Sinners in the Hands of a Jealous God – Interview with Erik Thoennes
The jealousy of God? Now that is not a divine attribute you hear about at church on Sunday! Yet, despite its neglect, the jealousy of God is an attribute that pervades the pages of Scripture. In this interview in the new issue of Credo Magazine, Matthew Barrett, executive editor, talks to Erik Thoennes about what Scripture has to say about God’s jealousy and what implications it has for the Christian life.
Erik Thoennes (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Professor of Theology and Chair of Undergraduate Theology at Biola University/Talbot School of Theology, and a pastor at Grace Evangelical Free Church, La Mirada, California. He is the author of Godly Jealousy: A Theology of Intolerant Love (Christian Focus), and Life’s Biggest Questions: What the Bible Says About the Things That Matter Most (Crossway).
Here is the start of the Feature Interview: “Sinners in the Hands of a Jealous God”
For many today, the word “jealousy” is always a bad one. For example, one thinks of the abusive boyfriend who frantically loses control because he is consumed with jealousy. However, you’ve written a whole book on “godly jealousy.” Tell us, then, how is jealousy in God not only good but necessary and essential to who God is and what he does?
In Exodus 34:14-15, it is written, “For you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” To understand why God would call himself jealous, and even intensify this description by turning it into one of his divine names, we need to see Exodus 34:14-15 in its biblical context. This is also true for the hundreds of other times God declares or displays his jealousy in the Bible. While all human words are frail and limited in describing God, we need to allow God’s verbal revelation to hold the power and meaning he intends for it to have.
“Jealous” is actually a very good English word to translate the Hebrew word kana in Exodus 34. Depending on the context, kana (as well as the Greek equivalent zelos) can also be translated “zeal” or “envy” in other places in the Bible. Zeal is a general strong feeling to see something come about. Envy is a desire to gain possession of something that does not belong to you, and it is always sinful. Jealousy is a strong desire to maintain relational faithfulness which you believe does belong to you. Jealousy can be sinful if it is unwarranted or expressed in wrong ways, but it can also be an entirely appropriate and righteous emotion. We don’t usually make a distinction between envy and jealousy, which contributes to the public relations problem jealousy has. God is righteous and loving when he demands exclusive faithfulness from his covenant people. Because God rightly loves his own glory, and graciously loves us, he demands that we worship and serve him above all. In human history, God is most glorified by the undivided devotion of his redeemed people, and his ultimate jealousy for his glory demands this devotion. If he did not care when we love idols more than him, he would allow himself to be dishonored and let us settle for so much less than we are intended to have from life. God’s jealous love demands the best of us and our relationships.
Read the rest of this interview today!
Looking back on the first half of the twentieth century, H. Richard Niebuhr famously described liberal Christianity’s understanding of the gospel like this: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Such a mentality has had its influence and still does today. There are certain Bible stories that you just don’t talk about, not even in church. For many people today, Bible stories having to do with divine wrath, anger, or jealousy are embarrassing. And yet, no matter how uncomfortable they make you feel, it is nearly impossible to get through a book (sometimes a chapter!) of the Bible without coming face to face with these forgotten attributes of God. In a culture that capitalizes on tolerance and love, a focus on divine judgment is considered harsh, even primitive. Gordon Rupp’s words still speak today when he said, “What it means to feel oneself under the Wrath of God is something that modern man can hardly understand.”
Though unpopular to do so, this issue of Credo Magazine aims to make you, the modern reader, feel the weight of these biblical attributes of God. They are forgotten attributes of God, no doubt about it. But our desire is that by the end of this issue you will see just how important these attributes are to the story of redemption and for knowing God in a saving way. As has often been said, it is impossible to relish the grace of God in the cross of Christ unless you first understand the condemnation you sit under as a rebel.
Contributors include Bruce Ware, David Murray, Erik Thoennes, Matthew Barrett, Fred Zaspel, Daniel Hyde, Cornelius Tolsma, Jessalyn Hutto, Michael A.G. Haykin, and many others.