Sunday, January 15, 2017

Love Is Not Jealous

Detroit Institute of Arts

Lewis Smedes's extended meditation on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Love Within Limits: Realizing Selfless Love In a Selfish World, is the best book I have ever read on Jesus-like love.

Love, among other things, is not jealous.

The reason agape (the biblical Greek word for "love" used in 1 Cor. 13) is not jealous is because "it is the power to move us toward another person with no expectation of reward - not even the reward of exclusive loving. That is why agape is not jealous." (Smedes, 23)

Jealousy is not the same as envy. Envy is the wish that we had something that belongs to someone else. "Envy" does not have pain associated with it. "The people we envy are not a threat to us; they only happen to have what we would like to have." (24) But jealousy "is aimed at someone who threatens us, threatens to take away someone we love." (24)

It's not just persons we can be jealous of. We can be jealous of things. I have met wives whose husbands spend more time fishing than they do with them. These wives are jealous of the sport of fishing.

This is why pornography hurts and ruins a marriage. The wife wants her husband's eyes looking at her, not at other women. Of course, the shoe can be on the other foot. A husband can be jealous of his wife's friends, or her family, or her job, or even their children if she spends more time with them than with him.

Smedes writes: "Jealousy and envy are different feelings... We envy without pain. Jealousy is the pain we feel when our role, our position, is threatened by someone close to us. Envy can stimulate us to try harder. Jealousy stimulates us only to resentment of the person who does better." (25)

I remember a time before Linda and I got married. I was at her house. I was falling in love with her. We were with her family when someone knocked on the door. It was one of Linda's old boyfriends! She stepped outside and talked with him. Feelings of jealousy flooded over me.  I was sitting next to a table, and on it was a little booklet entitled, "How to Win Over Jealousy." God has a sense of humor, right? I began to read it.

When her old boyfriend left I asked Linda, "What did he want?"

"I told him you and I were dating. He said, 'OK,' but would you still like to go to a play with me?"

As I heard that I lit up! I couldn't believe he would ask her out, knowing she and I were in a relationship. Didn't I trust Linda? There was a lot of stuff inside me that needed healing.

Smedes says that "agape love transcends jealousy without destroying it." What does that mean? It means that the more possessive and controlling a person is, the more a normal, protective jealousy will turn cancerous. Jealous people are controlling people.

Smedes writes: "If we have nothing else in the world to live for but our lover, we are vulnerable to the worst fits of jealousy. The person who tells someone else, "I can't live without you," is threatened at his deepest selfhood when the one with whom he cannot live has to be shared in the smallest way. Such a person always suspects the worst, and this very suspicion prods him to cruel reactions... Agape does not let us give our souls to idols, even to the idol of the ideal husband or wife or friend... So agape will not let us be so deeply threatened that our very existence seems at stake." (28-29)

Linda and I have always told others that, if and when you marry, marry someone that can live without you, and you without them. The only One we cannot live without is Christ. Agape love is, says Smedes, "the power to admit cheerfully that you cannot meet all the needs of your loved one or friend and are pleased that someone else can add what you lack." (29)

Jealousy is painful, but with God it can be transcended.  "Where there is Christian love, the power of agapic giving and sharing will prevent jealousy from building barbed-wire fences of self-protection against any sharing of love and loved ones." (29) 

Agape love is not jealous.

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I'm currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church.