Is God’s Jealousy a Negative Attribute?

By Brian Chilton.

The Bible attributes several attributes to God. Many of the more popular attributes are God’s love, holiness, and grace. Any serious theologian will know the four core “omni” attributes: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-presence), and omnibenevolence (all-loving). While these attributes are all positive, many critics pinpoint another attribute of God as being greatly problematic: God’s jealousy.

Critics charge that jealousy is a bad trait to hold. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins claims that God breaks “into a monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god.”[1]Paul Copan notes that “Oprah Winfrey said that she was turned off to the Christian faith when she heard a preacher affirm that God is jealous.”[2] Jealousy is condemned for the human being. One of the Ten Commandments states that a person should not “covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).[3] Thus, jealousy seems to be a negative trait. But wait! Doesn’t the Bible claim that God is jealous? It does.

The Bible states at least 13 times that God is jealous for His people. For instance, Moses notes that “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Later in Deuteronomy, God says, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21).

What do we make of this? Jealousy seems to be a negative trait. The Bible presents God as jealous. Therefore, it would seem that God holds negative traits. One is left with three options: 1) One could claim that God holds negative attributes meaning that He is not completely perfect; 2) One could claim that the Bible is erred in its presentation of God; 3) One could claim that our understanding of God’s jealousy could be misunderstood.

The first option demerits the Bible’s presentation of God as valid. If God exists, then God must be a maximally great Being. If the God of the Bible is not a maximally great Being, then the God of the Bible is not really the God of the universe at all.

The second option devalues the Bible, the Word of God. The New Testament writers extracted their understanding of God from the Old Testament. Therefore, if the Old Testament is erred in its presentation of God, then that would carry over into the New Testament. This causes a serious problem for the believer. If we cannot accept the presentation of God in the Bible, then can we accept the God of the Bible?

The third option is best. Our understanding of God’s jealousy must be defined. There must be some misunderstanding that we hold as it pertains to the idea of divine jealousy. In fact, the third option is the only real valid option on the table. When one honestly evaluates God’s jealousy, the person comes to the understanding that God’s jealousy is actually rooted in love. Thus, God’s jealousy becomes a positive trait for three reasons.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive as it relates to God’s passion.

God has a passion for His people. Let’s go back to the passage in Deuteronomy. We all know that Scripture is often taken out of context. Placing Deuteronomy 4:24 in context, one will find that Moses was addressing the issue of the peoples’ covenant with God. God had already blessed the people immensely. God brought them out of slavery. God was about to bring them to a special place prepared for them. God was going to build a great nation out of them. However, the people kept cheating on God. God poured out His love to the nation. He was eventually going to bring the Chosen Messiah, the Savior of the world, in their midst. But they kept cheating on God. Moses says in Deuteronomy 4:23, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you.”

The marriage analogy is often used to describe God’s jealous passion for His people. Paul Copan rightly notes that “A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage.”[4] God had a passion for His people. While Dawkins may think that God’s jealousy is a negative attribute due to the peoples’ “flirting with other gods,” it should be remembered that idolatry is adultery against God.[5] Thus, God’s jealousy is rooted in His love.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to God’s purpose.

God’s jealousy is also rooted in His purpose. Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy by “God continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[6] Critics may charge, “See! God only concerns Himself with His own glory and elevated role. This means that God is not humble.” But not so fast. Let’s put this in perspective.

Human jealousy is wrong because one covets something that he/she holds no claim in holding. It is wrong for me to covet my neighbor’s car because I hold no claim to the car. In like manner, human pride is bad because it elevates a person’s position higher than what the person possesses. I can think all day that I am the President of the United States. I can walk around like a peacock telling everyone about my successful presidency. The reality is, however, that I am not the President and will most likely never be. But what if someone who holds the office claims to be President? Right now, the President of the United States of America is Barack Obama. Regardless of your thoughts of him and his presidency, let’s ask: is it wrong for Obama to claim to be President? Is it wrong for him to demand respect for his position? Is it wrong for him to do presidential things? No. Why? It is because he is the President. Is it, therefore, wrong for God to call Himself God and to expect to be treated like God? No. Why? It is because He is God. Paul Copan rightly notes, “Is God proud? No, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one. God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, which makes him worthy of worship.”[7]

Simply put: it is not wrong for God to be jealous over His purpose and glory. Such purpose and glory belongs to God and God alone.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to the human protection.

I am a big brother. My sister is about 7-years-younger than I. Big brothers normally have a protective instinct. I most certainly do. My sister is a loving, free-spirited woman who always sees the good. I, in contrast, see the world the way it really is. My son is much like my sister. I find that my protective juices flow overtime being a parent. Without guidance, it would be easy for my son to take the wrong path as the first shiny, attractive thing gets his attention. As a parent, it is my job to help keep him on the right track. I have a jealous love for my son because I want what’s best for him.

God’s jealousy works in much the same way. God’s jealous love is actually for the benefit, not the detriment, of human protection. God is omniscient. That means that God knows all things. God is also omnisapient, meaning that God possesses all wisdom. Going back to Copan, he notes, “God seeks to protect his creatures from profound self-harm. We can deeply damage ourselves by running after gods made in our own image. God’s jealousy is other-centered.”[8] I agree wholeheartedly with Copan’s assessment. God’s jealousy is actually for the greater human good.

Conclusion

God’s jealousy is not the same as human jealousy. The difference primarily lies in authority. It is wrong for people to be jealous over something that someone else holds because they hold no true claim to such thing. God, in contrast, having the greatest, supreme authority and power is completely justified in being jealous over His people. His jealousy is actually rooted in His love, purpose, and even human protection. Thus, God’s jealousy is not a negative attribute. It is actually a gloriously positive one.

© August 22, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 243.

[2] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 34.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from theEnglish Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 35.

[5] See the book of Hosea for a full treatment of this analogy.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 205.

[7] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 28.

[8] Ibid., 40.


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12 replies
  1. David says:

    If god had any real power he could make himself so attractive that no one could resist him. Then he wouldn’t have to be jealous because no one would seek after anything else. Conclusion, god doesn’t exist or god exists but has no real power to draw mankind to himself. Or even worse, god exists but is not really that appealing or doesn’t care enough about man to draw him. Regardless, jealousy is a pretty petty emotion for an omnipotent being to have. Copan said, “God seeks to protect his creatures from profound self-harm. We can deeply damage ourselves by running after gods made in our own image. God’s jealousy is other-centered.”[8] I agree wholeheartedly with Copan’s assessment. God’s jealousy is actually for the greater human good. I say, “Sadly, god does not exert his power in such a way as to draw ALL men to a saving knowledge of himself. Thus, billions will burn in hell forever. I wish he would spend more time irresistibly drawing men to himself and less time being jealous when they seek after more appealing things. The degree to which men reject god or don’t notice him at all is the degree to which god is guilty of not thoroughly revealing himself to man. If he really is omnipotent he has failed at this task. Just sayin. By the way, Copan’s, “Moral Monster” is shameless in its’ apologetic rationalizations. Very embarrassing that a person who calls himself a Christian would engage in such callous spin to defend the bible.”

    Reply
    • Josef Kauzlarich says:

      Your argument boils down to: “God should give us all love potions so we can’t resist Him.” I find this a silly notion.

      Reply
      • David says:

        Josef, your argument boils down to: “it’s ok for an omnipotent being to create men and then consign most to hell to produce a favored few that can boost his ego.” I find this a disgusting notion. Tell me Josef, why did you choose Christ? Were you drawn? Irresistibly? Resistibly? Did you have to add anything? Was it all god? Was it totally by grace? Did you have to add some cognitive works? I’m afraid these questions can’t adequately be answered by your theology. If it was ALL god then he chooses those that go to hell and those that are saved as the Calvinists claim and is therefore a monster. If you had anything to do with it then it is salvation by “cognitive” works.

        By the way, I don’t believe any of this is true. I just think it is sad that people cling to such a silly worldview.

        Reply
        • Josef Kauzlarich says:

          David, you have built a completely imaginary position of what I believe on this issue. I simply gave a critique of your argument. You are attacking a strawman I never presented. You also didn’t address the critique. I said your argument is the equivalent of a love potion, implying that if God carried out your plan, He would have a bunch of robot slaves, not free relationships. Why are slaves better than freely given relationships?

          Reply
          • David says:

            First of all Josef, ANYTHING is better than billions being tortured forever. Do you disagree with this statement? A mindless, robotic existence is far better in my opinion than the prospect of billions suffering forever, which is what your bible says is going to happen. If I was a mindless robot I wouldn’t know any better and I would live in ignorant bliss. Secondly, I don’t know how you call, “Love me and be willing to die for my name’s sake or suffer conscious, eternal torment” a free will decision. I could easily argue that you are a robot slave on the order of someone with Stockholm Syndrome. Regardless of what your mind might tell you, you don’t love god for his virtues, you feign love for him out of fear.

            I think I’ve answered your question Josef. Now would you answer mine? How do you know that you haven’t just convinced yourself that you love god rather than simply fear him? And what is it that caused you to “choose” to love god? And how can you be so callous that the thought of billions being tortured forever, by a god that you call loving, does not repulse you?

          • Josef Kauzlarich says:

            David said: “First of all Josef, ANYTHING is better than billions being tortured forever. Do you disagree with this statement? A mindless, robotic existence is far better in my opinion than the prospect of billions suffering forever, which is what your bible says is going to happen. If I was a mindless robot I wouldn’t know any better and I would live in ignorant bliss”

            I would never claim to know what is best for humanity. I didn’t create the human race nor does my limited experience in life qualify me to critique whoever did (assuming it is a who). I will say that losing my mind and becoming a robot strikes me as a terrible and utterly meaningless fate. I am happy to exist and have a will to exercise.

            “Secondly, I don’t know how you call, “Love me and be willing to die for my name’s sake or suffer conscious, eternal torment” a free will decision. I could easily argue that you are a robot slave on the order of someone with Stockholm Syndrome. Regardless of what your mind might tell you, you don’t love god for his virtues, you feign love for him out of fear.”

            You misconstrue the gospel. You should rephrase it more like, “Turn from your rebellion and rejection of my purposes for you and from being your own master and allow me to heal you that you might live the useful, eternal life I laid out for you.” God is interested in restoring us to our original purpose which includes a relationship of love.

            I love God because: “Though he [Jesus] was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
            ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭2:6-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

            I love God because He first loved me. It isn’t out of fear that I love Him. It is awe at his willingness to humble himself and take my debt when he had no obligation to.

            “And how can you be so callous that the thought of billions being tortured forever, by a god that you call loving, does not repulse you?”

            Because I believe God is to loving to force anyone to be with Him. I think hell is an unfortunate requirement of free will. Moreover, you sound as if you believe God is a torturer. God won’t be there (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Hell will be absent of God’s presence and grace. I can’t think of a worse place. It will be a place filled with all those who don’t want God, and if you open the gates of hell, they will shut them from within.

  2. David says:

    Josef you said, “I will say that losing my mind and becoming a robot strikes me as a terrible and utterly meaningless fate. I am happy to exist and have a will to exercise.” You already are a robotic slave Josef. Regardless of how you spin it, accept Jesus or burn in hell forever is no free will choice. It is a coerced choice.
    And, you can’t excuse god from being the torturer. If a place of conscious, eternal torment exists and he made it, he is responsible for what happens there.
    You also said, “It will be a place filled with all those who don’t want God”. You forgot to include millions that have never heard of him and have no idea who he is.
    You also said, “and if you open the gates of hell, they will shut them from within.”. This is standard apologetic spin. Nowhere does the bible indicate anything like this. The “sinners” inside hell do not keep the doors shut. The deity that sends people there keeps the gate shut. Your statement is yet another ploy to relieve the god of the bible of the responsibility of his actions.

    Reply
    • Josef Kauzlarich says:

      “You already are a robotic slave Josef.”
      I disagree and you don’t sense you really listened to my answer, which is rooted in Philippians 2:8. You are talking like it is fear of hell that motivated me to accept salvation. Fear of hell had nothing to do with my choice to accept what Jesus did for me. Rather it was the chance to live a life of purpose and meaning that my creator originally intended for me. Fear wasn’t my motivation. You don’t know my mind or my heart so stop pretending it is fear that motivated me. I wasn’t coerced, I was offered the opportunity to redeem myself and took it.

      You paint a picture like God is unjust or something. I give no apology for His actions. Man rebelled against Him, not the other way around. You act like God owes us something when the picture painted in Romans 1:18-32 is very different. Mankind isn’t innocent. We are depraved and guilty, and deep down you and everyone else knows it. It is the human condition. The reality is that God doesn’t owe anyone a pardon. Yet He still made a way for us to be redeemed and took 100% of the punishment on himself. Everyone who searches for God finds Him. This is what the Bible teaches. Man messed up and God made a way back to restoration. What is unjust about this?

      “And, you can’t excuse god from being the torturer. If a place of conscious, eternal torment exists and he made it, he is responsible for what happens there.”

      I think you have a very inaccurate conception of what hell actually is as expressed by the Bible. I’m assuming you imagine a lake filled with fire that has torture stations built into it where angels are committing heinous acts against those within. Well this type of hell is a highly contentious issue in Christianity and there are many given examples why hell can’t be a place like that (e.g it can’t be a place of complete darkness and fire because fire creates light, how are worms supposed to live in a lake of fire…etc). I’ve already explained that for God to give man choice, He had to create an option for them to reject Him, a place away from His influence, namely hell. Maybe you dislike that God gave mankind the power of choice (can you tell I’m not a Calvinist?), but that was God’s choice, not yours and you couldn’t possibly understand if it was worth it because your perspective is limited. The torment experienced by men will be the absence of God’s influence. Rather you have a place filled with only the Lucifer, his followers, and all of mankind that rejected God. What a horrible place!

      “You forgot to include millions that have never heard of him and have no idea who he is.” I did not. The Bible teaches that all mankind is guilty and without excuse. Those who truly seek God find Him. There are a few sound theological stances and explanations of this issue that go well beyond the reasonableness of a discussion forum to explain. I will suffice to say that the Bible says that all men are without excuse. No one will stand in front of God on judgement day and complain of injustice. This is what the Bible teaches.

      “You also said, “and if you open the gates of hell, they will shut them from within.”. This is standard apologetic spin. Nowhere does the bible indicate anything like this. The “sinners” inside hell do not keep the doors shut. The deity that sends people there keeps the gate shut. Your statement is yet another ploy to relieve the god of the bible of the responsibility of his actions.”

      Perhaps you are right. I admit I may be wrong on this point but its what I believe based on my study of the Bible.

      Romans 1:28-32
      “28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

      They are God-haters in a downward spiral. This is just one of many places in the Bible that expresses how much mankind hates God and rejects His rule over their lives. This is what salvation is all about. Correcting this state. If people reject Him here on earth, I see little reason why they would they change in eternity. But even if I am wrong, it matters little. The Bible says people have full opportunity to accept God’s restoration for their lives while on this earth.

      Obviously you have to believe in the Bible to accept my position. If you don’t, then I think your energies are better spent disproving the Christian’s trust in the Bible 🙂

      It has been nice discoursing with you. You may have the final words.

      Reply
      • David says:

        And finally you parrot Paul’s ad hominem attack (Romans 1:28-32) on those that don’t accept his belief system. I don’t know what else to say.

        Reply
        • Josef Kauzlarich says:

          I’m sorry I must say one more thing to this statement. How is it a personal attack? Who was Paul attacking? No one. If you took the time to understand this passage you would know he was describing the human condition. He would include himself in this description! Please read a passage thoroughly before offering criticism!

          Reply
  3. David says:

    So these verses, “30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.”, describe everyone that is not a Christian? This is not a polemic against Paul’s opponents? Sounds more to me like Paul has exhausted his argument, become frustrated and resorted to personal attacks.

    Reply
  4. Josef Kauzlarich says:

    David, remember to consider context. When you read Romans, you aren’t reading isolated verses. You are reading a letter. Romans is Paul’s masterpiece for laying out God’s plan of salvation. The letter wasn’t written to attack anyone nor would it have reached any unbelievers purposefully. Look at Chapter two directly after:

    “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.”
    ‭‭Romans‬ ‭2:1-11‬ ‭NLT‬‬
    http://bible.com/116/rom.2.1-11.nlt

    Here in chapter 2, Paul was speaking to Jewish people who thought they were justified before God simply because they were Jewish. He was telling them that they were in fact included in the previous description in chapter 1 and were not saved by their genetics. He was pointing out the human condition, our global problem that no one is exempt from. He wasn’t attacking anyone. And why would he be putting attacks in a letter that no one outside the church would even read? It makes zero sense. Why bother writing an attack no one would read but those who weren’t included in his description? Paul was describing all humanity in Romans 1, not those who aren’t Christians.

    Reply

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