Psalms for the Night Seasons: Envy
Social media and the consumer economy are perniciously engineered to evoke the green-eyed monster in all of us.
Beware the “green-eyed monster.” Shakespeare coined this idiom to describe the illness and ferocity of envy and jealousy. Since the days of Cain’s fatal envy towards Abel, this monster has triggered violence, destruction, greed, division, and hatred. It lurks in the locker room, the boardroom, the local mall, and even our ecclesias. Social media and the consumer economy are perniciously engineered to evoke the green-eyed monster in all of us.
Envy kept David up at night for two reasons. Psalm 37 is all about envy and suggests that David wrestled with personal episodes of envy. These experiences led him to caution and conclude: “Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.” (Psa 37:1).1
Does envy keep you up at night?
Secondly, David also knew first-hand what it meant to be the subject of envy. After the people of Israel celebrated his victory over the Philistines, “Saul eyed David from that day forward.” (1 Sam 18:9). The word “eyed” means to watch with envy and evil intent. For years, Saul plagued David’s sleep with this green-eyed monster. Saul hunted him through the wilderness and even tried to murder David and even his own son Jonathan.
Does envy keep you up at night? At times, I have caught myself lying in bed, my pulse racing and my mind fretting within a vortex of envy: Why isn’t my life like this person’s? How are they able to afford that? When is it my turn to ______? At other times I have sensed someone’s envy towards me. The resulting rift has left me distraught and deeply saddened throughout the night.
In this second article on the Night Seasons, we want to explore envy as a cause for troubles and nights of turmoil. We also want to arm ourselves with some antidotes to help calm this monster, so it does not sow the seeds of discord, rob us of sleep, or disrupt God’s purpose.
Envy or Jealousy?
We may assume envy and jealousy mean the same, but they are not synonymous in English. Depending on their context, the KJV translators have also used these words to convey their correct meanings.
Jealousy is a strong feeling or desire to keep for yourself what rightfully belongs to you. It involves a third party that has threatened something of value to you. God often describes himself as jealous. He commanded Israel: “You shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exod 34:14). God zealously desires Israel and us for himself.
Envy, on the other hand, is a strong feeling or desire to have for yourself what rightfully belongs to another. Integral to this desire is sadness, resentment, and even ill will toward the other person. For example, you may envy someone’s wealth and then slander them to others or even devise ways to steal from them.
Envy In Ourselves
Envy and jealousy can grow from a sour feeling to a full-blown obsession, ending in tragic circumstances if not harnessed. However, envy is the more toxic of these two powerful emotions. It is hard to imagine a situation where envy is ever right. God’s Word portrays envy as formidable and self-destructive.
Solomon accurately observes, “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (Prov 27:4 KJV). In other words, wrath and anger are easier to control than the monster of envy. Paul describes envy as being one of the “works of darkness” that we are to cast off: “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.” (Rom 13:12-13). Later, he clarifies the ultimate reason we want to harness envy in our lives: “Envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like… Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:21).
God’s Word portrays envy as formidable and self-destructive.
It is helpful to identify and label emotions we experience. This fundamental step helps us understand why we are feeling what we are feeling and determine how we can harness the emotion. When do we feel envy? Why do we feel envy? What triggers our envy?
Write down five things that make you feel envious on paper. Take a moment and reflect on how you respond to this envy—is the response negative or positive? Are there ways you could avoid this envy? Perhaps it’s as simple as not going someplace or avoiding certain people.
Consequences of Envy
God has tailored a special plan and purpose for each of us. Have you ever considered how envy is a barrier to what He has designed us to be and do? Think about the following five “Ds” or consequences of envy:
Denies Uniqueness: God has made us unique for a divine purpose and journey. David acknowledged, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb… I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psa 139:13-14 ESV). Envy denies the exquisite uniqueness God has carefully crafted into each of us. It blinds us to our own special abilities and who we truly are. He has designed us to be us—not them. When we compare ourselves to others or wish we were different than what we are, we question God’s creation of us and the unique circumstances He has woven into our life. Do we value and maximize our uniqueness, or wish we were someone else?
Divides Our Attention and Focus: In the Ten Commandments, God instructed, “You shall not covet… anything that is your neighbour’s.” (Exod 20:17). Why? God wants us to focus our lives and desires on Him and to devote our energy to developing His principles in our personal life. When we envy, we lose this focus and divert our attention from God. We develop a divided allegiance between what God wants and what we want. Our desires, comparisons, and strivings become focused on someone or something else rather than God. Jesus reminds us that “No one can serve two masters.” (Matt 6:24) and instructs his disciples to “Follow Me.” (Mat 4:19). What or who are we following?
Damages Relationships: Joseph’s brothers were “moved with envy” and sold him into slavery (Acts 7:9 KJV). Ahab laid on his bed “sullen and displeased” while he envied Naboth’s vineyard just before killing him (1 Kgs 21:4). Paul says the disunity of the Corinthian ecclesia was rooted in their carnal, or animal-like, “envy, strife, and divisions.” (1 Cor 3:3). Evil men even delivered our Lord to death “because of envy.” (Mark 15:10). God wants us to build positive relations with those around us, whether in the ecclesia or outside. When we envy someone else, it leads to resentment and negative feelings toward them. Grudges, anger, lies, toxic communication, and hurt are the fruits. Are we building bridges with others or burning them with envy?
Dissolves our Time and Energy: Solomon observed, “that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Eccl 4:4 NIV). In other words, we completely waste our time and energy when we envy others for their accomplishments, possessions, or abilities. God wants us to devote the resources He has blessed us with to develop ourselves, not chase the unique capabilities and circumstances in someone else’s life. David reminds us: “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers.” (Psa 37:7 ESV). How much of our life and sleep do we lose to envy?
Destroys Joy, Love… and Everything: Solomon also testified, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” (Prov 14:30 NIV). Feeling peace, joy, or happiness is impossible when we are full of envy. Instead, we worry, are hypervigilant, and become depressed. Envy rots away joy. It also crushes love: “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy.” (1 Cor 13:4). What remains in life when we allow the green-eyed monster to dominate the four “Ds” above? James summarizes it as “earthly, sensual, demonic” and warns, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” (Jas 3:15-16). Envy is a corrosive acid that causes us to act in mind-bending ways. Is our life full of peace, or is our life in pieces because of our envy?
Did you notice how each of these consequences deeply affected Saul’s life? God chose Saul to be king because of his unique characteristics, but Saul did not leverage these. He consumed his energy and time envying David. While chasing David, he wasted opportunities to build up a strong nation (ecclesia) and a powerful relationship with God. His envy burned connections with his children Jonathan and Michal and distanced himself from Israel, whom God had asked him to shepherd. Saul’s green-eyed monster ultimately ate him alive—he became ill and mentally unstable. He lost everything, including his own life to suicide (1 Sam 31:4).
Antidotes for Envy
As David fretted on his bed, he concluded that envy would lead to the same end as Saul. He states, “Do not fret–it only causes harm.” (Psa 37:8). In this Psalm alone, he exclaims three times, “do not fret,” (vv. 1, 7, 8) because that’s exactly what envy makes us do. Can you see Saul’s life in your life? Has envy become a barrier to your faith, and does it prevent God from developing and using your full potential? We all struggle with envy and need to find antidotes for this virus. Here are four solutions:
Don’t Compare Ourselves to Others: We live in a comparison society where a five-star rating or thumbs-up compares everything and anything. If we are not careful, we can effortlessly do the same between ourselves. Do we have a personal radar that is finely tuned to compare ourselves when we show up for work, CYC, or Bible School? Am I as happy? As pretty? Am I less than them? Comparison was a driving reason for divisions in the ecclesia at Corinth. Paul advised, “But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (2 Cor 10:12). When we compare or rank ourselves, we set ourselves up for envy and disappointment. God wants us to embrace the unique identity He has blessed us with, not someone else’s.
Celebrate God’s Goodness to Others: If we are only happy when good things happen to us, we will be unhappy most of our life. God constantly blesses others around us and wants us to celebrate His goodness in everyone. Do we look for opportunities to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep?” (Rom 12:15). It is a wonderful spiritual practice to say “yay!” and be genuinely happy when our friends and neighbors experience blessings.
This mindset helps free us from envy and insecurity. Paul also encourages us to celebrate all the uniquely beautiful parts of Christ’s body: “In [Christ’s] body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function… having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” (Rom 12:4, 6 ESV). How can we rejoice in our functions and gifts or show love or care to others if we harbor envy?
Be Grateful for Who We Are and What We Have: Envy encourages us to regret what we do have and pine for what we do not have. An attitude of gratitude can change our perspective. When we practice gratitude, we look at what we have with greater appreciation. Gratitude is a conscious choice. We can choose to recognize that everything we have is a gift from God and that we have much more than we deserve, or we can always choose to want something more.
Solomon says, “It is better to be content with what the eyes can see, than for one’s heart always to crave more. This continual longing is futile—like chasing the wind.” (Eccl 6:9 NET). David recognized, “A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked.” (Psa 37:16). Gratitude helps build and maintain relationships with others, resulting in hope, contentment, and positive, proactive behaviors towards others.
Trust God When Life Seems Unfair: Have you ever blurted out, “Hey, that’s not fair!”? It’s easy to look at our lives, compare them to others, and conclude we have been ripped off. However, this is akin to accusing God of not knowing what He is doing. Isaiah says, “Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay… Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding?’” (Isa 29:16).
Envy does not express trust in God’s unique plan or purpose with our life. In Psalm 37, David instructs us three times to “Trust in the Lord” (vv. 3, 5, 40) as an antidote to envious fretting. Envy also skews our perspective about fairness. The parable of the workers in the vineyard reminds us that only God can evaluate “fair.”
Several full-time workers grumbled when they saw part-time workers receive the same pay for fewer hours. The landowner, who represents God, responded: “‘I am not being unfair to you, friend… Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matt 20:15 NIV). How much do we trust God’s plan even when we do not like it?
Social Media Envy
If Saul had Facebook, I could imagine him checking David’s page several times daily. Let’s be honest—despite some positives to these forums, Social Media Envy is a real thing. Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and mobile devices, we are always a click away from evidence that somebody else is living a superb life, far better than our own messy reality.
Over the past decade, many studies have recognized a strong link between Facebook, envy, and depression. They admit that social media leads us to question our lives and friends. In a recent study on the effects of social media, “many shared achingly personal stories about grief, self-doubt, and frayed relationships.”2 The report discovered that “social media has unleashed a deep, pervasive, negative emotional force—something that threatens to tear apart our most precious relationships, as well as the day-to-day social fabric of casual friendship.”
Does a virtual, green-eyed monster provoke us every day? If so, do we need to limit our social media consumption? Do our own posts provoke an envy spiral, where our envy causes us to post items that make us feel better about ourselves but thereby incite envy in others, and so on? In contrast, Paul encourages, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” (Heb 10:24 KJV).
Does envy control us, or do we control envy? James declares “confusion and every vile deed” germinates in the soil of envy (Jas 3:16 RV). Fretting and the five “Ds” are the fruits of this monster. Instead, James counsels us to sow in the soil of peace, where we can harvest the fruit of righteousness: “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (Jas 3:18). This is the same “righteous” fruit that David counsels us to cultivate eight times as an antidote to envy in Psalm 37!
Using “wisdom that comes down from above” (Jas 3:15 ESV), let us strive to be righteous by sowing in the soil of peace and not envy. This resolution will help us battle the green-eyed monster and sleep better at night.
Cambridge Ecclesia, ON
- All Scriptural citations are taken from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.
- Samuel, Alexandra. “Jealous of your Facebook friends? You’re not alone.” Experience Magazine. March 13, 2019. https://expmag.com/2019/03/jealous-of-your-facebook-friends-youre-not-alone/