The Bible says that God is a jealous God; the Bible also says that God is love. Despite all this 1 Corinthians 13:4 says “love does not envy” (NKJV). So my question is: how can God be a jealous God and a God of love when the Bible says that love is not jealous?
I have already answered more or less the same question before and am copying and pasting (and slightly updating) that Q & A below.
If God is perfect, then why is he jealous? Jealousy does not seem like a positive characteristic to me.
This is a very good question. The answer I would give to this is similar to the one I would give if you were to ask about how a perfect God can have anger as part of his character. Both jealousy and anger do not easily fit into a human notion of perfection. I definitely see where your question is coming from. I too find it hard to think of jealousy as a positive emotion.
My response is this. I do not think that jealousy is evil or even negative, depending on how and why one holds this emotion. Like I said, anger is similar in that it is usually sinful in humans, but is not necessarily sinful in every case. Jealousy and anger are two emotions which humans only rarely experience without also having sinful thoughts or actions. There is such a thing as morally pure anger and morally pure jealousy. Let me give a couple of examples. If I observe an example of blatant racial prejudice or sexual abuse, it is absolutely right and even good to experience anger. Of course, the natural course such a feeling can run in humans is toward hatred, violence, fits of rage and so forth. The fact that the human emotion of anger can lead to sin does not make the emotion itself sinful. Bottom line racial prejudice and sexual abuse are evil and a response of revulsion and anger are appropriate for a godly person.
The same can be said for jealousy. I am married. I have made an oath and a commitment to my wife “until death do us part.” Such a commitment of love is a sacred thing. If my wife?s attention were to shift toward another man, or if I were to allow myself to become emotionally entangled with another woman, I like to think that jealousy would be aroused. It OUGHT to be aroused. If betrayal of a marriage vow does not arouse jealousy, then there is a serious problem. Similarly, God loves us, is committed to us, and holds to us with a jealous type of love. If we turn our back on him and begin to worship other false gods then it is righteous and good for him to feel the response of jealousy.
Is this circular reasoning? Am I arguing that jealousy is a good not an evil thing because God possesses this emotion and then using the fact that God possesses jealousy as proof that it is not a negative characteristic? You will have to judge this for yourself. However, I find that a certain kind of jealousy to protect one’s family from outside attack and inner betrayal is not a negative thing. I will admit that jealousy, like anger, almost always has negative sinful behavior associated with it when humans feel these emotions, but this does not prove that jealosy is sinful.
As support to this idea, let me mention Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin.” Here we see that anger, in and of itself, is not sinful. I will admit that I do not have a similar proof text such as “In your jealousy do not sin.” However, I believe that the analogy is legitimate. One thing I can say for sure is that the Bible writers are not at all embarrassed to declare that God is a jealous God when it comes to our devotion to him (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 5:9, Joshua 24:19.,Ezekiel 16:38 and others).
John Oakes, PhD