jealousy is so very vital. This sort of jealousy is a good jealousy, a healthy jealousy, and one which all believers should embrace and champion. It is in large measure because we lack, ignore or disdain this fundamental attribute of God that the church is so weak and anaemic today.