Bible Q&A: If We Are Created in God’s Image, Why Can’t We Be Jealous and Vengeful?

If we are created in the image of God, why can’t we be jealous and seek vengeance?

“For I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5) has been described as an anthropomorphism, where God describes himself with human characteristics so that we may understand him.  Therefore, we should not view his “jealousy” as identical to ours.  Being God, the only true power and the source of everything, God is inherently worthy of all glory, honor, worship, praise, and fealty.  He will not give his glory to another (Is. 42:8; 48:11), nor should he.  Furthermore, our jealousy stems from pride or selfishness.  Yet the context of Exodus 20:5 shows that God’s “jealousy” exists to keep men from wandering into idolatry (Ex. 20:3-6).  Idolatry is both sin itself as well as the catalyst for other sins such as immorality and cruelty, all of which results in eternal separation from the Lord in hell (Is. 59:1-2; Rev. 21:8).  Thus, God is “jealous” not on his own account, but out of concern for the eternal welfare of mankind.  We tend to be jealous out of self-centeredness, which is why we are commanded to avoid jealousy.

In similar fashion, one should compare human vengeance to divine vengeance.  Human vengeance is done out of “the anger of man,” which “does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).  Consider the context of Romans 12:19, the passage which quotes Deuteronomy 32:35’s “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  Christians are told to “be patient in tribulation” (v. 12), “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (v. 14), and “repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (v. 17).  Instead of avenging ourselves, we are to show charity to our enemies (v. 20) and are commanded: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (v. 21).  As with all commands given to us by God in Scripture, these commands exist to show us the more godly, righteous path to take rather than the carnal direction we would normally pursue (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17).  They show us the true nature of the vengeance we would pursue, that which is centered on self and hate.  We very rarely inherently choose to be patient when wronged, bless our persecutors instead of cursing them, and avoid repaying evil for evil.  In contrast, God is both loving and just (1 John 4:8; Deut. 32:4).  He loves his creation, and when we are wronged he wants us to receive justice.  The vengeance he would seek is for the wrongs done to us and is motivated by his love and justness.  Since vengeful human nature is very different from his divine nature (Is. 55:8-9; cf. 2 Pet. 1:4), he wants us to leave vengeance to him and the agencies through whom he chooses to administer it (Rom. 12:19-Rom. 13:7).

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