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  • Writer's pictureJohn Coleman

Mine! Jealousy Revisited

Updated: Jan 21

(This year, I am intentionally working my way systematically (again) through Holy Scripture. As a part of that I am writing short rough notes as I journey through Scripture. These are random, fluid thoughts. These are not formal essays or written sermons. There are no citations and I often convey the thoughts of others that I have read or encountered. These have become a part of my own theology and clearly I stand on the shoulders of others to see more clearly.)

Genesis 37:8 (RSVCE): His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him yet more for his dreams and for his words...Genesis 37:11 (RSVCE): And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

You can only look at an apple so long before taking a bite. I heard this a long time ago and can't find who initially said it, but it's wisdom I have come to understand as truth through experience.

The things of this world have a certain allure. Wealth, fame, beauty and the list goes on. These are not bad. They often result from hard work and talent. But as we stare at them, the observation becomes longing and longing turns into desire. The longer we "stew" over the vision or circumstance, that desire increases exponentially. It clouds our vision. It takes over our thoughts. It not only becomes something we want, but we start to tell ourselves it (whatever it is) is something we deserve.

"How fair is it that he or she has this or that and I don't?!"

We turn things into a warped merit or reward system.

"They don't deserve that. They are ungrateful, or mean, or lazy or..."

"I work so much harder. I am so much more giving. I am...."

And it can lead to regrettable actions.

Jealousy is dangerous business. We have already seen "green-eyed" envy and jealousy introduce murder into the world through Cain and Abel. We now have another case of considered fratricide that resulted not in death but brotherly betrayal and slavery.

Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob and his favored child, has a dream that he will have authority and power over his brothers. The ancient world had a strict hierarchy regarding children and what they did or didn't deserve (and get). The oldest child was in a position to inherit the estate of the father, and it passed down in order from first to last.

The dreams of Joseph were an affront to that familial order. And his brothers, instead of brushing them aside as the grandiose histrionics of a younger brother, marinated in the dreams and their meaning. This, combined with the favoritism Jacob gave Joseph, became a volatile combination.

The brothers, caught up in what they deserved and what would be theirs, allowed the rumination to warp their sense of right and wrong. They took their brother and thought about killing him but settled on selling him into slavery. They then staged an attack on Joseph by dipping his coat of many colors into blood and presenting it to his father. Jealousy leads to separation, leads to lying, and leads to grief.

Now, we don't take jealousy quite as far as Joseph's brothers. At least the vast majority of us don't. But at times, jealousy, envy, and what we think we deserve infects us. We see someone who has something or someone we don't, and we want it to be ours. Maybe it's the love of another or even a parent. We justify our feelings by what we think is fair and what we deserve. We become bitter. And the longer these feelings and this vision are part of our lives, the more likely we are to act in a way that acts against the good.

We may spread a rumor, engage in gossip, or actively work against another.

We may sever the relationship or avoid reconciliation.

Maybe we do nothing, but turn in on ourselves and our feelings of betrayal, slowly turning our lives into something we and those we love don't recognize.

So how to we fight against the jealousy and envy that can so easily seep into daily life?

Pray and reflect on the blessings of life.

I know this can sound cliche to many. I used to get so angry when someone would tell me this in response to a problem. "I want a solution!" "That's easy for you to say!" "Give me some advice that is concrete!"

This reaction often comes from those without an active prayer life. I have found as I pray each day and actively reflect on the blessings that fill my life, I exchange my vision for God's vision. I slowly begin to not only reflect the character of God, but I want to reflect that character. As Martin Luther said, to be a Christian without prayer is like being alive without breathing—too many of us like the quick fix. We are too busy to pray or have given up on the efficacy of prayer because we think God should act in the way we expect or want.

The cure for resentment and jealousy is gratitude. And this begins in prayer.

We will also see as we walk through the story of Joseph that it is in the midst of the darkness of jealousy and the dreadful action that results that God's great work will shine through. This is the hope, even in our struggles.

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