We are all familiar, at least in general, with the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal, kill, lie, etc. But I wonder how many of us recall the rather startling statement that the Lord makes almost at the beginning of the commandments: "I am a jealous God." What in the world can this mean? We think of jealousy as something ugly and even sinful, so how can we attribute it to God? Or, even worse, how can God attribute it to himself?
To understand this statement we have to hear it in the context of the entire Old Testament story of God choosing Israel to be the people with whom he would willingly and freely enter into covenant. God called Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and from slavery in order to bring them through the Red Sea and to Mount Sinai, the mountain of the meeting with God, the mountain of the covenant, the mountain that the prophets would call the place where God united himself to Israel as her bridegroom. And so when Israel, in the following centuries, would depart from the covenant with God he would call to her through the prophets to stop her adultery with foreign gods and return to him, her only true husband. This is the background by which we can understand the startling statement, "I am a jealous God."
Lest, then, we think that this exclusivity - “I am a jealous God!” -is founded upon some fault in God, like the jealousy or possessiveness that is ugly when we see it in humans, we should understand the deeper spiritual meaning of divine jealousy. And that is this: if we cannot belong to God alone in true and unstinting faith, then we will not belong to him at all. Our Lord makes this very clear when he says, “You cannot serve two masters.”
As an aside, I think it is significant that our Lord does not give us a command, “You shall not serve two masters.” No, it’s a simple statement of fact: “You are not able to serve two masters.” It is impossible, and the fragmentation and division that results from trying to serve two masters leads only to misery and ruin.
The problem, however, is that we modern types don’t like this sort of exclusivity. We don’t want to be limited to one thing but free to choose many things all at once. We want to have our cake and eat it too. Isn't that what freedom and democracy and capitalism afford us?
It seems that, from God’s angle, the answer to that question is a resounding “No!” God will not be to us one puny little god among others, one allegiance among others, one hobby among others, or one love among many loves. If we enter into covenant with him in Christ we will swear faith and allegiance to him and to no other. We should be very clear: this is precisely what faith means. It does not mean merely assenting to an intellectual proposition or subscribing to a “belief-system”. For a Christian, faith means allegiance to one God the Father Almighty, one Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit exclusively.
The Good News is that Christ our Bridegroom has chosen us to be his people, his Bride, the Church. The hard and painful truth, however, might be that we have been adulterous to him, dividing our love and our hearts into tiny little pieces, doling out little bits to a thousand puny little gods. But the heart doesn’t work that way, and if we are honest with ourselves we know that. We know that we cannot be faithful to two spouses at once. So why do we think that we can be faithful to the one true God and to all the puny little gods of this world at the same time? We cannot serve two masters, and we cannot have a heart divided in its love for God. To do so is not just “bad” or even unfaithful: it is to deprive ourselves of Paradise.
With love in Christ,
“Give me a word!”
Look, brethren, look what the devil is doing, has done and will do, leading the mind of man from the spiritual heaven to material things, chaining the heart of man to earth and earthly pursuits and occupations!
-St Ignatius Brianchaninov
And with our intelligence let us bind fast our anger, deranged and frenzied by sensual pleasure, so that we may receive the kingdom of God the Father, that comes to us through gentleness.
-St Maximos the Confessor
That great spiritual master David said to the Lord: 'I shall preserve my strength through Thee'. So the strength of the heart's stillness, mother of all the virtues, is preserved in us through our being helped by the Lord. For He has given us the commandments, and when we call upon Him constantly He expels from us that foul forgetfulness which destroys the heart's stillness as water destroys fire. Therefore…do not ‘sleep unto death’ because of your negligence; but lash the enemy with the name of Jesus and, as a certain wise man has said, let the name of Jesus adhere to your breath, and then you will know the blessings of stillness.
-St Hesychios the Priest