Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Midweek Sermon

A Midweek Sermon

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God...
- Exodus 20:5

For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.
- Deuteronomy 4:24

Jealousy is a strong emotion; one that's certainly not pleasant. We feel jealous whenever we find ourselves not in possession of something or someone whom we feel belongs to us. If your girlfriend (or some girl you admire) goes out with another guy, you will naturally feel jealous. If your colleague gets the promotion instead of you, you'll feel jealous. This feeling arises because you think you have some special right to the object you desire. The feeling is compounded by the belief that the person who took it away from you is somehow undeserving of the prize.

First there's a desire towards something. Then an attachment. The longer this attachment is allowed to build, the stronger the feelings become. Your heart has sprouted invisible tentacles, reaching out to your object of desire, taking control, taking possession, taking ownership. These emotional tentacles wrap around the object of desire like gnarled roots around temple ruins. Imagine how difficult and painful it is remove them.

Jealousy arises from a sense of possession. All relationships have some element of possession in them. This is inevitable because no matter how noble we claim our love is, whenever we love someone, there is always some selfishness involved. We are all imperfect creatures.

You want your partner to behave the way you want them to so that you yourself will feel secure, comforted and happy. You want to mould another person's behaviour so that he or she satisfies your expectations. And you even have the audacity to claim that you are doing it because you have your partner's interest at heart!

But that's what we would normally call a "relationship". Acknowledge the fact that selfishness will arise; each party will show a certain degree of possessiveness towards the other. Good couples understand their partners' sore points. They make the necessary adjustments. Sometimes it takes a lifetime for such adjustments to be perfected. Sometimes you'll just have to accept that it's just a perpetual boxing match, with neither party ever winning or losing.

The God of the Old Testament is a "jealous" God. But He is also a forgiving God. Again and again the Israelites resorted to idolatory and incurred the mighty wrath of God. But still God forgave them and answered their call whenever they pleaded for help.

God kept his covenant with Abraham--to protect his descendants and to deliver the Promised Land to them. Marriage is also such a covenant. Pain, jealousy and rage will arise throughout the course of a relationship. But take comfort in the fact that even God gets jealous and angry. But he is also all-merciful: "For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not fail you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them." (Deuteronomy 4:31).

We can't help being jealous and angry sometimes. But let's not forget to ask ouselves why these feelings arise in first place. In such moments of quiet self-examination, the roots of our resentment will reveal themselves. Grab hold of them: They are there so that you may yank them out. What remains behind is love.

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