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The Root of Jealousy

By June 16, 20102 Comments

In the last two weeks I’ve written a couple posts about the nature of jealousy, and before I close out the topic I wanted to post a final thought from Tim Keller (since he generally says everything better than I do!). This comes from his Bible Study “Praying through the Psalms” and it highlights the reality that jealousy isn’t simply a problem with which we struggle, but a sin that we are choosing to indulge.

The following excerpt is a reflection on Psalm 73. In it, the author, Asaph, is crying out to God about the injustices of this world, and Keller draws an interesting insight from Asaph’s suffering:

“We all know that it is an unjust world, filled with oppression, violence, and natural disasters. Yet most of us live with all this with some indifference. We read of floods and genocidal events and say ‘How sad,’ but it doesn’t usually evoke a crisis of faith. What has disturbed Asaph so deeply? Is he far more sensitive to the suffering and oppression of the poor and innocent than most of us? No. In verses 13 and 14 we see that his life is not going well in comparison to others who are less moral than he is. He says, ‘Here I am, working to keep my hands and heart pure, and these others do not. Yet every morning I am reminded how much less comfortable and successful I have been.’ Verse 14 might mean that he has some particular “plague” — a real disease or some other trouble. But it is just as likely that the disparity between his life and the lives of the immorall is the plague and “punishment” (v. 14).

In verse 3, Asaph is even willing to admit that his resentment is due to outright “envy.” It is a credit to his honesty that he has not rationalized his anger with lofty language about the exploitation of the poor. He is willing here to say, ‘My indignation over the injustice of the elites was really, basically, a form of envy and jealousy. I wasn’t just angry at them — I wanted what they had. If my own life had been going better and I was getting a bigger piece of the pie, I would have been much less bothered by the injustice of the powerful. It is only when my life’s circumstances started going bad that I began to feel the injustice in the world and become angry at God.’

Of all he says about himself, however, the most startling self-revelation may be in verse 13. Twice he says, “In vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.” The doubling of the phrase shows that this was a heart cry in the midst of his anguish…

Asaph baldly admits that his effort to live righteously was a calculated, self- interested one. Something is only in vain if it has failed to realize its main purpose. What, then, is the main purpose (in his mind) of living a pure and holy life? Clearly, the main purpose is a life in which he shares in the comforts and privileges he has envied in verses 4-12. His heart is saying, ‘What profit are you getting out of all this holiness? Living holy is pretty “expensive” — you have to give up a lot of pleasurable things! You’d better be getting a lot back — like good health, a happy family, emotional well-being, some economic security. But they have not been forthcoming. All this holiness has been in vain.’

We should experience a very unpleasant shock of recognition as we read this. When our life circumstances go bad, the spiritual foundations for our behavior are revealed. Why do we live a holy and pure life? For God’s sake? For the sake of truth and good? Or for our own profit? Asaph’s heart cry “in vain” shows why he is in such agony. His real hopes and goals have been removed, and he is furious and empty.”

As Keller points out, jealousy is a sin that unmasks our true motives: Are you following God because of what He can give you, because you think you are earning particular benefits that others around you have, or because God is the sole source of your contentment and you love Him? It is certainly spiritual food for thought.


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