You’re no doubt familiar with this portion of the Ten Commandments:
You shall not make for yourself an [idol] … for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)
When Moses had to make new tablets a few chapters later, having broken the first set in anger over the people’s worship of the golden calf, God camped even harder on the theme of jealousy:
Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)
After the golden-calf incident, who can blame God for being peeved? As Dr. Paul Copan puts it in the book we have been considering for the last few posts, Is God a Moral Monster?,
Israel’s idolatry was like a husband finding his wife in bed with another man — on their honeymoon! The reason God is jealous is because he binds himself to his people in a kind of spousal intimacy. (page 36)
Continuing the marriage analogy, we have this on the next page:
God is a wounded husband who continually tries to woo his people back into harmony with him.
If God’s jealousy were always of this sort, then there could be no objection. However, there comes a point where jealousy becomes abuse.
For example, consider Deuteronomy 13:6-11. Later in this series, I will devote a complete post to this infamous passage (here), but for now let it cast light from another direction on both “biblical marriage” and the jealousy of God our “wounded husband.”
If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” … Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. … Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.
This would be like saying to your wife,
If you so much as whisper to your friends that you are considering having an affair, I will kill you. Painfully. Then your worthless friends will think twice before they cheat, won’t they!?
Would we call this sort of threat “a wounded husband wooing his wife” or would we call it manipulative abuse?
When you recast the Bible in terms of everyday life, you start to see just how abusive God’s so-called husbandly jealousy really is.
I can recommend a very hard-hitting article at ExChristian.net called The God of Abuse. It challenges us to “compare what you typically hear in an abusive relationship with what you hear in the Judeo/Christian faith.” Here are some of the milder bits.
ABUSER: I don’t think you love me enough. You better show some appreciation.
PSALM 2:11-12: Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
ABUSER: You say you love me, but you keep going off to your parents. They hate me and I hate them. You aren’t worth the time and effort to deal with all their shit. Do you love me or not? If so, I don’t want to see their faces ever again. You owe me that much.
LUKE 14:26: If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
ABUSER: (Holds a propane torch up to her face.) You see this blowtorch, bitch? You piss me off again and I’ll burn you! I’ll take my sweet time, too.
REVELATION 14:10: [Unbelievers] will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.
If there is a line between jealousy and abuse, surely God crossed it when he threatened torment and humiliation that would last for all eternity!
And let’s have none of C.S. Lewis’s nonsense that “the gates of hell are locked from the inside.” That’s neither biblical nor philosophically sound.
Dr. Copan opens his section on the marriage analogy with this paragraph:
A friend of mine who worked in Christian ministry in Europe for many years told me about a Christian couple he had gotten to know. Somehow the subject of adultery came up in conversation. The seemingly unassuming Dutch wife said that if her husband ever cheated on her, “I vill shoot him!” He knew she wasn’t kidding.
I’m sure that if Dr. Copan were recounting this story in person, he would be most jocular, but the fact that he would choose to open his argument with this vignette says much about what’s in his head — and what’s not. Does he even recognize that this woman has threatened her husband with murder? Nowhere does he say, “Of course, this woman was going overboard, but…” Rather, his very next sentence is, “A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship.” He seems unaware of the distinction between jealousy and abuse.
This tone-deafness illustrates how Christians’ moral sense has been dulled, not sharpened, by defending the God of the Bible.
For the sake of honesty and moral progress, let’s open our eyes. The most effective abusers mix wooing with their demands and threats. It’s all part of a manipulative package. Read the Bible with this possibility in mind, and you may be surprised at what you see.
And please read that article I mentioned, The God of Abuse. It will be well worth your time.
Edited 1/12: The original post claimed that Is God a Moral Monster? did not mention Deuteronomy 13. In fact it does, on page 92.