The Jealousy of God (Reading Paul Copan Together)

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Reading Paul Copan

Paul Copan was more patient than I might have been in his chapter on the jealousy of God. He opens with three mini-vignettes:

Recall Richard Dawkins’s put-down of God, claiming that he breaks into a “monumental rage whenever his own chosen people flirted with a rival god.” Popular TV icon Oprah Winfrey said that she was turned off to the Christian faith when she heard a preacher affirm that God is jealous. Bill Maher of Religulous fame (or infamy) has said much the same thing—that being jealous about having other gods before you just isn’t “moral.”

Copan takes his time explaining what God’s jealousy is about. There is good jealousy and bad jealousy. Bad jealousy is the emotional pain of selfish relational desires going unfulfilled. Good jealousy is that of “a concerned lover,” rising up in defense of a covenant relationship, for the good of the other person and the strengthening of the covenant.

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. Outrage, pain, anguish—these are the appropriate responses to such a deep violation

The jealousy of God is good

Jealousy is not always immoral. God’s jealousy is good because of what he is protecting with it. First, a relationship:

God is an engaging, relational God who attaches himself to humans. He desires to be their loving Father and the wise ruler of their lives…. God’s love is that of a passionate husband…. [who] would so deeply connected himself to human beings that he would open himself to sorrow and anguish in the face of human betrayal and rejection.

This is where skeptics can be expected to rise up and complain, “He assumes he should be the one people would love and worship. Who does he think he is, anyway—God or something?” No, God doesn’t think he’s God. He knows he is, with a far more direct and certain knowledge than any of us could possibly have in knowing anything at all. He knows his own goodness and love, and he knows that those who wander away from him do it to their own harm.

Flirting with deception with deception and death

For there is no other God or gods. When God’s people flirted with a rival god, they were flirting with deception and death. Rival gods are all lies.

What parent wouldn’t be furious at a drug pusher meeting his teenager on the doorstep? God’s anger is analogous. Rival gods and drugs are both deceptive detours, promising fulfillment but leading in deadly directions instead. An even better analogy, though, would be if the teenager told his mom and dad, “I’m disowning you as parents–my pusher will be my dad now.” This teen would be rejecting the relationship while choosing death. Would the parents rise up in anger? I hope so!

At the same time, they might ask the child what they did wrong to deserve this rejection. God asks, too.

What fault do we find in God?

“What fault did your ancestors find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols
and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD,
who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness,
through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness,
a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.”

On our own terms

The fault some find in God, as Copan points out in this chapter, is that they don’t want a God. “Critics like the New Atheists tend to create a false dichotomy between God’s gracious rule and human well-being.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that “the chief end of many is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Copan says,

The chief goal of many individuals is “to further my interests and enjoy myself forever. Or if God exists, then … “The chief end of God is to make me as comfortable and pain-free as possible…. Philosopher Thomas Nagel has admitted he doesn’t want there to be a God…. we’re back to the problem of denying reality to advance our own agendas.

(That problem appeared in the previous chapter of this book.)

They don’t want a relationship with the One who stretches out his hands toward us all in love. They don’t want to worship the majesty of an unimaginably great God. They don’t want to have to experience his infinite love, because they would have to do it on his terms, not their own. They choose rejection over a loving relationship, deception over reality.

God’s goodness is not contradicted by his jealousy over this. It is demonstrated. He couldn’t be a good God if he didn’t care about it.

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