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Oprah & a jealous God

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–In the seven-minute YouTube video, “The Church of Oprah Exposed,” Oprah Winfrey reports that her impatience with “rules, belief systems and doctrines” began when she, in her late 20s, heard a Baptist pastor say that God was jealous.

Millions have viewed this mini-documentary, and a lot of people are finally waking up to her New Age toxicity. Unfortunately, many others are perfectly at ease with her religious perspective, for which she was chosen to lead the post-9/11 “Prayer for America” service at Yankee Stadium.

No better instance of the blind leading the blind can be found.

Of course, the first time you heard that God was jealous, you were at least slightly more puzzled than when you heard that He was mighty and good. Jealousy is not always, or even often, praiseworthy in humans. Yes, in courtship, it can be gratifying to learn that something you did made your beloved jealous. But jealousy is more nearly associated with a clutching, anxious, petty or domineering frame of mind. The jealous party tends to nervously investigate and suffocate the object of affection, disregarding the other’s wellbeing.

So, then, how could you feel comfortable with a jealous God? Well, a little more theology could help. When you learn that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good, then you realize that the Lord cannot be afflicted with insecurity, suspicion and selfishness — factors that poison human jealousy. It’s quite plain that something nobler is at work in the case of God, to whom all honor is obviously due. His jealousy is a matter of righteous indignation.

Some translators and commentators try to pick up on this difference by substituting the word “zealous” for “jealous,” since it has a higher tone and aptly conveys the sense of godly, discriminating passion. But straight word substitution misses something, given the ordinary use of language. A baseball fan can be zealous for a certain pitcher’s success without insisting upon an exclusively deep relationship with him; indeed, it would thrill the fan to see everyone show up at the ballpark wearing that player’s jersey.

But God is more than an exuberant fan, cheering us on, ever eager to rehearse our achievements to anyone who will listen. He is impatient and indignant — indeed, wroth — when we spread our love around to His rivals. The Bible even calls him “a consuming fire” in this connection (Deuteronomy 4:24) and promises to visit punishments on those who flirt with false gods (Exodus 20:5). The Lord simply will not tolerate our “dating around.”

But why? For the same reason an attending oncologist would explode when hearing that his patient hopped a plane to Timbuktu to have some shaman blow smoke up his nose. For the same reason a noble and fulfilling wife would want her self-destructive husband to dump the hussy he’s left her for and return home. There are simply no substitutes for truth, and God is Truth. And Love.

Oprah’s pretty bright. She should have been able to sort this out, which makes me wonder if she’s spun us a “just so story,” the sort Rudyard Kipling wrote for children. You remember his tales of how the elephant got his trunk (his nose was stretched out by a crocodile) and how the camel got his hump (from lazing around).

So “how did the Oprah get her apostasy?” Maybe, as she reports, her first hearing of the expression “jealous God” fried her fragile doctrinal circuits. Maybe she was simply too saturated with the idea of God’s love to receive any negativity or to countenance anything divisive. That’s her story, and she’s sticking with it. But, as pastors and apologists well know, objections to the Bible are usually grounded in the will, not the fussy intellect or the tender heart. So perhaps she saw that orthodoxy was incompatible with her agenda, her career or the lifestyle she thought she needed (one which would involve cohabiting for many years with Stedman Graham). Of course, that doesn’t sound as grand as “standing up for God’s reputation.”

Maybe Oprah will finally have an Emily Litella moment. Some will remember this elderly, hard-of-hearing character played by Gilda Radner on “Saturday Night Live” back in the 1980s. Emily was constantly ranting about one cause or another, based strictly upon her misunderstanding of a word: “What is all this fuss I hear about the Supreme Court decision on a deaf penalty? It’s terrible! Deaf people have enough problems as it is!” Similarly, she would take off on the Eagle (Equal) Rights Amendment, conserving our natural racehorses (resources), youth in Asia (euthanasia), and sax and violins (sex and violence) on TV. When corrected at the end of her tirade, Emily would smile sweetly and say, “Never mind.” I hope Oprah comes around to that once she discovers the splendor of God’s holy jealousy. Maybe she just thought her pastor said God was joyless or gelatinous (all sticky and wobbly).

Incidentally, God help Chicago. While Oprah spins her yarns over at the Harpo [Oprah spelled backwards] Studios on the West Side, Louis Farrakhan advances his Nation of Islam doctrines on Chicago’s South Side. Then on the North Shore, the Baha’i Temple echoes Oprah’s New Age teaching that there are many ways to God. The East Side is the drink (Lake Michigan), into which these teachings should be tossed.

Actually, this is not Chicago’s special problem. She has a vast American audience, who will chase after every book she recommends while, at her lead, abandoning the clear teachings of The Book.

Oprah says she has a problem with a “jealous God.” Alas, she doesn’t know the half of it.
Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

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  • Mark Coppenger