Jealousy can be good

Pastor Tracy Ottenbreit
Slave Lake Alliance Church

A recent study by the University of Michigan revealed that after looking at relationships between 2,124 people over the age of 25, those with open relationships were found to have greater levels of trust and less jealousy than those in monogamous relationships.
This certainly goes against conventional wisdom and certainly against biblical principles and one would expect higher levels of jealousy and less trust. Now, before I go on, I should note that this is only one study and one study is not definitive. That being said, I found the conclusion of the study troublesome.
Could it be that we who pledged our love to only one person for life are missing out on something? Could it be that we are just limiting ourselves because of religious or social conventions and we’d be a lot happier playing in multiple playgrounds? I had to wonder: why would people have less jealousy and more trust when they are openly landing other fish from the pond? Then it hit me.
Trust and jealousy are tied directly to expectations, which, in a monogamous relationship, are much higher. In marriage, there is a commitment publicly expressed. The bar is set very high and so it is much easier to slip under it and lose some trust, increasing jealousy.
A wandering eye here, a glance at that web site, a drink after work with an attractive co-worker – these are things that could erode trust and increase jealousy if the expectations of fidelity are high. If there are no such expectations, these activities would be nary a problem.
Indifference often follows lowering expectations. Want to be happier with how the country is run? Lower your expectations. Want to be content with your pay? Feel entitled to less. Want to have less jealousy and more trust in your relationship? Welcome cheating. After all, you can fully trust a person committed to cheating to cheat.
Perhaps having more jealousy is a good thing. Perhaps being jealous says, “I care.” Yet, aren’t we told that jealousy is wrong? Even the Bible condemns jealousy as “demonic” (James 3:15) and a characteristic of those not going to heaven (Galatians 5:20). So then, why is God himself described as a “jealous God?” (Exodus 34:14) Another puzzle and an apparent contradiction! More thinking.
Healthy jealousy is based not just on expectations, but also on rights. Since married people have made a public commitment to faithfulness, they have a right to expect their spouse’s machinery to not be inspected out of province – not so in open marriages.
Back to God. He has a right on our lives. He designed everything about us – our strengths, our weaknesses, our likes and dislikes, and as our designer and constructor, he has ownership rights. When we substitute God for other things, he has the right to be jealous. He even compares himself at times in the Bible with a spouse who has been cheated on. (Jer. 3:8)
Jealousy becomes sinful when we have no right to be jealous. When we feel we have a right to something that God did not provide, something that was never promised, jealousy becomes a mark of discontent with God’s provision and of God himself. Jealousy also becomes sinful when it is used as an excuse to control others – something God has historically been stubbornly committed to not do with us.
So, jealousy may be a good thing in monogamous marriage, a sign of higher expectations. When it is healthy, jealousy can be a tell-tale marker of the purest love and devotion.

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