Today (Happy Thanksgiving!!) we’re continuing the trek through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. So far we’ve covered some positives, but the third quality starts into the “is not” stuff. These get sticky!
We’ve covered God is patient, though perhaps you left unconvinced. We’ve covered God is helpfully kind, and while maybe you weren’t 100% on board I think that one lends beautifully — or painfully, depending on your frame of reference — into this one. Of the 15 aspects given in verses 4 through 7 a full eight, a slight majority, are “is not”. This is because knowing what a thing isn’t greatly informs the context of what it is. So with that let me jump into one you also won’t believe… Be thankful?
God is not jealous
Here’s a tough one, because right there in Exodus 34:14 it says it: His very name is Jealous and that He is a jealous God. He’s called a jealous God quite a lot in the Bible, actually. So our experiment ends here, right? Well, no. See, this is a bad translation in the NLT. The Greek word used here is ζηλόω, zeloo, and it actually refers to envy, not jealousy. Maybe you’ve never stopped to consider the difference between these two words but it’s critical, so let’s do that. In our modern language the two are used more or less interchangeably (thus the error in some translations), but they are vastly different meanings, and melding them causes worlds of confusion in our relationships.
Jealousy is a feeling about something already considered yours; your spouse, your car, your cash, your job. It is the desire not to share, or to defend from others who would take. In fantasy lore dragons jealously guard their treasure against being stolen. That idea ports pretty well to the Lord of all creation. How? Because His jealousy is over us, His portion, and His jealousy is His irritation that we build ourselves other gods to serve. But His jealousy is not that of a man fearful of losing his wife. No, the jealousy of God is frustration that we pull ourselves down and reject Him, that we hold our self-condemnation so much closer than we hold Him. That we wander from His Love. In that context jealousy is actually a good thing, and in fact I would argue that jealousy is not innately bad. We should have attachments to our families that drive us to guard our time with them, guard our relationships with them. Can you get carried away with jealousy? Sure. But it is not innately good or bad; how you use it determines that.
Envy, on the other hand, is a feeling toward someone who has something you don’t. It goes beyond desire or simple coveting and into rage, and while it is not always cruel it is never positive. Envy wishes not just to have, but to deprive; to remove the thing you crave from the person who has it. Love cannot be envious because by nature it is satisfied with what it has and even wants to share it. God cannot envy because it’s all His, anyway! There is no one for Him to deprive because He has it all already, and no one else has anything for Him to take.
Mine! Mine! Mine!
Many read that — that everything is God’s — and feel the twinge of resentment at it. Irritation that He is so selfish, so ready to remind us we have nothing. So ready to shackle us with subjection to Himself. And who is He, anyway, to deserve all this fealty He demands? Admit it. Ok, well if you won’t I will. There is a deep rejection in me of authority. I demand control of my life, I require reigns over my destiny. Sure I cede ownership to God, but I really don’t like it most of the time. I rail against it in every way I can.
But here’s the thing: that is a learned response. We learn very early in our lives that if we get angry enough, or loud enough, we get what we want. So we stomp our feet at Father and scream our demands.When He fails to yield we label Him an aggressor to justify the rebellion we were trained to act out by the little serpent. “Did God really have the audacity to forbid you?” he asked Eve. He asks us the same every day: “what if you could be your own god?”
The Cult of Personality
It is in the rehearsal of answering that very “what if?” that we can see it is our own envy of God’s sovereignty that stirs the rebellion, not His use of it. We don’t want Him to have the reigns because that means we have to trust something external, and we do NOT trust that something external could possibly have our interests at heart. And really, isn’t our interest the only thing that matters?
Hurts, right? Yeah, I’m not crazy about it, either, but I have to admit it’s in there. This is why we live in a dying society: most people care more about themselves and what they believe are their interests than anyone else. That dysfunction, when not forcibly confronted, leads to what we have today: a world in which most people don’t even really register that other people are living, breathing humans. We attack each other as though we think everyone else is a video game bad guy; unreal, unfeeling, and inconsequential. We have people who can eat other people or shoot a room full of them because those aren’t really people to them.
The value of human life can only be learned when we shut off the internal and truly see externally. When we seek not those who can be chresteuomai to us, but to whom we can be chresteuomai.
Give a Little Bit of Your Love to Me
I know, I made this more about me than God, but if we are to cease the rebellion we have got to truly grok that God does not envy us. He doesn’t want what we have. All He wants is our Love and our understanding of that. He wants us to know He Loves us and does have our interests at heart. He seeks to help us. We don’t like His help, usually, but that’s not because it isn’t chresteuomai; it’s because we know He’s right and our envy of His power rejects it.
Today I am thankful for you. I am thankful you read this far, I am thankful you are in my life. I am thankful He is patient. I am thankful I am His and not my own. I am thankful for the knowledge He is not envious, even though I still resist it. Hopefully you’ll stick with me for tomorrow; it’s a doozy!