Envy versus jealousy… is it all gin?
Yes, you read that correctly. I did not mean to write sin. I meant gin. Read on. 😉
The ugly, shameful truth is that it is too easy to allow this emotion to rule our hearts. I know I have.
I’m not going to sugar coat anything on this blog. I do feel envy of others and I feel it often. I need only to look at the next person’s Instagram following or someone parading their university or career accomplishments on Facebook to feel the seed of sin in my heart.
I’m human and try as I might, I cannot separate myself from my desires, sinful or not. It is the eternal struggle with sin that Paul so eloquently describes in all of Romans 7:
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power[e] within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.
24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
But the question remains: envy versus jealousy… is it all gin? Is there a difference? Does it matter?
Envy is a peculiar feeling. I have often mistaken it for jealousy. I’ll admit it once lead me to question the Lord’s nature; if jealousy is sin, how can the Lord be a jealous God (Ex. 34:14)?
14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
We know envy is one of the notorious seven deadly sins (despite the fact there is no hierarchy of sin, but that’s a topic for another day). Even the pub I work at has a cheeky seven deadly gins promotion going on.
But until recently I honestly had no idea there was a difference between envy and jealousy. I feel this article from Psychology Today sums up the difference fairly well:
Envy occurs when we lack a desired attribute enjoyed by another.
Jealousy occurs when something we already possess (usually a special relationship) is threatened by a third person
And so envy is a two-person situation whereas jealousy is a three-person situation. Envy is a reaction to lacking something. Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something (usually someone).
When I think about envy, the first obvious thought is the story of Cain and Abel. Cain straight up murders Abel over his envy for his brother.
But interestingly, I also found myself thinking about the actions of Jonah.
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is about Jonah being in the belly of the whale. Mostly for the bit where he finds himself angry over the death of a plant providing him shade (Jonah 4:6-11)!
I see myself reflected in Jonah’s petulant anger and his inability to see the bigger picture.
Jonah’s motives for his reluctancy to warn Nineveh of its destruction are debated. I’m no scholar, but I’m sure part of it was political; the destruction of Ninevah would have been a win for Israel. You can find more about that on the world wide web, yo.
But judging by Jonah’s anger over the plant in comparison to his lack of regard for an entire nation of people facing destruction and eternal damnation, pagan or not, I would venture to guess he was often blinded by his emotion.
Thus, I can’t help but wonder if Jonah’s actions were more of a matter of the heart.
We see that Jonah is very emotional and indignant. When I look at Jonah, I see someone acting out of stubbornness, pridefulness, and envy.
After all, wouldn’t you be angry and envious too if God decided he wanted to extend a
helpful merciful hand and warn your enemy of their destruction? No doubt Jonah also felt jipped at the idea of God showing mercy to pagans. He was a proud Hebrew, believing he was hand picked by God.
In Jonah, I see someone envious of God’s favor to a people whom in his eyes was vastly undeserving.
God hand picked Jonah to make a lesson out of his heart.
Think about it: a prophet, knowing full well God is a merciful, compassionate God, behaving in such a way?
That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3
He knew God would refrain from destroying these people and like a stubborn child, he turned away, arms crossed.
So, is there a difference between jealousy and envy?
The answer is a resounding yes!
Going back to the idea of God’s very nature; thank God that God is a jealous god. Thank goodness He desires that we place no other gods or idols before Him.
When we do, we often allow the enemy to seize our desires because our guards are down while worshipping something or someone we should not be. We could very well end up making the same mistake that Jonah did; he turned his back on God because of the sin in his heart.
So thank God for His mercy, his slowness to anger, his abundance of love, and his reluctance to destroy us whether we are “godless” or not as Jonah surely thought the Ninevites were.
Psalm 116:5 The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
If we are thinking in terms of God’s nature, jealousy can no longer be seen as synonymous with envy. God’s nature by definition is perfect and lacks nothing.
Envy, however, is born out of a sinful desire for something we feel we are lacking.
What we don’t realize, however, is the radical, merciful, gracious truth: we are lacking in nothing.
We are no longer dead through sin but alive in Christ and his fullness dwells within. You need only to remember that singular truth when the weight of sin becomes too much to bear.
We are no longer slaves.
Colossians 2:9-12 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13