“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (1)
How many times has this scripture, and those like it, been used to condemn God as small, petty and all-too-human? This is a favorite of atheists and skeptics the world over: jealousy is a human emotion, and a baser one at that. It is an emotion common in the old gods of the Greek pantheon and others. So then how is the God of the Bible any different from these old, discarded deities of the past?
“The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (2) The ESV says in a footnote that this could also mean “the kingdom has been coming violently.” What if there is none more violent than God? (It is His kingdom that has been coming violently, after all.) Does that scare you? But what if God’s violence is not our violence? What if His jealousy is not our jealousy? I wish to consider the idea that what we are talking about is the violent, unstoppable, uncontrollable love of God.
There is a song that you probably have heard if you are in Christian circles. It is by John Mark McMillan, and it’s called “How He Loves”. There are many versions of this song, but none comes close to the original. Here’s a link to it:
I promise, I’m not obsessed with John Mark McMillan. But this song and “Holy Ghost” have just so perfectly encapsulated what I’ve been thinking recently that they’ve both made it into posts.
“He is jealous for me.
His love’s like a hurricane,
I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden I am unaware
Of these afflictions eclipsed by Glory.
And I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me.” (3)
We are so quick to think God’s love (a word that we have cheapened to a dime’s worth with phrases like “I love that movie” and “I love their cheeseburgers”) is just like how we so often love, inconstantly and fickly. But His love is infinitely bigger than our understanding of it.
We see God’s love as a wistful wisp of smoke,
Perhaps a brief inhaling of beauty and then tragically gone.
But it is an unstoppable, intentional tornado of purpose,
An unquenchable eternity of pure, jealous fierceness,
Ripping asunder everything that stands between it
And the embattled, enchained heart whom it most desires,
The object for which God burns
Brighter than a thousand suns.
It’s true: God is jealous for you. Insanely jealous. But His jealousy is not like ours, tainted by hate and bitterness. His is a jealousy that will rip apart worlds, worldviews and death itself to reach his beloved – even when that beloved has betrayed Him over and over again. His love is the type that will tear systems and armies and thought patterns asunder to save His child, no matter how long that child has been estranged. By the way, that child – that beloved – is you.
God’s love is so vehement and violent that he has already sacrificed part of Himself – His only Son – to save you from the pit of your own self-destruction.
I’ve known people who recoiled in disgust or sneered in disbelief when they heard about God’s pursuit of someone who doesn’t fit into their mold. “That person’s a monster. Why would God have anything to do with him?” “You’re trying to tell me God’s after her? Do you have any idea the things she’s done with her body?” “Why would God show Himself in dreams to Muslims? They’re all zealots or worse. And besides, they worship a false god.”
Let me ask you: how far would you go for one of your kids?
Well that’s nothing compared to how far God will go.
God is relentless. And while He will not foist Himself on anybody – He loves you and your free will too much to do that – He will pursue you. In little ways and in subtle contexts, He will hunt you until the day you die. He will whisper in your ear. He will tug at your heart. He will show you just enough to make you intrigued, wondering if He was really there. And He will offer you a better way.
I wish I could say that all of the pain and problems magically go away when you embrace God’s tumultuous, life-giving love. But that’s really not what it’s there for. It’s there to sustain you through the pain. To give you peace when it’s naturally impossible to feel any. To fashion you into the man or woman you were designed to be. To overwhelm you with that love when the world around you is lifeless and cold. In fact, “How He Loves” was written out of a place of near total agony, when one of the artist’s best friends died in a fatal car accident. His healing started through that love. And now thousands of others have as well who heard the song and experienced God through it.
But here’s what’s really crazy. The Bible says that we are supposed to conform to the image of Christ. That means that we are supposed to love just as violently as He does. What does that look like, for us to love with the violence of Jesus? It means that we burn with a fervency for people who no one else will look at. For the people who don’t fit in our box or our worldview. It means that we doggedly pursue the unpursuable, not because they are a trophy to be collected but because they are a treasure and it’s time they saw it. I pray that I can live with that passion that Jesus has – the love that drives us and sustains us even through unbelievable agony and the heights of shame.
I pray that at the end, it will be said of me – of all of us – that we loved as violently as the God who murdered Himself for us.
1. Deuteronomy 4:23
2. Matthew 11:12
3. John Mark McMillan, “How He Loves” (John Mark McMillan, 2005.)
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