Feeling the Divine: Holy Jealousy

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

“I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.”

2 Corinthians 11:2-6

Reading Too Quickly
The first thing we read here is that Paul feels a divine jealousy. We sometimes read too quickly through our Bibles and don’t linger. There is something mysterious in this first sentence. What does it mean to feel a divine jealousy? To know the answer to this question, we first must probe the concept of divine jealousy. Then we look to how the finite human can experience a divine emotion.

Divine Jealousy
Something that is missing from most Bible studies is an understanding that God is uppermost in His own affections. After all, God is righteous and must value something in proportion to its worth. That which is infinitely valuable must be esteemed as such. To do otherwise would be injustice--improper. When God sees that His worth is not being esteemed rightly by others, He sees an injustice. We encounter this often throughout the Scriptures:

“You shall have no other gods before me. "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:3-6, emphasis mine)

“Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.” (Exodus 34:11-16, emphasis mine)

“Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24, emphasis mine)

In fact, the Lord says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (emphasis mine). When we read of God’s jealousy, we must realize that it is an integral component of His righteousness.

A Human with Divine Jealousy
When Paul says, “I feel a divine jealousy for you,” what does he mean? Paul has been commissioned as an “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13, cf. 1 Timothy 2:7). Paul was calling Gentiles to repentance. He was calling them out of polytheism—and more broadly, pluralism. In our day, we could easily see Paul as an apostle to the post-modern. He was calling people out of culture where many realities were affirmed to an objective reality. He was calling them out of happy ignorance (read agnosticism) to the plain truth of Christ. This was the whole point of his sermon in Athens:

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols…So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown [i.e., in ignorance], this I proclaim to you.”’” (Acts 17:16,22-23, emphasis mine)

Our post-modern society is no different. We laud ignorance by affirming all propositions as true. In so doing, we affirm nothing but our rebellion against truth (Romans 1:18). Paul is passionate to see plainly the truth of Christ. In this, God has allowed Paul to share in the divine passion for the exaltation of singular Truth. Many of these “super-apostles” with their brilliant speeches come saying, “Here is a Jesus to worship.” It doesn’t matter to these Corinthians if this Jesus that is proclaimed is the true Jesus; they affirm an idea without validating it. In this, they affirm too much. In fact, this is what happened to Eve. Eve was deceived because she affirmed the serpent’s statements as true without validating against what God had really said. Paul says the Corinthians are in danger of prostituting themselves out to many gods, to many christs. In the same way, the post-modern whores out themselves to many “truths” but will not stay sincerely and purely devoted to the truth, namely Jesus Christ. They may say that they serve Christ, but the question would then be, “How do you know that your christ is the true Christ?” Your understanding – your knowledge – must be based on the objective reality of Jesus Christ that is proclaimed plainly throughout Scripture. Propositions about Christ are not like springs on a trampoline that can be removed. Paul was not martyred for springs on a trampoline. No truth about Christ is optional, negotiable, or removable.

Do you, like Paul, have a divine jealousy for the church? Do you care if people are worshipping the true Jesus or a Jesus of their own construction? As RC Sproul said, “[I]f we are to desire God, it is imperative that we desire the God who is and not a god of our own imagination.” We are commanded by the true Christ that if we are to worship, we “must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

Many thanks to Allison for encouraging those around her to be truth-centered!