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Jealous Gods

A flippant schoolboy asked the vicar, “If God is jealous and jealousy is a sin, does that make God a sinner?” Hmmm….God and jealousy oversimplified! The original meaning of jealousy was not an enraged frenzy; it referred more to being zealous, and is derived from concepts meaning ardor and even to ferment, like yeast. But whatever its meaning, the intention is clear. When warning believers against worshiping other Gods, Exodus quotes “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me” (Exodus 20:5 NET Bible, 006).

Judaism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions. Monotheists invariably worship one Supreme God who is the Creator and eternal Lord of all. He is an all-powerful, all-wise, all-good rewarder and merciless punisher; the sole source of happiness and perfection. And that God is a jealous God. Only a monotheistic God could claim that. When more than one God is worshiped (polytheism), the deities are often portrayed with human foibles; they vary in status and origins, with their own specific powers and quirky capacities. They were often rivals, and none could demand exclusive adoration. Only a monolithic entity could exhibit the overpowering jealousy and overwhelming punishment described in Exodus 20:5.

But it is not only God that is recurrently jealous and punishing. Other monolithic entities can also be jealous: your nation, the military, employers, and political causes all demand unswerving loyalty. They chastise members who refuse to obey or ‘worship false Gods’ by colluding with enemies, conspiring with political, professional or commercial rivals. And God help those who whistle-blow, aaaagggghhh snitch!

So to some degree we all serve green-eyed Gods! But our responses to them differ. Lawrence Kohlberg identified six stages of moral development that motivate our compliance (Simply Psychology). In Stage 1, where we all start as infants, rules are seen as being safe and unqualified; obedience avoids punishment. At Stage 2, in childhood we begin to realize differences and learn to negotiate to get what we want. During Stage 3 we develop a sense of what “good boys” and “nice girls” must do to be rewarded. With Stage 4, we orientate toward doing one’s duty and respecting authority for the general good. Stage 5 brings the conviction that it is OK to sometimes disobey rules that are inconsistent with personal values and to work for laws to be changed. The rare Stage 6 is based on the highly-principled conscience of those who follow only their own ethical principles by denying the legitimacy of official laws and rules and defying authority.

However we respond to jealous gods or possessive organizations, it is personal jealousies that bother us most: jealousy we inflame in someone else or feel because of somebody. Jealousy stems from resentment at being left out. Our own jealousy can be tackled by relinquishing that resentment. In his article “10 Steps to Letting Go of Resentment” (Psychology Today), Mark Sichel defines resentment as “repetitively replaying a feeling, and the events leading up to it that goads or angers us.” (Aha, as in fermenting like yeast….). And to help prevent others from angrily fermenting like yeast, we can make sure we do not leave them out.

By Richard Holdsworth, Realms of the Day

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