This article is just one in a long series addressing questions posed by agnostic blogger Larry Simons in his article entitled, 31 Questions Christians Can’t Answer. For the rest of the series click here. Enjoy!
28. Why does the Bible say, “God is love” [1 John 4:8], “love is not jealous” [1 Corinthians 13: 4] and “God is jealous” [Exodus 20:5]? [Deductive reasoning makes it impossible for all three verses to be true simultaneously].
1 John 4:8 (NIV) Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Exodus 20:5 (NIV) You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me
There are a few issues at work here. I could write an entire book about the interactions between these three verses as they are presented here and yet one of my problems with this question is that the verses are completely taken out of context. 1 John 4:8 comes in the context of verses 7 to 12 where we are being instructed by John how we should love each other in light of Jesus’ loving sacrifice for us. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (v.10). This is a definition of what love does, love sacrifices. God is this love. 1 Corinthians 13 follows 1 Corinthians 12, chronologically and thematically. In chapter 12 Paul tells us that deferent followers of Jesus are gifted in different ways but all by the same Holy Spirit. Because the gifts all come from the same Spirit we ought to be unified as one body in Christ made up of different parts. The last words of chapter 12 are these, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” What follows is possibly the most famous chapter of the New Testament. Every bit of these two chapters are focused on how Christians are to interact with each other. There are other things in the 1 Corinthians 13 that God does that it says love does not do (keep records of wrongs, for example). It doesn’t matter because it’s talking about how we’re to love each other not how God loves us, John already told us that in 1 John 4.
Now let’s deal with Exodus for a bit. It’s the hinge pin in this argument. Exodus 20 begins with these words, “And God spoke all these words”. Don’t miss the significance of this in contrast to the other verses. The other passages are what others are saying about the love of God, here in Exodus we’re going to hear directly from God Himself. He goes on to give what we refer to today as the Ten Commandments. It is a series of commands, but it’s really quite a bit more than that. It’s a contract, a covenant if you will. Not to bring it down to a pedestrian contractual interaction but it is essentially God saying, “I came to you in your time of greatest need, when your people were enslaved, I sent you a leader and did mighty and miraculous things to free you and bring you to liberty, I have clearly proven that I am worthy to be called God, the least you could do for me and for each other is follow a few simple rules.” For a few of the rules God condescended to explain (v.4) or justify (v.8) or even make a promise of blessing (v.12).
The 1 John passage tells us what love does, the 1 Corinthians passage tells us how to love each other, and Exodus tells us what God asks in exchange for the immense sacrifice He makes out of love. These three passages from three different authors over thousands of years appear to be contradictions, but I think I’ve shown that these are consistent parts of a single narrative, the narrative of God’s superintendence over the lives of fallen man and His plan for their salvation.
If you want to understand the Old Testament in light of the New Testament you must understand this one principle, Israel is an example in trial and triumph, in failure and victory, in sin and obedience. The chosen people of God are chosen for the purpose of bringing everyone else to God. When we look at these people and their story the theme throughout the book of Exodus we is see a people downcast, defeated, desperately groping for God and once He has saved them and they can stand on their own two feet again they say, “Thanks, but we’ll take it from here. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” And they do the next time they’re desperate and in need. Wait, did I just describe you? Me? Yep. See what I did there?
What questions do you have that you’ve struggled with or that you think Christians can’t answer? Have an idea for the next series of issues/ questions/ subjects I should address? Comment below and let me know.