I recently got involved in an email exchange in which a gentleman asked, “Why does god have petty human emotions like jealousy and anger? History has proven that these emotions have never been good for anyone”. A bit later in the email the writer made it clear that if God saw a therapist then He would certainly be put on medication.
Asking why God has emotions like anger and jealousy is a great question but they way this gentleman presented the question also loaded it with lots of subtle yet powerful implications. The way the question is posed practically defies anyone to try and answer it in a way that defends God’s emotions. After all, history has proven that these petty emotions are always destructive. In a way the question is not a question at all but a dare. It is a dare for anyone who would possibly consider swimming against the riptide of all history. Well, I love swimming against the tide so here goes.
First of all let’s look at jealousy and anger. Our email friend is convinced that such emotions are never good for anyone. Be careful whenever you make such a blanket statement. All it takes to refute you is one contrary example that is accepted as true. So what about anger? Is it always harmful? Are there never any times when it is good? I just read a story about a woman who rescued her toddler from the jaws of a wild animal. The animal literally had the child’s head in its mouth. The mother flew into action and beat the snot out of the animal to save her child. Do you think the mom was angry at that animal and at what was happening to her child? You bet she was and rightly so. When you hear about children getting sold into sex slavery by the millions each year, do you get angry? I hope so! Certainly you experience a flood of different emotions over such a travesty. But somewhere along the way you better be angry. There is a righteous anger and an unrighteous anger. Jesus Himself was angry at injustice. Our problem is not anger but anger at the wrong things and indifference to the suffering and pain of others.
What about jealousy? Is it ever a good thing or always bad for people? Paul makes it clear that just like there is a righteous and an unrighteous anger, there is also a godly and an ungodly jealousy. “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” 2 Corinthians 2:11 Jealousy that seeks to maintain the sanctity of a relationship is a good thing. If your spouse begins to get involved with another person and you don’t have some feeling of godly jealously that seeks to preserve the relationship then you need a therapist, not the other way around. This is the same thing with God. His jealousy in the Bible is demonstrated when we break the sanctity of our relationship with Him by engaging in spiritual adultery. It is called idolatry, giving other things the place of God in our lives. God’s jealousy in that is not so much for His own needs as it is for our benefit. He knows that we are on a path to destruction and hurt when we attach ourselves to our idols. So far from being “petty”, the emotions of anger and jealousy, when expressed for godly reasons and in a godly way, are actually always good.
But that is not the only thing we need to get from the question and it’s implications. For starters, anytime someone adds a derogatory adjective, in this case the word “petty”, we need to see it for what it is worth. It is a value judgment that must be dealt with and removed from the equation. I think I have done that. Emotions in and of themselves are not wrong, what we do with them can be. Secondly, whenever someone makes a blanket and emphatic statement it is essential to dissect it and understand it. To say that history has clearly shown something to always be true is a dangerous and uninformed statement. What makes it dangerous is that it is one of those statement that will often have people shaking their heads in agreement. It sounds so informed that people dare not challenge it. As something of a student and teacher of history I can tell you that history has shown no such thing as the writer claims. One can certainly pull out examples of history in which it is correct that anger and jealousy were damaging. But there are also examples from history in which they were beneficial and necessary for the good of others.