In 1961 an author, known almost exclusively for his science fiction novels about space travel and futuristic settings published a remarkable novel which became an international best seller. Robert Heinlein had found a way to get to the very core of Judeo-Christian beliefs that was, at the time, unique. “Stranger in a Strange Land” became the book of the month for churches all over the country. I don’t remember how I first became aware of it, but it was several years after the initial publication. The worn and tattered paperback on my bookshelf is from the thirty-second printing in March 1968, so I obviously wasn’t the first discover it. I’ve read it more than once over the years, but the last time that I can be sure of was during our delayed honeymoon in Ixtapa, Mexico over Christmas of 1980. I know that because I still have the picture Marilyn took of me laying on the beach reading the book.
The story centers around a young man found to be living among the inhabitants of Mars, and his assimilation into society upon being brought to earth to live. He is baffled by the concept of conflict and disagreement among the people he observed. His revelation comes at the zoo one day when he observes two male primates fighting over something; a female as I recall. Without trying to find the exact passage in my tattered copy of the book, I can only tell you what struck me about the passage. Michael, suddenly erupts into hysterical laughter. He has discovered the root of earth’s problems … Jealousy and from that the conclusion that if mankind could do away with jealousy the other five, “thou shalt nots” in the Ten Commandments wouldn’t be unnecessary.
The flaw in Heinlein’s hypothesis is this: our Heavenly Father is a jealous God. It says so in the very first commandment. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” And then further down list God tells us that we can’t be jealous of our neighbors. So jealousy is apparently one emotion that God reserves for Himself. If one reads the rest of Heinlein’s book it will become clear that by the end of the narrative, Michael has come to view himself as a god if not God … less the jealousy.
Since reading that years ago, I have maintained a relatively consistent attitude of agreement with the concept, at least where it pertains to humanity in general. However, I have learned to separate the rest of humanity from my own personal experiences with other human beings and God in particular. But, He is a forgiving God, is He not? In that regard, a thought occurred to me during church this week that has caused me to dig deep into my own concept and experiences with forgiveness … and it’s relationship to jealousy.
The issue of forgiveness is not mentioned in the Ten Commandments, but it’s a recurring theme throughout the bible. In general it’s in regard to Him forgiving us, or us forgiving others. What I haven’t found in scripture is an admonition to forgive ourselves or to forgive God.
Start with forgiving yourself. I’ve heard it said that to forgive is to forget. For me, the process of forgetting required accurate memory of what I perceived as the circumstance which surrounded the act that required forgiveness. The process of writing “Dear Mom and Dad” was often excruciatingly painful because the idea of other people becoming privy to my life meant that the absolute accuracy of a circumstance had to be admitted. The unforeseen dividend of those admissions was that much of the guilt I felt for so many of the wrongs I had committed boiled to the surface of my consciousness. And I was miserable.
I beat up on myself frequently during that time period and found it impossible to to forgive myself. What I eventually realized was, that the more honest I was with myself the easier it was to forgive, not only others, but more importantly myself. Something else I eventually realized was that failure to forgive myself was equivalent to saying to God, “Hey, it’s my problem, let me wallow in it some more. You’re God, you’re suppose to forgive me. After all You said to ‘forgive others as I would have them forgive me. I don’t read ‘me’ as being part of the ‘others’” Have I totally forgiven myself for everything I ever did that needs forgiving? No, I haven’t but I’m a whole lot closer to not being human with myself and finally looking at me the way the bible says that God does. And speaking of God …
How much of what’s holding you back is the result of not forgiving God? That’s a subject which is never, or hardly ever, brought up. I’ve read stories and seen movies that involve the lives of people who have held God responsible for various misfortunes in their lives. But within the context of my Christian experience I have no memory of a discussion about forgiving God for creating me the way he did.
For most of my life I’ve been personally guilty of first blaming God and then failing to forgive Him for nearly every loss I’ve ever suffered. The mere fact that I repeatedly asked “why God, why?” when Marilyn died was a form of blame and failure to forgive.
I don’t remember when or exactly what occurred to cause me to accept all the happenings in my life and cease blaming God for every unpleasant moment and result of my various actions. But somewhere along the road I came to accept responsibility for most of my life. Maybe that was because I eventually asked Him to let me see myself through his eyes; to see what He saw in me.
To wrap all this up and connect jealousy with forgiveness I offer my own explanation. The emotion of jealousy is, to my way of thinking, an emotion which God reserves for himself alone. If I track all of the circumstances involving my own experiences with jealousy, back to their beginnings I find that, for the most part, they could have been avoided if only I had overcome the jealousy with forgiveness.