It happened eighteen years ago. But, I remember it well. Chad and I were long-distance emailers. I guess that’s the most you could say about our relationship at the time. We had been friends for several years, but he graduated from college and moved away to Nashville. In true star-crossed-lovers fashion, he confessed some sort of “like” for me just before he moved fourteen hours away.
Email was new technology for us, and since we couldn’t really afford to talk on the phone we wrote pages and pages of emails to each other. I still remember the sound of the dial-up internet cranking up while I waited anxiously to see if I had a new message from him.
He couldn’t know it, but by the time the end of the first summer had rolled around, I was madly in love with him. I tried to act nonchalant about it all, as if I could take or leave him, and maybe that’s how I opened the door for Tanya.
The sound of her name still makes my blood boil.
I knew something was wrong. His emails were short. His tone was strained. A few days later he confessed that he had made grilled cheese sandwiches in his rotting little house on Chamberlin Street for a girl named Tanya, and afterward he walked her to the car and she kissed him. Yes, he kissed her back.
I kept up the it’s-really-none-of-my-business-what-you-do act, but inside I was crushed. I was furious. And I wanted to give this girl Tanya a piece of my mind. Don’t worry, I didn’t. I never met her. He decided he would never see her again, the emailing marathon continued, and a few months later we were officially dating. A few months after that, we were engaged. And, here we are, married for fifteen years, with three kids and an amazing life.
And, I still feel jealous when I think of Tanya.
Why do I feel that way? Well, it’s because I love Chad. I love him so much that my heart is repulsed at the idea of him loving (or even liking) anyone else.
I remember when Oprah famously said that she decided to reject the teachings of her church-going childhood because she heard a pastor rightly state that God is a jealous God. It’s written in Exodus 38:14 (among other places in Scripture). God is laying out his covenant with Israel, and he makes it clear that He expects absolute loyalty and a singular focus from the Israelites: “For you shall worship no other God, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
I suppose Oprah heard these words, and with the shallow and ungrounded theology she had been taught, she imagined God as an abusive husband, keeping his wife locked inside, spying on her, ready to step in at any moment to knock her down. She must have pictured an insecure, small God.
But, thankfully, we don’t get to make up in our own minds who God is. Scripture is perfectly clear that God is holy, perfect, without flaw or fault. There is no ounce of insecurity or pettiness in Him. Does He love us deeply and demand our fidelity in return? Or course.
But, this demand is born of His love, not an imagined insecurity. John MacArthur describes God’s desire to see us fulfill our purpose for living, which is to know Him: “God says I tolerate no rivals. You were made to know Me. You are Mine. I made you for that purpose. I tolerate no intruders.” He doesn’t intend to share His people with other gods or lesser objects. MacArthur goes on to say that even just failing to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength is an indication that we have placed other things on a higher plane than Him. And, in His sovereignty, in His rightness, in His holiness, He has every cause to burn with jealousy when that happens.
God’s jealousy is nothing like an abusive husband’s. It’s not even like an emailing eighteen year-old’s. His jealousy is borne of holiness, a demand for complete devotion, and a desire to see us live out our full potential as His creation: people who know Him well, and who love Him completely.
I don’t know if I personally will ever stop feeling jealous when I think about that kiss-stealing Tanya girl. But, I do know that I have, for all these years, felt great satisfaction in knowing that I won him in the end. I suppose tonight the question on my mind is just what it is in my life that is keeping me from running to God with all of my heart, all of my mind, all of my soul, all of my strength? What in my little world inspires jealousy in my God?
I know God wins me in the end. I am safe in His hand and can never be snatched out of it. (John 10:29) But, will the lesser objects that interfere with my love for Him keep me from living out the fullness of this life? A life that is meant to glorify God?
His name is Jealous. His love is fierce. His devotion is complete.
May I tear down the idols in my life with both hands. He is jealous for me.