What Can Leo Tolstoy Teach You About God’s Jealousy?

In 1880, Russian writer  published a short novel called –a plain but ruthless story about the violence of jealousy.

A young Russian man, Pozdnyshev, meets and marries his young wife.

During their marriage they alternate between periods of love and fierce fights. She bears children. Then goes on a contraceptive.

Pozdnyshev complains, “The last excuse for our swinish life–children–was then taken away, and life became viler than ever.”

His wife eventually falls in love with a violinist. The two perform , a piece Pozdnyshev says is powerful enough to seduce people.

Pozdnyshev buries his jealousy and leaves on a trip. When he returns he catches his wife with the violinist. Pozdnyshev stabs her with a dagger. He then turns on the violinist, but allows him to flee.

Pozdnyshev says, “I wanted to run after him, but remembered that it is ridiculous to run after one’s wife’s lover in one’s socks; and I did not wish to be ridiculous but terrible.”

What Is Jealousy?

Jealousy is that gnawing suspicion that a rival may rob us of the one we love–or the peculiar uneasiness that he has already done it.

 is like being full of competition. This was true in Pozdnyshev’s case.

However, if Pozdnyshev were not jealous toward his wife and rival, he would not have been morally stable.

What do I mean by that? Jealousy involves the exclusiveness of marriage. A man who did not defend his own bed–but allowed a rival to enter his home and sleep with his wife–is hardly regarded as a jealous man. You wonder if he has a soul.

In the same respect, God’s jealousy is seen as a zeal to defend and protect his relationship with his people. If he weren’t jealous, you wonder if He cared about you.

The Nature of God’s Jealousy

No one in their right mind would imagine God to be a jealous God. Scripture, on the other hand, gives us a different picture:

For you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. 

What does God mean when he says his name is “Jealous”? The Old Testament describes God’s relationship with Israel like a marriage covenant. His zeal for protecting that covenant–his marriage partner–is fierce.

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. 

God demands utter and absolute loyalty from those whom he’s redeemed and saved. Those whom are adulterous, he seeks to justify his claim for them and punish them for their arrogance. As , “The shamelessness of an age, which ought to have repented, had to be avenged.”

God’s ultimate objective as set out by the Bible is three-fold: , redeem his people and receive love from them.

Now, the consequence of offending this passion and zeal in God is two-fold:

1. God judges and  the idolatrous.

2. God restores his people after they’ve been disciplined and humbled.

The point? We are to stand in both fear of and faith in God.

Using Human Language to Explain God’s Jealousy

God is personal, so he speaks to us in our terms. This makes it easy to understand him. But don’t grab the wrong side of the stick.

We have to remember that man is not the measure of God. We can’t project our image on him. Thus, we won’t find the counterpart corrupting elements of human passion in God.


God’s jealousy is not a compound of frustration, envy and spite, as human jealousy so often is, but appears instead as a praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious.

Man’s jealousy is grinding envy or uncontrollable anger. It inflicts misfortune. God’s jealousy carries the feelings of anger, fury and wrath. But it inflicts justice.

He vents on images, idols, other gods and other sins–objects that spurn his attention. In the same way we should copy that jealousy–whether it’s in  or fretting over the .

“There is a kind of wrath in the human soul,” , ” that resembles the wrath of God, and constitutes its true analogous….That kind of anger is commanded in the injunction ‘Be ye angry and sin not.’”

The Deceptively Simple Nature of Evil

Our rejection of his infinite mercy and infinite grace  is infinitely evil. That’s why  can say about God:

For Him who once drowned the whole world in the Flood and sank Sodom with fire, it is a simple thing to slay or to defeat so many thousands of peasants. He is an almighty and terrible God.

When we insult God, we insult the majesty of the incomprehensible. And our insult is an  to God.

In his seventy-second epistle, , “It is a good soldier’s duty to defend the camp of his general against rebels and enemies. The Lord thy God is a jealous God.”

How Should We Respond to God’s Jealousy?

Simple: be zealous for God. His concern for us is great. Ours for him should be great. We call that zeal–or jealousy.


Zeal in religion burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way….If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it–he is content.

Look at Jesus for an example. In a storm of fury he drove out the temple merchants. The disciples were right to remember, “zeal for your house will consume me.”

Now, if we lack this zeal, the jealousy of God threatens us. Martin Luther said, “Fear, that we provoke not God to anger, or work his displeasure.”

To the complacent church of Laodicea Jesus said, “.”

But if we repent, we need not fear the terrible jealousy of God. As , “Revive us Lord, before judgment falls.”

Your Turn

Ever felt jealous over a rival- in high school or college? That kind of single-minded obsession should square on Christ. Are you there? I’m not.

Leave your thoughts in the comments. Brutal and all.

**Part of The Nature of God: A Quick and Dirty Guide series.**

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