I have to admit I sometimes get jealous of sports. It starts somewhere around the first pre-season kick-off—that tinge of dread in knowing it will be awhile before I have my husband’s full attention again. Our drive-time dialogue will be punctuated with emotion, yes. But shouts of “touchdown!” and laments of “interception” don’t always make for the conversation I crave. And just when I think it’s over come that Super Bowl holiday, I realize. It’s still a good few months until the NBA playoffs. And by then, baseball season is well underway.
Yes, my jealousy of sports may be ill founded. After all, my husband married me, not a football. Though each sport lasts but a season, I’ll be there for every season. And while there are times we go out for that much-anticipated romantic date and he’s staring at the sports screen behind me instead of looking into my eyes, I’ll be the one he goes home with at night. But the whole thing got me thinking—is there ever a time when it’s okay to be jealous?
The Bible speaks of an unhealthy jealousy—a kind that’s covetous, controlling, or possessive. Covetousness springs from discontent and ingratitude—wanting what others have for our own. Control stems from insecurity or egotism—wanting full reign over another’s life. Possessiveness derives from greed—wanting to own what was not ours to begin with. All three characteristics are rooted in selfishness. And love will never thrive in a selfish environment.
Love is not selfish, and therefore love is not ruled by unhealthy jealousy. That’s why the Bible says love is not jealous. It also says that God is love. Yet there are a few verses that mention he’s a jealous God. How can this be possible without being contradictory? When I read about God’s love for his people, it’s clear he’s not covetous, controlling, or possessive. But maybe there’s a different kind of jealousy—a kind that’s unselfish. A kind that’s protective.
In relationships, unhealthy, selfish jealousy can destroy. But healthy, selfless jealousy can serve to protect. My jealousy of sports is mostly quirky, though partly selfish in wanting my husband’s undivided attention. Yet it would be strange if I weren’t protective of our relationship when it came to something that could actually hurt or come between us.
It’s the same with God’s love. I believe it’s described as a jealous love because he wants to protect us from anything that can hurt us or thwart our greater purpose in life. Our loving creator desires our attention and affections, because in him we find that purpose. He’s protectively jealous when it comes to those habits and addictions in our lives that have the potential to destroy us, our calling, and our relationships.
Love is selfless. And love always protects. That’s why, sometimes, love is jealous—not in the unhealthy sense of the word, but in a life-giving, sheltering way that serves to reconcile and restore.