“You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your god, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:4-5)
I REMEMBER the first time I told my best friend that I wasn’t going to date that girl after all. His reaction – a stark mix of indignation, confusion, and utter disbelief – was among the most incredulous I’ve ever seen in my life.
So… you like her?
And she likes you?
And you’re not gonna date her.
She’s not a Christian.
To my non-believing best friend, the refusal to even attempt to date a girl who I clearly liked, who clearly liked me, simply for her religious beliefs, seemed like the most bigoted thing I could do, and not only that – it fit in so cleanly with the “prude Christian” stereotype that it couldn’t help but reinforce the idea in his head that all Christians were just stuck-up self-righteous brats.
And it’s not like I gained some kind of emotional high after rejecting a relationship with a girl who I really thought I would otherwise come to develop strong feelings for. Sometimes I still mull over that decision in my head, and wonder what it would have been like had I not chosen the way that I eventually chose to go. But I don’t regret it. I don’t ever regret it. And the reasoning is simple.
It’s because I have a far more important love affair in my life – my relationship with God. Jealous God.
What has always made Christianity different from every other faith on this Earth is this crazy belief that we can have an intimate love relationship with our Creator. And this love relationship means that, just like the relationships we have with the people we love, entails sacrifice.
It means that I view dating as a reflection of God’s relationship with his church, and therefore will seek partners in my life that will further my commitment to God in this order: even if it reduces my dating “pool,” so to speak, to a fraction of what it already is. We date because we want our dating relationship to be about glorifying God, not seeking external pleasure. Not like I’m gonna pretend that this comes easy to me, especially being the high-minded romantic that I am. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. (I recognize that that’s a very loaded sentence, and I will take care not to dive in at the moment :P) But when it comes down to the big decisions, I’ve always tried to make them with a Jealous God on my mind. My partner should reinforce, rather than distract from, the most important relationship in my life.
My thoughts of furthering my relationship, and keeping my mind fixed on God extend far beyond just the dating realm, however. Worshipping my God means that I try to maintain my commitment to temperance, knowing that I can’t serve both God and alcohol, man’s ultimate idol (and a problem within my family). It means that I do my best not to curse in public, because a foul mouth speaks volumes to the people around me, none of which are edifying towards the Creator that I purport to serve.
Who is this Jealous God, so to speak? Sounds like He never lets me have any fun. I will admit, oftentimes I wrestle with these questions, over what I can and can’t do, over what a God jealous for my attention, seeking the fullness of my whole heart, demands of me.
Our culture is in the middle of a long march away from the idea of devotion. We want fun, we want pleasure, we want it now. As such, we tend to despise the idea of giving away things for now – casual dating, alcohol, and the f-bomb, to name a few – in pursuit of something greater. Think about it the way I write my novels. I spend years writing my novels (TRISK – A NEW BREED OF SPORT: AVAILABLE NOW AT www.triskbook.com). I could spend the wee hours of the morning doing so many other things – video games come salaciously to mind. But if I spend those hours doing that instead of cranking out another page or two, would I ever have a finished product that I am truly, truly proud of?
But does this jealous God deserve our devotion? Does God even have a right to demand the fullness of us? Any God that seems tied up in jealousy seems rather… petty, don’t you think? And to anyone else I would agree. But God is entirely a different story.
This Easter, we celebrate the risen God, Jesus Christ. But let us not forget, that within this amazing story of redemption, lies the moment of the most painful sacrifice ever wrought on this Earth. God, having loved His own Son Jesus since the dawn of time, sacrificed Him on the altar of the cross to pay for our sins. In agonizing ritual sacrifice, in painful horror He stared, knowing that no less than Jesus Christ would suffice to pay for the depth of our sinfulness, your sins and my sins. As the blood dripped from the nails in His hands, He watched Jesus call out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and let Him die. All because He loved you and me, and wants to see us in communion with Him, washed by Jesus’ blood on the cross. Maybe when we consider the breadth of the sacrifice of God (read: His own Son) to give us hope beyond Death, we can understand why God demands what He does of us. Why God is so jealous. A Father who gave so much for you and me would hate to see us reject Him.
Oh, God, how you never let go, even when I hated you and wanted nothing to do with you! I remember His hot pursuit of me in my darkest days, even when I rejected Him out of blind anger against my unpopularity in middle school, how he stuck with me even when I broke all my relationships out of spite, how he gently caressed me to sleep as I laid on my bed, crying because I was friendless and unloved. How He then lifted me up out of my hatred at the world, assuaged my deep-seated insecurity about my own social status. How He taught me – often dragging my petulant and self-absorbed body to class – that popularity within this world means nothing. That only He would bring me true joy.
Since then, I believe that following God has restored true joy in my life. Indeed, I feel most at peace, most enamored with the world and people around me when I am most enamored with God. In contrast, I feel most anxious when I find myself dipping into my desire for social status. Old habits die hard – I still return, sometimes, to the old me, to the me that saw the world as a zero-sum game, that saw fame as man’s only, sick and twisted, motive. But I’m grateful to God that that mentality no longer defines me, but that my salvation in Christ does.
It all seems so counterintuitive, that a God who loves us so much also demands from us our full and complete selves. But to me, it is the truth. Not only is it the truth, but it is a joy – a blessing beyond measure. It is my joy to serve God, to devote the entirety of my life to living for Him. He asks for our full attention because He knows that He alone is worth our full attention.
This I believe. Amen.