“For you must not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).
Wrestling With Hard Truths
In our own hearts, and in our ministries, we often face hard questions about God, the world, and the human experience. We live in a broken world in need of Christ, and there is no area of human life untouched by sin.
This is often and especially true with our intellects. Even as people who have the revelation of God in Christ in Scripture, we still must wrestle with ourselves and with others in the everyday patterns of discipleship.
I was recently asked by a very skeptical, but passionate, student about God’s jealousy. He asked, “If God is sinless like the Bible says, and if God is jealous like the Bible says, and if jealousy is a sin life the Bible says, is the Bible wrong or God sinful?”
Some of you can resonate with these types of questions, whether you were on the giving or receiving end of the question. The following is my response, and I hope this blesses you, either in your own life or in your ministry.
I’m glad you asked this question, because it is a really puzzling thing to think about. However, when we understand God’s jealousy, interestingly, it actually frees us to love and worship Him more and better.
So you pointed out three biblical truths:
- The Bible affirms that God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14),
- God is perfect and sinless (Psalm 18:30; 2 Samuel 22:31),
- and jealousy is condemned in Scripture as a sin (James 3:14-15).
So how can God be perfect and sinless and be jealous if jealousy is a sin?
There are a couple explanations from Scripture and reason that can help us understand this.
The first is simply a logical principle called maxima a minima, which means “greater to the lesser”. This means that when we think about two truths, we have to think about and agree with the greater truth first and then the lesser truth makes sense. (Lesser does not mean less important, but it means easier to think about than the greater truth and is also affected by the greater truth.)
In this case, God’s sinlessness and perfection is the “greater” truth and God’s jealousy is the “lesser” truth because what someone is (who they are) is greater than their actions (what they do). Because God’s sinlessness is an essential part of who He is as God, it affects everything else.
This is the most important aspect to agree with because if we believe that God never sins, then anything the Bible says He does cannot be sin.
I hope that makes sense… Since God never sins, anything the Bible says He does is not sinful. If the greater is true, the lesser is true.
So with that in mind, how can God’s jealousy not be sinful if it is sinful for humans?
First, there are some things that are only okay for God to do: God takes lives, we cannot not; God is wrathful, we are not to be; God is jealous, we are not to be.
Jealousy for humans is wrongly desiring or wanting something we think we deserve and that we don’t have from someone else. The reason jealousy is a sin is because it shows we don’t trust God to provide all we need, we aren’t thankful for what He has given us, and we don’t find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in Him.
But for God, every time the Bible says God is a jealous God (especially in Exodus 34:14 when God is giving the 10 Commandments), it is in the context of worship: “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD…is a jealous God.”
God is jealous for His creatures to worship Him because He is the only One in the universe worthy of worship (Psalm 145:3; Revelation 4:11)!
It isn’t wrong for God to desire our worship because He is the only God and He is the only one who deserves our praise. But, God isn’t like some old woman seeking compliments as C.S Lewis once thought: God’s jealousy is actually the greatest act of love!
When we worship God alone in thought, word, and deed (worship isn’t just something we do on Sunday mornings, it’s a lifestyle!), we make God look like the infinitely valuable treasure He is, and when you treasure God above everything else, you are glorifying Him the most.
God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him. Worshipping, treasuring, and being satisfied anything other than God only leads to despair and emptiness; but worshipping, treasuring, and being satisfied in God alone is joy and peace.
That’s why God can be jealous, because His jealousy is actually entirely loving.
Hope that helps.