Monday, July 29, 2013

Are we a Jealous Saul or Loving Jonathan?

There should be no jealousy in love (1 Corinthians 13: 4, NASB), but God, the source and model of love, is a jealous God (Exodus 20: 5). Understanding love without jealousy and understanding the love of a jealous God is the theme of this blog.

To begin with, God cannot be understood through the human paradigm. God is not made in our image; it is we who are made in HIS image. We cannot err by bottling God into a limited human framework. Significantly, because God is perfect, HE is not deficient. So, God cannot be jealous as we are in general. Thus, jealousy should acquire a different meaning in God, and our jealousy should transform into godly love.

J.I Packer describes two types of jealousy among men – vicious and zealous.1 Vicious jealousy is a negative attribute. Vicious jealousy is associated with fear, loss, suspicion, anger, low self-esteem, uncertainty, inferiority, and mistrust. The common basal factor for a negative emotion is ‘deficiency.’ When we are deficient of something, we are jealous of something or someone. When the husband lacks trust in his wife, he is jealous of her. When a brother lacks security from his parents, he is jealous of his sister. The poor are jealous of the rich since they lack wealth. The common cause of vicious jealousy is deficiency of something in the subject of jealousy.

When we are urged to not be jealous or envious (1 Corinthians 13: 4), it implies that we should be filled with God. When God fills a man’s life, HE continually fills every void or every deficiency of man. So, man finds his security in God. This is a reason behind Christ’s teaching that loving God is fundamental to loving man. The first and the greatest commandment is to love God (Matthew 22: 36-38). This commandment is fundamental and foundational to loving our neighbor, which is the second greatest commandment. If man loves God, God will fill him, and he will love his fellow man without vicious jealousy (cf. 1 John 4: 7-21).

When man loves God, he remains in God, thereby finding satisfaction and contentment from God’s presence in his life. Thus, a godly man is not jealous. But not every jealous man is godless. Those who are jealous should primarily seek God’s presence in their life. When God fills that particular void in life, man remains sane to love his neighbor. Only God can eradicate jealousy. 

In other words, there is no enduring cure to jealousy if we seek a solution outside of God’s presence. Man could attempt to resolve jealousy in a surplus of variant means, but these solutions will not be holistic, but will be partial, leading to partial cure.

Perfect love drives out all fear (1 John 4: 18a, NASB). When man loves God, he receives the blessing of being fearless under any circumstance. Lack of fear drives away jealousy.

In 1 Samuel 18, we observe King Saul’s jealousy of David, for people recognized David’s proficiency (v7). It became abundantly clear that the Lord was with David (v12, 28). The Bible ascribes two allied emotions to Saul – anger (v8) and fear (v12, 29). Because he was angry and fearful, Saul connived against David, which is another outcome of jealousy. Vicious jealousy is a dangerous beast, for it drives people to sin against God.

The Bible presents a contrast through the life of Jonathan – the son and legal heir of King Saul. Jonathan was fond of David although he knew that David was anointed by God to replace Saul as king (cf. 1 Samuel 16: 1). In other words, Jonathan had a good reason to be jealous of David, for the Lord chose David as king instead of him. Instead of being jealous, Jonathan loved David (1 Samuel 18: 1) and spoke well of him to his father (1 Samuel 19: 4-5; 20: 32).

For reasons best known to God, Jonathan’s life in God is greatly limited in the Bible. His brief account is terminated by his tragic death at the hands of the marauding Philistines (1 Samuel 31: 2). A short yet glorious life lived for God’s glory by loving without vicious jealousy.

Another aspect from Jonathan’s life is to be observed and followed. When Jonathan took David’s side, he intentionally went against his father’s will and pleasure. Saul desired to kill David, but Jonathan defended David in the presence of his father. Angry at Jonathan’s defense of David, Saul attempted to kill his own son. When the Bible mandates us to not be jealous, it exhorts us to stand for the truth, as Jonathan did. David was not at fault, but Saul certainly was, so Jonathan loved David and actively supported David even in the presence of his own father, and at a risk of being killed. If we stand for truth, love will defeat jealousy.

Man is viciously jealous if he lacks God in his life. Presence of God drives out fear and anger, which are allied emotions to jealousy. If we go through pangs of jealousy, we ought to actively seek God and plead for HIS presence in our life. God is the only cure for jealousy.  

How do we comprehend a jealous and a loving God? Love (positive emotion) and vicious jealousy (negative emotion) cannot coexist in God. As said before, we cannot comprehend God from human perspective. God is not made in our image.

Think this through please; our sadness in life implies a loss of something. I am sad if I am sick (I have lost my health). I am sad if I lose my wallet. I am sad if I am late for an engagement (I have lost my credibility). This is sadness in human beings. On the contrary, when God is sad, it does not mean that HE has lost something. A perfect and eternal being cannot lose anything. Losing anything entails imperfection. Then how do we understand God’s sadness? God is not sad because HE has lost something; God is sad because we have lost something.

Packer states that zealous jealousy seeks to protect a love relationship or to avenge the broken, and attributes this jealousy to that of God’s (cf. Numbers 5: 11-31; Proverbs 6: 34).  Jealousy mentioned in Numbers 5 punishes an adulterer (v20-22, 27, 31) but releases the innocent (v19, 28). Similarly, God’s jealousy punishes an adulterous creation, who seeks Satan. The essence of Packer’s description of godly jealousy is in his quote of John Calvin, “As the purer and chaster a husband is, the more grievously he is offended when he sees his wife inclining to a rival…” Jealousy and punishment intensifies when the accuser (husband or God) is purer in his character. God, the purest of all beings, is jealous when his creation discards HIM to the one who destroys them – the Satan.

The Thomist thought is that love causes jealousy – love of that which cannot be shared or simultaneously possessed causes envy / jealousy.3 When God is jealous, HE asserts that HE cannot share us with any entity that opposes HIM, namely Satan. But when man refuses to believe in God, the jealous and just God lovingly respects man’s decision and allows him to have his way. A jealous God cannot share his creation with an opposing entity, but the same God who is jealous is also loving and just, thus in HIS love and justice, HE allows the unbelieving man to discard HIM. Thus, God’s love and justice allows the unbelieving man to depart from HIS holy presence. 

Packer advises that God’s jealousy requires us to be zealous for God (love HIM and HIS commands).4 Jonathan’s zeal for God was displayed through godly love devoid of vicious jealousy. You and I are called to be the Jonathan of today, and by the grace of God, we shall. Amen.

1 J.I Packer, Knowing God, p153-154.
2 J.I Packer, Knowing God, p155.
3 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Human Life as a Journey to God, p207.
4 J.I Packer, Knowing God, p156.


Sarah Bhuyan said...

Hi Raj,

Great post. Good theological understanding.
'Perfect love drives out fear'.

I like to bring another angle to the post.
While we strive to be 'Jonathans', we are imperfect and hence, time to time, vicious jealousy / anger pops up. We need to acknowledge the same, mend, repair and move forward. If we neglect it, the same will destroy us. A lot of deliberate, careful investments have to be made in friendships and relationships. Strictly speaking, there is no perfect love from human side because we are still imperfect. We are striving.

When my daughter was 5 years old, she made an observation. One lady in the church used to speak to my husband and not so much with me. She asks her dad, why is she not speaking with mummy and ignoring her and only speaking to you. She felt an imbalance. This is not vicious , but protective of her mother. Also, a reminder that we need to be constantly careful that we are human and keep relationships within its boundaries.

While we are being transformed in to the image of Jesus Christ, we still have not acquired that perfect love and
expecting that perfect love from another is asking for too much.On the other hand a lot of careful, deliberate investments have to be made in our relationships. Where we have made mistakes, we have to correct them and one day God will make us perfect and till then we are striving.
In this effort, God is with us.

My aim is to expose our human imperfection and imperfect love in front of God's perfect love and look at our condition realistically.


Raj Richard said...

Please accept my apologies for the delayed response. But it's always a pleasure hearing your thoughts, Sarah. Thank you.

We are and will always be imperfect. That, the Bible states with clarity. I also agree that we ought to strive towards holiness, which is the ongoing process of our sanctification.

Thank you once again :)