Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jealousy: The Vengeance of the Virtue

by CWK

Jealousy has a bad reputation. We almost never use the word ‘jealous’ in a positive sense. I can prove it: if a woman said to you, “My husband is jealous...” -- how would you respond? Almost all of us would take that as a bad thing: we'd instinctively say, “Sorry to hear that.” I want to do 2 things, and only two things, with the following diatribe: 1) explore why we have a negative view of jealousy, and 2) present a positive view of jealousy as displayed in the character of God. Here we go.

There are two reasons why jealousy has developed a bad reputation.

REASON 1: Pagan virtues are taking over. Pagan virtues are all mild and negative in comparison with Christian virtues. 
C.S. Lewis took up the comparison between Christian and pagan ethics like this:

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness.  But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love.  You see what has happened?  A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance.  The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.  I do not thik this is the Christian virtue of Love.  The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.  We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. 

We have the impression that pagans were passionate, while Christians were tame; but, we are wrong; the reverse is the case: the pagan virtures are all tame; the Christian virtues are all wild, and dangerous. 

Christian virtues are passionate and complex; pagan virtues are stoic (stoicism is the most "moral" of all the pagan philosophies) and passionless; in paganism, passion is avoided. This explains why such virtuous dispositions as anger and jealousy are derided and avoided in our culture. As we become more pagan, we lose our passion, and we lose a sense of the wildness of true virtue. Consider Jesus; he wept; he was angry; he was jealous -- one moment his gentleness moved a prostitute to tears; the next, he rose like a skyscraper in rage against hypocrisy. Jesus careened forward in his earthly ministry with quick, wild, and  swaying passion -- like a midnight train which seems always about to jump the tracks, but never does -- and he lived true virtue in a passionless world. Jesus brought color to a grey world; he brought wildness to a tame world. 

Here's GK Chesterton's comparison of Christian v. Pagan virtues:

The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues, and those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome calls virtues of grace.  The pagan, or rational, virtues are such things as justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them.  The three mystical virtues which Christianity has not adopted, but invented, are faith, hope, and charity.  Now much easy and foolish Christian rhetoric could easily be poured out upon those three words, but I desire to confine myself to the two facts which are evident about them. The first evident fact (in marked contrast to the delusion of the dancing pagan)--the first evident fact, I say, is that the pagan virtues, such as justice and temperance, are the sad virtues, and that the mystical virtues of faith, hope, and charity are the gay and exuberant virtues. And the second evident fact, which is even more evident, is the fact that the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues, and that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in their essence as unreasonable as they can be.

Now, ask yourself -- what is the prime pagan virtue of our time? What is the attribute that we almost always name when we are complimenting someone in an offhand way? Listen to any casual conversation, and you will hear, “He is a nice guy/girl.” And jealousy is not nice: it is passionate, attached, afire. So, when the neutral dispassionate 'virtues' of paganism prevail, a passionate virtue like jealousy becomes a vice. By the way, if you think about the word nice as we use it in America in 2012, it is an essentially dispassionate word. We use it because we want to cast someone's action/character in a generically positive sense. It doesn't mean much; it is not very descriptive: i.e., it is a 'lazy' word, which fits right in with the passive dispassionate virtues of paganism. From Fowler's Modern English Usage:

The word nice is the great cause célèbre of meaning change in English. In medieval and Renaissance literature, nice (derived from Latin nescius meaning 'ignorant') has a wide range of generally unfavourable meanings such as 'foolish, stupid' and 'wanton, loose-mannered', and in some cases it is not possible to be sure which meaning was intended. The meanings to do with precision and fine distinctions (as in a nice point or distinction) arose in the 16th century, and are still in use, but they are now swamped by the generalized favourable use of nice to mean 'agreeable, pleasant': ex.'s: 
All her furniture is second-hand and rather nice—J. Rose, 1990
I have three children of my own now and I thought it would be nice to surprise them with the sugar mice on the tree, and also the chocolate cat—Catherine Cookson, 1990.
There is no doubt that nice is greatly overused in this meaning, and critics have some reason to call it a 'lazy word' (i.e. inducing laziness in its users). Many synonyms, often more apposite and stronger in meaning, are available (good, pleasant, enjoyable, fine, agreeable, satisfying, etc.) and it is often better to use them, but in conversation nice has established itself too well and too idiomatically for cautionary advice to have any real point...


Now, if you read, for example, the Psalms you cannot possibly think: Christianity is a 'nice' religion: this is a tame faith. You might have any thought BUT that; this is a stormy, passionate, almost dangerous, faith.

REASON 2: The Church has been feminized. Men are, of course, mostly to blame. We have left our post; we have been slack; we have forfeited leadership, and so we have left a vacuum; we have abdicated our responsibility; we have not been proactive; we have done something worse than doing just any thing: we have done nothing. Like Adam, we have looked away while the serpent was fast talking. But I don’t say that men are only to blame. Some men, after long years of being shouted down every time they have taken initiative – some men simply give up and go sit on the sideline.
Why do I say all this in a post on the Jealousy of God? I say this as a warning to us all. Where are we? What are the virtues we are striving for? Would any of us put jealousy on a list of admirable attributes? Probably not, and if not -- then, why not? This is a matter for self-examination, and repentance.
Let me take another example to show you what I mean. The other quality that is universally abhorred in our age is anger. We don’t like anger of any kind. So, when we read the Bible and find that on several occasions God is angry (see Psalm 7.11; Mark 3.5; John 2.13-18) – we don’t know what to do with it. How many of us can point to one occasion where we were righteously angry? This is another example of how paganism skews toward a passive and dispassionate set of virtues.

Back to jealousy. In Hebrew, annq = 'jealous.' All 5 occurences of this word in the OT refer to God: they are all found in Exodus and Deuteronomy:

Ex. 20:5:   "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
Ex. 34:14:   for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God--
Deut. 4:24"For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Deut. 5:9:   'You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
Deut. 6:15:  for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.

The other prominent Hebrew word for 'jealous' is the verb anq = 'to be jealous of.' This word is used frequently in the OT. Consider the array of uses, many referring to God: 

Gen. 26:14   ...for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines were jealous of him. 
Gen. 30:1   Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die." 
Gen. 37:11   And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.
 Num. 5:14   ...if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself,
Num. 5:30  ... or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the Lord, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. 
Num. 11:29   But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!" 
Num. 25:11   "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel, in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy.      
Num. 25:13   ....and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the sons of Israel.'" 
Deut. 32:16    "They made Him jealous with strange gods; With abominations they provoked Him to anger. 
Deut. 32:21    'They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation,

Here's a wonderful meditation on jealousy from an old friend that was sent out via email some years ago:

Deuteronomy says that our God is a jealous God: "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (4:24)."  Again in 5:9, "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God..."  One more time in 6:14-15, "You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God..."
What do we make of this?  Was the early church heretic Marcion right in saying that the God of the Old Testament seems to be a different God than the God of the New Testament?  Is Richard Dawkins right in citing verses like this to claim the God of the Bible is egotistic, snobby, archaic?
 We do have this concept in the NT as well.  Paul warned the church in Corinth, "Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?  We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Cor.10:22)."  James says boldly, "You adulteresses.  Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: 'He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us (4:4-5)."
 I think when the Bible talks about God's jealousy, it is the sort of jealousy Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.?  I believe this is the same jealousy that stirred Paul as shepherd of the bride of Christ, he was jealous with the Lord's jealousy for the Lord's bride."
I think we forget at times that the Holy Spirit is a person.  That is, He can become sorrowful, He can be hurt over harm done to him. Scripture talks in other places about not grieving the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is jealous for His people with the utmost godly jealousy.  She is His bride.  He loves her with a yearning deep within His bones. Would a husband not be jealous if his wife, his wife who he loved more than his own life, had another in pursuit of her...who whispered lies about him, who stole away her laughs and affection and her heart?  Friends, so it is with your Jesus.  He is jealous for you; you are His bride if you are His.  It is not a light matter when we so easily leave His presence and go have fun with other lovers.  It breaks His heart.  
The puritan Samuel Rutherford wrote to one of his congregants from prison, "I know that other lovers beside Christ are in suit of you, and your soul hath many wooers.  But I pray you make a chaste virgin of your soul, and let it love but one."  

Finally, here is Thomas Watson on the jealousy of God:

I the Lord thy God am a jealous God." The first reason why Israel must not worship graven images is, because the Lord is a jealous God, Exod. xxxiv. 14, "The Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." Jealousy is taken, 1. In a good sense, and so God is jealous for his people. 2. In a bad sense, and so God is jealous of his people... In a good sense; and so God is jealous for his people, Zech. i. 14, " Thus saith the Lord, I am jealous for Jerusalem, and for Zion, with a great jealousy." God hath a dear affection for his people, they are his delight, Isa. Ixii. 4. The apple of his eye, Zech. ii. 8. To express how dear they are to him, and how tender he is of them,—Nihil charius pupilla oculi, Drttsics. They are his spouse, adorned with jewels of grace ; they lie near to his heart. He is jealous for his spouse, therefore he will be avenged on them who go to wrong her, Isa. xlii. 13, " The Lord shall stir up jealousy like a man of war; he shall roar, he shall prevail against his enemies." What is done to the saints, God takes as done to himself, 2 Kings xix. 22, and the Lord will undo all them that afflict Zion, Zeph. iii. 19, " I will undo all that afflict thee."—2. Jealousy is taken in a bad sense, and so God is jealous of his people : and so it is taken in this commandment, ' I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.' I am jealous lest you should go after false gods, or worship the true God in a false manner ; lest you defile your virgin-profession by images. God will have his spouse to keep close to him, and not go after other lovers, Hos. iii. 3, " Thou shall not be for another man." God cannot bear a co-rival: our conjugal love, viz. a love joined with adoration and worship; it is heinous, after we have entered into a marriage-covenant with God, now to prostitute ourselves to an image. Idolatry is spiritual adultery, and God is a jealous God, be will avenge it; image-worship makes God abhor a people, Ps. Ixxviii. 58, 59, They moved him to jealousy with their graven images. When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel." Image-worship enrageth God, Prov. vi. 34... If God be a jealous God, let it be a word to such whose friends are... idolaters, and they are hated by their friends because they are of a different religion, and perhaps they cut off their maintenance from them. O remember, God is a jealous God! Better move your parents to hatred, than move God to jealousy ; their anger cannot do you so much hurt as God's; if they will not provide for you, God will, Ps. xxvii. 10, "When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.

Finally, some words from Chesterton on how virtue declines:

“The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.”