Anthropomorphism?

It happened last Sunday in my Sunday school class…

Anthropomorphism.

That word is a mouthful and when it happened, I did not say it.  I tried to explain my response to it, but I am not sure I did an adequate job.  It was in reference to a common interpretation from Genesis.  A class member said “We are made in His image.”  Everyone has heard that from 1: 27, but it can lead us to conclusions that are based on… you got it:  anthropomorphism.

Yes we are made in His image, but too often we extend Genesis 1:27 to “He is made in ours.” 

That is where we make our mistake.

Let’s use a common characteristic of God to illustrate. 

Jealousy.

Christians struggle with the idea that God could be jealous yet instances of His jealousy abound in the Bible.  There are multiple examples of it in the Pentateuch, the history books and in the Psalms.  Ezekiel 39:25 states “I [God]…will be jealous for My holy name.”  Zechariah 1:14 has a passage where God states “I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.  Nahum has the Scripture “The Lord is a jealous God and avengeth” [1:2].  Further evidence of God’s jealousy can be found in Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, First Kings, Joel, Zephaniah etc.

Our problem in understanding God’s jealousy often resides in anthropomorphism.

We think of human jealousy and we attribute human jealousy to God.

J.I. Packer* feels that there are two kinds of human jealousy.  One kind of human jealousy is a “vice;” the other may give us some insight on our jealous God.

First of all is the hateful jealousy that occurs when we have the attitude behind the statement “I want what you’ve got, and I hate you because I haven’t got it.”  This childish type of jealousy springs from covetousness [the Tenth Commandment].  This jealousy can lead to envy, malice, and meanness of action.  It springs [Packer says] from “the taproot of our fallen nature”—pride.  Proverbs 27:4 states “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy.”    In our effort to understand God, we may make the mistake of taking this base human vice and assuming that God operates in jealousy as we do.  That would be wrong; He doesn’t.

But there is another type of jealousy that may give us more accurate insight.  Packer calls it the “zeal to protect a love relationship or to avenge it when broken” [170].  Packer is quick to be frank about trying to nudge us out of the sexual arena.  Again, base human thoughts may try to understand this in the context of a marriage that has been ripped asunder by an affair.  A lover or adulterer has entered a marriage and they have torn it apart.  Partly this context can give us some understanding, but not total understanding.  When this happens it is very painful and it can lead to extreme human acts of retribution, but that is not the redeeming response that Packer wants to focus upon.  He writes “This sort of jealousy is a positive virtue, for it shows a grasp of the true meaning of the husband-wife relationship, together with a proper zeal to keep it intact” [Packer, 170]. 

We see Scripture that supports this positive virtue.  Proverbs 6:34 speaks of a man who resolves to guard his marriage against attack, who is willing to take action against anyone who violates it.  What does this say about the man?  He values his marriage.

Let’s take this concept and move it into the God-man relationship.  It is a basic Biblical idea that God has a covenant relationship with His own people.  The Old Testament is all about God’s covenant relationship with Israel; God demanding unqualified love and loyalty from His people.  The Old Testament is also full of times when His people committed spiritual adultery, worshipping idols instead of God.  God saw this as disobedience and unfaithfulness and responded with jealousy and vengeance.  In Ezekiel 16, God depicts Israel as His adulterous wife, “embroiled in unholy liaisons with idols and idolaters of Canaan, Egypt and Assyria” [Packer, 171].  He pronounces sentence in the following Scripture “I will judge you as women who break wedlock and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy” [Ezekiel 16].

We can easily see that God’s jealousy is much different from human jealousy.   God demands utter and absolute loyalty from those that He loves utter and absolute loyalty and if He does not get it, He is correct in taking stern action against them.

One needs to recognize the nature of covenant love.  This type of love (which is Godlike) is not transitory.  It is not mere human affection.   It is not accidental and most of all, it is not aimless.  It has a Sovereign purpose.  God intends that He should have a faithful relationship with people of this earth as long as history lasts and He intends that humans should live righteous lives with Him in glory. 

What happens in the Bible as we begin to see God’s jealousy in a whole new light?  He is justified in judging His people as they fall into idolatry and sin and justified in judging the enemies of righteousness and mercy everywhere.  But He also is quick to try to get His people to understand His undying love.   Over and over God restores His people after they have been chastened and humbled.  He never gives up on them, despite their repeated wayward behavior. 

Packer boils down God’s objectives into three points: He wants to “vindicate His rule and righteousness by showing His sovereignty in judgement upon sin, to ransom and redeem His chosen people; and to be loved and praised by them for His glorious acts of love and self-vindication” [Packer, 172].

It is all about getting man to see God’s glory.  Packer says “God seeks what we should seek—His glory in and through men” [172]

In Isaiah 42 God says “I am the Lord; that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.  For my own sake, I do this.  How can I let myself be defamed?  I will not yield my glory to another.”

Now we see that God is standing His ground against anyone or anything that can hurt His covenant relationship with man.  This is not some base human jealousy that is driven by covetousness.  This is not some knee-jerk response by God as He punishes man for unfaithfulness. 

If you will, I would call it righteous indignation with a divine goal. 

Our jealous God is trying to get man to understand that I am God and I love you and I expect you to love Me.  When you stray away from My love, you will suffer [as you should] but I will bring you back into my covenant relationship with one condition.

You should love Me as I love you.

Pure and simple…

*from his book Knowing God

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