When we only read Holy Scripture in snippets or summaries, we miss some contextual words that can help us better understand God’s love. For example, it wasn’t until I read the 10 Commandments straight from Deuteronomy 5:1-21 that I gained an insight into God’s nature that has dramatically improved my faith life.
The first half of Deuteronomy 5:9 reads: "You shall not bow down to them (false idols) or worship them…" But there’s more. "…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God." In that context the word "jealous" puzzled me. Why would God be jealous? I mean, really, he owns everything! It intrigued me enough that I grabbed my Bible concordance and looked up the word ‘jealous’. I found God described as jealous in at least 11 more places in the Old Testament, all in conjunction with warnings against idol worship. In one place his jealousy is even described as all consuming fire!
Well, okay. The first thing I had to accept is that, along with everything else he has created, I belong to God. Got it; I am God’s beloved child, as are all people ever conceived. It made sense then that God would be jealous of the Israelites worshipping false idols that could not actually love them back. I could also see that our modern worship of pop stars and sports heroes would make God jealous. It didn’t stretch my imagination much to add bad things like drugs and alcohol, obsessive Internet use, or compulsive materialism to my list of American idols, either. I have seen how these straw idols stealthily usurp every bit of our time, energy, and money, leaving us nothing for God but an obligatory 45 minutes a week in church, and maybe a token George Washington to toss in the collection basket. Yes, having thought it over, I could understand God’s getting burned up over humankind’s penchant for bad and false idols.
The Bible verses I read, however, didn’t say that God’s jealousy stopped at things that were bad. I had to consider, therefore, that anything that topped God in the pyramid of our affections, even good things like a strong marriage, good jobs, and healthy children, were not exempt from God’s jealousy. But why would God be jealous of things that are good? That was a puzzle to me until last August when my second child headed 942 miles away to college.
In July my son received an e-mail saying that his roommate would be from a town about an hour from their university. The comment was made that this was really great, because it would give my son somewhere nearby to go for a home-cooked meal if he were ever homesick. Flames of jealousy positively ripped through my heart. Of course I would want a good roommate situation for my son, but at the expense of my being replaced by some other mother and her home cooking? I think not! And then a light bulb went off in my brain. God is the same. God does want good for us, but not at the expense of his being replaced.
Now, I repented of my jealousy, because I know that my children do not belong to me in the same way that God’s children belong to him, however being able to empathize with the jealous nature of God has been a great help to my faith. It has made it easier for me to accept that anything, be it good or bad, that would replace God in my life is something that I should not desire. It has also helped me see that very often good desires replace God more easily than do bad ones, therefore even when my prayers for good are not answered in the ways I want, I can cling to the truth that what our divinely jealous God wants for each of his beloved children is not merely temporal good, but eternal good.
God is passionate about our going to heaven, and without a doubt, everything he has done, is doing, and will do is to help us get there. Now that’s a love worthy of our complete devotion. A Happy, if early, Valentine’s Day to all.