Note: You may want to read the previous post, Jealous Seas?, before reading this one.
Having moved to Maryland when I was seven months pregnant with my daughter, I didn’t get the kind of time with her as a newborn that I’d hoped to have. The cost of living was much higher, and the townhome my husband and I bought cost almost twice as much as the single family home we’d sold in southern West Virginia. We needed two incomes to make ends meet, so when the school year began as she turned five weeks old, I accepted a half-time position that paid about the same salary I made as a full-time teacher in West Virginia.
Given the circumstances, the job was the best of both worlds, and since the county hired few English teachers that summer, I knew that I was fortunate to have gotten it. But in the beginning, I jealously guarded my time with my daughter, planning and grading essays as she napped.
I’ve been thinking a lot in the past week or so about the word jealous. Jealousy has been the focus recently of the Old Testament readings in the Common Lectionary that I follow each day. The readings have included a recounting of the commandment that says, “the Lord your God is a jealous God,” as well as stories about people who are destroyed with their idols in volatile scenes of an affronted God exacting vengeance.
While I always explore the context in which Bible stories were written, my more natural instinct is to think about how the stories speak to my life. And so a few days ago I had these readings in the back of my mind when I wrote the previous post. I thought about how unpleasant it feels to be the woman at my office door or to be my 20-something self. I know what it’s like to be a lonely person looking for love and companionship. And I know what it’s like to be consumed with jealousy when the affection and love that ought to be mine are given to someone else.
I didn’t write about the texts then, though, because it’s taken me a few more days to wrap my head around the part jealousy plays in those holy texts. I can’t quite see God as jealous, though I’ll admit that, like all humans, I see God “through a glass darkly.” Perhaps, I thought to myself as I wrote that blog post, I’m limiting God because I don’t want to place my faith in a being that seems too much like the capricious gods of Greek mythology.
And then it occurred to me that not once in the four Gospels is there a story of Jesus behaving in such a way. The only story that even comes close is when he angrily turns over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. But he doesn’t attack the merchants for worshiping the idol of money. Instead, he says, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it into a den of robbers.” That ends the story. No destroying the money. No killing the idolaters. Unlike the God of the Old Testament, he just seems to walk away and leave the people in his wake to think about what they’ve done.
On more than one occasion Jesus tells the disciples that anyone who is not against him is for him. Not once does he threaten or frighten people into accepting his beliefs. And not once does he rail against the gods of other faiths. He isn’t angry that they’re worshiping money. He’s angry that greed drives them to take advantage of others in their own house of worship.
Then it occurred to me that the word jealous has two meanings. The Old Testament God who smites the people who worship idols certainly seems to fit the most common meaning—characterized by suspicious fear or envious resentment. He behaves in ways that are similar to jealous lovers.
But the word jealous also characterizes the way I felt about my time with my daughter—vigilant and watchful in guarding something. Like most new mothers, whether they work outside the home or in the home, I was acutely aware of the importance of my time with her. I guarded it jealously, and I grew a bit resentful when student essays or dirty laundry encroached on my time with her.
That kind of jealousy is an important trait for any parent to possess. And that kind of jealous God I can understand. Though my daughter is almost 27 now, I still guard my time with her jealously. But over time, I had to let go—let her walk away, let her have her own life, her own time with all the people she loves. But in spirit I know—and she knows—that I’ll be with her always, even to the end of the world.
And when I think about that, I can believe in a jealous God.
So tell me a story of your jealousies.