“The law is a jealous mistress.” If a student hasn’t heard that quote before arriving in the hallowed hallways of her law school, she is likely to hear it on her very first day. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story coined the term in the talk he gave when he became a professor at Harvard University in 1829. Law students have been hearing it ever since. Story was noting the law, as study and profession, is demanding of time, thoughts and energy. Some have said, the law is all consuming.
If married, be assured your spouse will not be enamoured of the idea that you have a mistress, whether another woman, the law or any other obsession, particularly a mistress jealous of other interests or pursuits in your life.
Stipulating ten life-enriching commandments to the nation of Israel, God doubled down on recognition he is the only true God before bridging to the other eight directives. In doing so, he referred to himself as “a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4). Jesus was unwavering on this point, stating the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with the four alls of our existence – all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength (Luke 10:27). That’s the covenant.
It was in 1870 that Charles Dudley Warner turned the phrase, “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Warner was comparing an American political situation with his summer garden. The intermingling of untended berry plants led him to riff off of William Shakespeare, who wrote in The Tempest (Act 2, Scene 2) that “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” Whether facing life’s storms or seeking to escape them, people not expected to cooperate with one another may end up doing so for a variety of unintended reasons, particularly when it comes to politics.
The danger with a strange bedfellow is one’s unintended bedmate may well become one’s jealous mistress. An interest in politics can easily become overly partisan, inflaming a desire to make law with one another. In the grips of such passion, we are tempted to set aside an earlier covenant made with someone else. Politics, as hobby or profession, may entice any one of us away from Jesus, who loves us, gave himself for us, and requires from us all, all, all, all.
Manifest political partisanship seductively woos us to regard one political leader as saviour, and another as devil. Both are simply human. Neither is to be to us an idol.
It seems our forgetfulness of actual Saviour and Devil may rival the impetuous collective amnesia of the Israelites who demanded a golden calf be fashioned as their god, despite having been clearly told not to do so. And then doing it within clear sight of a cloud-cloaked mountain where Moses was meeting with the Lord their God, who had only recently delivered them by the hundreds of thousands from centuries of captivity in a foreign land.
I cannot imagine that all of the two million-plus people at the base of Mount Sinai cried out for the calf. More likely, a vocal few rallied part of the crowd – some with convictions on the issue, others less so but inclined to go with the flow of friends or family – and the ensuing mob action pressured Aaron. There were, no doubt, a large number who looked to Aaron, a recognized leader in their community, for guidance. Aaron instead acted on the opinion of the enraged crowd, however misshapen or misleading. Aaron, a spiritual leader of the people, allowed intimidation to steer him to do something other than trust God’s word.
Today’s rallying cries may come through social media memes, tweets, blogs and videos or public statements by people we are convinced can be trusted. Perhaps, they are on the saviour’s team. Maybe they’re on the Saviour’s team, too. We need to dispassionately assess whether their agitation is intended to arouse in us desires that would lure us to join in the pursuit of a contemporary golden calf. What’s their motivation? Who do they want us to align ourselves with? Where will following lead us? We are to embrace neither idols, other gods nor a different saviour. We have one God. And he has commissioned us to be his ambassadors, ambassadors of reconciliation, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
The authors of the New Testament inspire our participation in society as good citizens. In a democracy, rendering unto Caesar (Matthew 22:21a) means our participation can extend to any and all stages of political involvement, but as Christians our participation must be accompanied by rendering unto God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21b).
Before we take action that will lead others who trust our voice, whether through speech, tweet or post, it’s our responsibility to ascertain if the expression is suitable to be shared by an ambassador of reconciliation? Or does the message originate from the tantalizing quest of a jealous mistress or strange bedfellow to stimulate within us a craving for their recommended golden calf?
The Lord our God is a jealous God. He encourages our contribution to the good of the world around us, and endorses no competitors for his tender affections.