God’s Petty Jealousy?

Dr. Jeff Myers

Dr. Jeff MyersOprah used to be a Baptist until she heard a pastor describe God as “jealous.” Merriam-Webster defines “jealous” as “intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness.” It’s not a bad characteristic, but it’s also not something people brag about: “What an amazing person—she’s so jealous!” Oprah’s theology doesn’t allow for negative vibes created by words like jealousy, so she walked away from a belief of Jesus as savior.

But maybe Oprah is right to be concerned. Scripture does describe God as jealous. In fact, just after the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, Genesis 3:22 says, “And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’” Why would God be defensive — is He really so weak that He is afraid of a little competition from Adam? And later, in Genesis 11, God confuses the language of the people because they are on the brink of becoming so powerful that “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”

In describing jealousy in relation to God, Webster’s 1828 dictionary — the really good Websters dictionary — defines “jealous” as “anxiously careful and concerned for.” Maybe it’s not that God is defensive about having competition—it’s that He sees clearly the consequences of man’s actions and wants to protect him. This is the theme explored by Summit counselor Todd LeBarge of the Bara Initiative in his video “The Evil God.”

I was reminded of this principle once again over Christmas break as I was reading Sylvia Nasar’s Grand Pursuit on the history of economics (I know, I know…not exactly the typical vacation page-turner). In it Nasar tells the story of the American economist, entrepreneur, and health nut Irving Fisher. His ideals led him in a variety of directions, from the nitty-gritty of economics, to the invention of the Rolodex, to work in fighting against tuberculosis, to the support of Prohibition.

Fisher was an out-of-control optimist when it came to his belief in human potential. In 1925 he wrote,

The world is gradually awakening to the fact of its own improvability. Political economy is no longer the “dismal science,’ teaching that starvation wages are inevitable from the Malthusian growth of population, but is now seriously and hopefully grappling with the problem of abolition of poverty. In like manner hygiene, the youngest of the biological studies, has repudiated the outworn doctrine that mortality is fatality, and must exact a regular and inevitable sacrifice at its present rate year after year.

All well and good. A positive thinker who inspires people to see their true potential. But where did this belief lead him?

Fisher became one of the founders and the first president of the American Eugenics Society, which is now seen as the inspiration behind the racial purification program of Adolph Hitler. Hitler himself said in Mein Kampf, “There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States…I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.” (see “The History of Eugenics in the United States” for a thorough description)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the American Eugenics Society is responsible for the holocaust. But its ideas were based on the belief that humans have enough knowledge and information to “guide” the process of “evolution” and reach higher and better levels of society. And ideas have consequences.

Fisher lost everything in the 1929 stock market crash. So did many of his comrades in the “improvability” movement. Was it a 20th century version of the Tower of Babel—protecting humans from themselves?

If human beings, even with their good intentions, always end up being evil, then it is an indication of God’s mercy that He stops from mankind from doing everything they want to do.