JEALOUSY: It starts early
(…continued) A man was complaining to his neighbor about his bad luck in his business and finances. He was wondering why he could not be as lucky and as well off as their other neighbor down the street who had been extremely successful and seemed to have it made. The other man said simply, “I know very well that man, and I know about his hidden cares and burdens, and I can assure you that you would not want to trade places with him. You might want to trade bank accounts, but I know you would not want to trade everything.” We all get our own mixed bags of blessings and woes, and if we knew the whole story of everyone else, we would not be so quick to envy.
According to the Bible we are not born inherently good, and, we are not born as blank slates as some psychologists have believed. Rather, says the Bible, we are sinful from our mother’s womb; we are born selfish and turned in on ourselves. There are few areas where this is more obvious than this whole matter of jealousy– of looking not at what you have with gratitude, but in looking at what someone else has with envy. If you put two small children into a room full of toys, nine times out of ten what toy is that each child wants? They want whatever it is that the other child has. Children must be taught to share because sharing does not come naturally. The envy and selfishness is what comes naturally. You do not have to teach a child to be jealous.
This matter is so important that God dedicated two of the ten commandments to it. “Thou shalt not covet” are the first words of the ninth and tenth commandments. ‘Coveting’ is desire with a wicked twist to it, desire that is not satisfied with one has, desire that is resentful about another’s good fortune, desire that might even scheme to hurt another. The farmer in the parable I began with (EmailMeditation #585) was granted three incredible wishes, but he ruined everything by coveting.
“How is your wife,” said one man to another. “Compared to what?” said the other man in the familiar comeback. Meant to be humorous, the reply illustrates the point. How should one make such a comparison? Compared to Marilyn Monroe, the comparison would come out one way; compared to Mother Teresa, the comparison would turn out quite another way. Basic to any sort of evaluation is the question of what standard one chooses to use, and this is certainly true in comparing our blessings in life with other people, as we think about whether or not life has been fair to us.
The issue is always, ‘compared to what?’ In the parable, if the farmer compared his wealth to what he had at the beginning, before the angel of God came to him, he certainly had reason to rejoice. What someone else did or did not receive should have certainly been secondary to the fact that out of nowhere he was greatly blessed. It was only when he compared what he had to what his neighbor had that his rejoicing turned into resentment.
This is the crucial issue for all of us as we examine the circumstances of our own lives. The place to start is by asking what we had before God entered the picture– and of course God entered the picture at the very beginning to give us life itself. Before that we had nothing at all. As long as we stay focused on where we began and realize that life itself is a gift and birth itself is a sheer windfall for everyone of us, then a spirit of astonishment and gratitude will never leave us. Before you complain to the Dealer about the hand that you have been dealt in life, you need to remember that if it wasn’t for the love and grace of God, you would have not been dealt any hand at all. When you forget that fact, and begin making comparisons not to what you had at the beginning but to what someone else has, then the gratitude turns to accusation, and faith and trust disappear. The ‘amazing grace’ of God isn’t just that your sins have been forgiven. Everything you have and everything you are, including the fact that you were even born, comes by grace of God. There is no other source of anything.
German preacher Helmut Thielicke was right when he said, “The goodness of God can never been seen through jealous eyes, for this involves looking in the wrong direction for what is most important. The goodness of God is seen only through the eyes of gratitude.”
So what are you looking at?– your neighbors’ blessings, with envy; or your own, with gratitude?
–Adapted from a message by Rev. John Claypool, Episcopal priest, (1931-2005)
Proverbs 14:30 — A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.
I Corinthians 13:4 — Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Psalm 103:2 — Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Eternal God, my sovereign Lord, I acknowledge all I am and all I have is yours. Give me such a sense of your infinite goodness that I may return to you all possible love and obedience.
–John Wesley (1703-1791)