If jealousy is a sin, then why does God say He is a jealous God?
Great question. Not understanding this distinction was Oprah's point of departure from orthodox Christianity, when she heard that God is a jealous God, and her reaction was, "What? God is jealous of me?"
There is a difference between holy jealousy and sinful jealousy.
Holy jealousy means that one is appropriately possessive of something that belongs to him or her. For example, I am not willing to share my husband's heart or body with any other woman because he is mine. I'm happy to share his gifts and energies with the body of Christ and the larger world, and I even love to see that happen, but I want his heart and soul to be exclusively mine. That is a kind of holy and entirely appropriate jealousy.
Sinful jealousy is the desire to have something that doesn't belong to us; another word is envy. When we want something God has not given to us, such as other people's fame, or material goods, or a job, or favor, or a spouse, that is a sin. Sometimes we see this in a jealous person who wants all the attentions of their loved one to be directed to themselves. I have seen people who fly into a rage when they learn that their spouse or significant other has talked on the phone with anyone, or had any kind of conversation with a third person. Such a jealous person desires to have a level of exclusivity that doesn't belong to them.
God exhibits holy jealousy because our love and adoration rightfully belong to Him; He is jealous with a holy jealousy when we love and worship false gods in idolatry. His kind of jealousy is not sinful because we belong to Him and He created our hearts to belong to Him as well.
For a fuller description of these ideas, check out these articles at GotQuestions.org and Bible.org:
Why Is God a Jealous God? [www.gotquestions.org/jealous-God.html]
A Jealous God [bible.org/seriespage/jealous-god]
Hope you find this helpful.
© 2009 Probe Ministries
About the Author
Sue Bohlin is an associate speaker with Probe Ministries. She attended the University of Illinois, and has been a Bible teacher and conference speaker for over 35 years. She is a frequent speaker for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Connections), and serves on the board and as a small group leader of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered outreach to those dealing with unwanted homosexuality. Sue is on the Bible.org Women's Leadership Team and is a regular contributor to Bible.org's Tapestry Blog. She is also a professional calligrapher and the webmistress for Probe Ministries; but most importantly, she is the wife of Dr. Ray Bohlin and the mother of their two grown sons. Her personal website is suebohlin.com.
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Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.
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