It was ninth grade assembly and all the awards had been handed out. I watched with subdued anger as many of my friends received accolades of various sorts. All I got was out of sorts. I honestly thought I deserved to be rewarded for something. But I wasn’t acknowledged for anything.
Years later, after many points of soulful reflection, I realize the reason I was left out of the award parade. I hadn’t worked hard enough to achieve anything. I did nothing of consequence that should be honored or recognized. I see now that the anger was fueled by an expectation of wanting what I had not earned. I was jealous of how so many others were being singled out for honor while I was passed over. I look back on it now and realize how stupid it all was: But I can still access that feeling of jealousy and in some ways, I can taste the bitter realization of mediocrity.
I can still be jealous as easily as that day. I have chosen to adopt three professions at the same time, and so it is possible to be acknowledge any number of ways. I am a counselor, a writer and a pastor. In each of these roles, I have won some awards and, at times, a certain notoriety. You would think this would insulate me from becoming jealous. But, instead of ridding this insidious root from the garden of my thoughts, the more people reward me, the more I want it. I still cringe when colleagues achieve something I do not. I still feel some pain of regret that I have not risen to the height someone else looks down from.
Fortunately, I can usually slough off these jealous feelings within a short time. I no longer waste much emotional energy moaning over what others have done. And, I have come to grips with the knowledge that if I too put in the work they put in, I can achieve something of what they have done. That usually settles the issue for me. I don’t want to work as hard as some others, so it helps me be more content in achieving less.
As Fulton Sheen so eloquently noticed, “Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius”.
But how then does that explain God’s jealousy? James 4:6 says clearly “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” In 21 places in the Bible, we are told that God is jealous for his people. That raises so many questions for us:
- Does God have a jealous streak and does this mean we are greater than God if we don’t get jealous?
- Does this mean it is all right to be jealous if God gets that way?
- Are there different types of jealousy?
- If there are different types, are there some types that we can indulge in and not others?
- Is God allowed to be jealous even if we are not?
- Are we indeed not allowed to be jealous?
Without doing a deep study into the words used in the Bible which we translate jealousy, I think we can reasonably conclude there are different types of jealousy. What is it that God gets jealous of? In the Old Testament, he is clearly jealous of those times when his people followed after idols and other gods. He is jealous when they devoted their lives to pursuits that leaves God out of it. And in the James passage quoted above, it says in the verse before, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” The jealousy that God allows for himself (and perhaps for us as well) is a jealousy where the person who is in a covenant relationship chooses to leave that relationship to follow someone else. In our case, that would be felt by a spouse, a parent or a child. A spouse may be jealous of their partner that leaves them for another person. A parent can be jealous of a child who gives themselves over to drugs and a child may see a workaholic parent and wish that they were more important that the job.
Jealousy is mainly a problem when two things occur. First, where we seek to utilize external control methods to restrain another. God is our example here. He does not stop us from following other gods. He grieves over it and gets angry, but he gives us free choice in the matter. When we seek to use external control methods (like force, manipulation, deceit) to force a person to stay in relationship with us, we violate their most sacred right: The right to call the shots for their own life. The second problem occurs when we will not let go of the pain of jealousy. When the jealousy becomes our food on a daily basis, we have given too much power to jealousy. We must instead think of ways we can be ready if they should choose to return to the covenant relationship.