“For I, the LORD, am a jealous God …”
As someone engaged in public theology, from time to time I hear that this is a troubling and problematic idea for some people.
I get it. It seems petty and vengeful and tyrannical. A God demanding our attention. And yeah, honestly, that’s probably how a lot of the ancient Hebrews understood it too. Is it too shocking that primitive people, whose culture saw gods as capricious reflections of petty human characteristics, should see their God any differently? Our understanding of God expands as our culture, our worldview and perspective, evolves.
So maybe I’m projecting my modern, progressive sensibility backward onto an ancient text. (I’d argue that that is EXACTLY what we’re supposed to do. That’s what makes scripture a “living” text. It speaks to us where we are…)
My understanding of God as Love can interpret those difficult passages about divine jealousy thru the lens of love. Not a jealousy that crushes people. Not a jealousy that is petty and throws tantrums. Not an ego-driven jealousy. But a jealousy the LONGS for us, YEARNS for intimate connection with us, and keenly FEELS the absence when we distance ourselves from God.
In this light, that jealousy becomes an invitation.
It is the image of outstretched arms, waiting for us to walk into that embrace, to be enfolded in love. Think of that image Jesus uses of the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, a parent who indulges his children, lets them go off and do what they want, lets us go on our rebellious adventures, and all the while is watching and waiting for our return. And then RUNS to meet us with open arms.
THAT’S the jealousy I see. A love so deep, so profound, so ATTACHED to us, longing for us. A jealousy that invites me back every time I get distracted by some shiny new thing and temporarily wander off. Always waiting, always eager for my return — longing for MY attention and MY embrace.
Yeah, that’s a modern take on an ancient text, and yes, you can find Scripture that contradicts that view, but I interact with God as a modern person. I interpret scripture through modern eyes (just like Jesus did). And isn’t that a much better read?