In an age where casual encounters and short term relationships are common, jealousy is a common emotion. Absent fathers have to witness other men bringing up their children and living with their wives. Wives worry about husbands working late or spending nights away from home. Quite often the response to jealous emotion is to give your partner something to be jealous about too, so a chain reaction of inappropriate behaviour is set up where everyone’e emotions become chaotic and self-destructive. So where does jealousy come from and can it ever be a good thing?
Jealousy is a natural instinct within us and is even a characteristic of God. Exodus 20.5 says: “I, the lord your God, am a jealous God.” Paul, too, tells the Corinthians “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.” (2 Cor 11.2) So if it’s part of the saintly experience, jealousy must be a good thing. A loving husband who witnesses the ways of his errant wife will want to bring her back into his arms to protect her. When the motives are for the good of the recipient, jealous emotion can be a useful way to express caring and concern.
The downside is that in the absence of good motives, this type of jealousy can become distorted and unhelpful, perhaps even turning nasty and violent. Because of this, more often than not jealousy is seen as a negative quality, as a tool for controlling partners rather than helping them. Someone who seeks the freedom to do whatever they want, regardless of right, will not want to be constrained by a jealous partner.
But when God expressed His jealousy, it was to show His wish to bring His people into safe custody. It’s a jungle out there and sometimes we all need to be protected by someone who cares for us. So when we experiment with false idols, abandon our devotion to the Almighty, we arouse His need to protect us. In such a case, jealous possessiveness is that quality which ensures we stay on track. Under the umbrella of a strong faith, it’s the glue to a healthy family life and positive religious commitment.