Random Blog Clay Feet: December 21, 2007
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Friday, December 21, 2007

Heart-healing Jealousy

Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. (Romans 11:13-14)

Just exactly how could one go about making a Jew jealous? What beliefs would be lodged in the heart of a Jew that would trigger feelings of jealousy? And what benefit does Paul think would be reaped by attempting to make them jealous? Why would he want to make them jealous anyway?

The Greek word which is translated “jealousy” is defined this way: to stimulate alongside, i.e. excite to rivalry: – provoke to emulation (jealousy). For me that is a little confusing compared to what I usually assume is involved in jealousy. The excite to rivalry part is plain enough but the emulation is a little confusing. Maybe I am not familiar with this word because it is used so seldom. So I looked it up online in the dictionary and found that it has to do not only with trying to be like someone else but with strong tendencies toward a spirit of rivalry, competition and wanting to be even better than the one being competed with.

So now I can see how jealousy would fit in here, at least to some extent. But it still remains to explore why the Jews would be jealous in the first place. If the Jews really believed that they were the only chosen people of God and the only ones who could be saved, then why would it bother them at all if someone else should come along and claim that Gentiles were being saved? It might run counter to what the Jews claimed, but so what? If it was really true that only Jews could be saved it seems like it should make no difference what anyone else might say.

But it did make a great deal of difference, and that betrays that there was something much deeper than factual truth going on in their minds. For the only reason that would cause them to become so stirred up when other people claimed to be enjoying salvation and the favor of God that the Jews claimed was their exclusive domain, is if they secretly believed it might be true even if they denied it vehemently. Another reason would be if they put great importance on external identity and what others thought about their profession of being God's only chosen people. In that case, they were more interested in what others believed about their claims than they were in resting in the reality of truth. For if it was really true that no one else could be saved but good, upright Jews, then why bother about anyone else claiming otherwise? No amount of claiming would change what is already an established fact of reality.

But it is very clear that indeed the Jews did become very jealous and as a result created a great deal of persecution for those who disagreed with their view of theology. But what is interesting here is that Paul says that he wanted to provoke them to jealousy in order that at least some of them might be saved along with the Gentiles who were being saved. That means that jealousy was not everything needed to motivate a Jew to accept the truth about salvation, but it might possibly be one motivation that would impel some of them in that direction. That also means that there had to be other factors involved as well that would determine whether a jealous Jew might decide to take a more serious look at this new view of God or would turn into a raging persecutor attempting to justify and defend tradition much like Paul himself had once done quite effectively.

That brings up another very interesting thought. I believe that Paul here may be harking back to what may have been going on in his own heart in the months and years before his own conversion. What were his real feelings at the heart level when he observed the joy and confidence and peace that Christians had in the face of intimidation, threats and personal violence that he himself had perpetrated on them? Some of these Christians were even praying for his conversion and showing him selfless love in the face of all his violence against them. Outwardly it turned him into an even greater fury of rage that seemed to motivate him to even more violence and wrath in defense of the Jewish system of belief. But it is a fact that increasing violence and anger are usually a cover-up for a deepening conviction and an intense heart-based pain that is being suppressed on the inside.

I believe that Paul was painfully aware of the motivating ability of jealousy to prod a person toward finally submitting to the love of God by his own personal experience. His conscience had been increasingly goading him and torturing him during the years he had been fiercely opposing Christianity. That is made very clear in the words of Jesus when he was confronted on the road to Damascus. Jesus said, “Why are you kicking against the goads?” Jesus was simply tapping into what was already going on in Paul's heart and exposing the pain and lies that were driving his insane obsession to violently stop the spread of Christianity. There was a gnawing suspicion growing inside his own heart that maybe his approach was not working, but he was trying to suppress this feeling by increasingly turning up the focus on the externals to mask the secret jealousy that he was feeling toward Christians.

In Saul's own heart (Paul's name before his conversion) he felt the intense craving and emptiness from his own need for the very peace and joy that he was observing in those he was attacking. He could not achieve those results from perfect performance of religion although he was better than everyone else in that arena. He had desperately tried every trick, formula and requirement that anyone could propose that would bring about peace with God and produce righteousness. He had jumped through all the hoops and had earned all the admiration that human knowledge and performance could produce outwardly in the realm of religion. He had kept all the rules and obeyed God to the best of human ability according to the religious system around him and yet his heart felt more empty than ever. Why didn't God reward his compliance and conformity with approbation and approval? Why didn't God keep His end of this bargain? Why did Saul seem so perfect on the outside and so excruciatingly empty on the inside? His jealousy of these despicable Christians was secretly unavoidable but embarrassing. He could never admit to anyone the secret cravings that his treasonist heart was producing inside of him. We was appalled that these feelings were even inside of him, much worse the growing intensity that they had. But he could not escape them even though he tried with all his might by focusing on his external activities of piety and resistance.

When Jesus came to see him on the road to Damascus, He was not introducing new things to Saul so much as He was simply affirming the culmination of the intense battle that had been raging between Saul's heart and his head. He had tried possibly harder than anyone had ever tried to achieve salvation through left-brain effort but could not shake off the contradictory emotions in his heart. His conscience and suppressed emotions and secret desires had been inflamed and repeatedly stirred up by the humility, peace and love that he saw in the lives of those he was daily crushing and violently abusing. Every day his heart tormented him more with his own guilt and all the religious performance in the world was having no effect at diminishing that pain. When Jesus showed up it was simply a matter of confirming to Saul what he already was painfully aware of but could not bring himself to admit. He needed peace and forgiveness and a heart-connection with a loving God far more than he needed the approval of men. But his left brain was so entrenched in logic and systematic theology that he was trapped in the prison of religion. He needed someone to unlock his heart and break the bars of left brain logic and conclusions so his heart could be released to begin to really live.

Jesus provided that opportunity by revealing Himself to Saul at the heart level and confirming the desperate feelings emanating from Saul's own heart. He simply affirmed that it was the suppressed messages swirling around in Saul's heart that clamored to be acknowledged that were more reliable for guiding him to connect with God than all the religious formulas, doctrines and intellectual truth that filled his left brain. This is why Saul knew instantly what Jesus was talking about when Jesus began speaking to him. It was resonating with what he had been hearing for years from his own heart but had desperately been trying to ignore and suppress and deny. Heart had been exposed by heart, and Saul stepped into the road of freedom, the freedom that comes by living from the heart instead of the head.

Because Paul was so intensely aware of the role of jealousy in his own conversion experience, he is here explaining that he tried to use it in hopes that others, like him, might also come to recognize the futility of their religious activities and belief systems to satisfy the emptiness of their hearts. If they could see more and more the peace and joy experienced by others, especially Gentiles who supposedly were impossible to save, then maybe they too, like Paul himself had done, might cross over from head-living to heart-living and through the motivation of jealousy enter into a vibrant, vital connection with the heart of the Father.

Does this have any application today? If anyone is aware at all of the desires of their own heart beneath all the denial and suppression, I believe they will recognize the pattern here. God is calling everyone into a heart-based spirituality that goes far deeper than any external-oriented, performance-based religion can ever touch. Words cannot describe effectively how this comes about, but the Spirit of God is waiting and eager to introduce each person to their own heart as well as the healing presence of the heart of God. I am trying to shift more and more into this mode of living and thinking to learn how to live from the heart Jesus gave me. I am not very proficient at it yet but I am in training. What would you like to do?

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