The certain young man recently faulted God for being jealous, reading into the term negative nuances. It goes without saying that this was not the intent of biblical writers. What, then, are we to make of his criticism?
Initially, it should be noted that God-talk is metaphorical. Consequently, we should understand it in a qualified sense.
This touches on what some think to be the most critical theological issue: how to reconcile God’s transcendence with his immanence. Persons are inclined to err in one direction or the other. The critic mentioned proves not to be an exception.
In greater detail, God is jealous in at least two related ways. Most obvious, he does not tolerate idolatry (Exod. 20:5). An idol is any human construct, and as such meant to serve the creature rather than the Creator.
“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus allowed. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God Money” (Matt. 6:24). Here the love of money is portrayed as an idol.
This can be variously illustrated. For instance, Christian publishers increasingly emphasize their enthusiastic commitment to sales. Conversely, their zeal for ministry often suffers. The sage reminds us in this regard: “Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil” (Prov. 15:16).
The rabbis invariably linked sin to idolatry. In particular, “punishing the children for ths 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” (Exod. 20:5-6). As provocatively expressed, “If God were to throw dice, they would be loaded.” That is, so as to minimize the effect of evil, and maximize that of good.
God’s jealously can thus be said to consist of his quest for excellence from those he mentors. He is, in this regard, not unlike the teacher who does not want his or her students to settle for something less than can be achieved. Accordingly, divine jealousy appears in context as hard love.
Finally, this critic’s complaint echoes the occasion when Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit. It is likely that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil consists of a comprehensive idiom, not unlike our reference to as far as the east is from the west. In any case, they thus asserted their autonomy.
“As surely as the Lord lives, who has denied me justice,” Job subsequently insists, “the Almighty who has made me taste bitterness of soul” (Job 27:2).
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?” the Lord incredulously inquires (40:1). How presumptive! As such, not unlike the instance mentioned above. (You are welcome to visit my publication website:
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