Jealousy and Envy: The Christian and the State
My Fellow Christians:
I am a jealous father. As such, I will not allow the state to steal the hearts of my children. And I will not allow the state to raise them for its purposes. So I homeschool.
Am I wrong in my jealousy?
Our brother Paul was jealous, and so is our Father. I will let their words speak for them:
As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he is "jealous over you with godly jealousy." (2Cor. 11:2)1
As God spoke to Moses, "For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exo. 34:14)
But they were not envious — they despised (God still despises) envy. Again, letting their words speak for them:
"Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers" (Rom. 1:29)
"Therefore, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will even do according to thine anger, and according to thine envy which thou hast used out of thy hatred against them" (Eze 35:11a )
While jealousy can be godly, we are to despise envy, always.2
Today we tend to use the terms jealousy and envy interchangeably. But the Bible sets those two words apart. So what is the difference between them?
According to Helmut Schoek, in his excellent book, Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour, "[T]he jealous man can never normally become a spontaneous, primary aggressor." The jealous man only seeks to protect that which he rightfully possesses from the hands of his rivals — those striving to obtain those very same assets. So the jealous man's "mind is at rest once he knows that he is free of rivals."
The envious man expresses a more hostile set of emotions. Throughout his book, Schoek delves into the heart of the envious man. He clearly shows that set of emotions to be evil and destructive. Seductive, yes. But oh so vile.
According to Schoek, the envious man "usually knows exactly what provokes him." But the object of his envy "may actually be ignorant of his existence." The envious man wants something that is not rightfully his. And his heart is always filled with spite, as nothing, not even the destruction of the object of his envy, will set his mind to rest.
In simpler terms, the jealous man wants to keep his own possession while the envious man wants the possessions that someone else rightfully owns.
Paul and God expressed jealousy. Both sought (God still seeks) to protect hearts from their rivals — the gods of this earth. And both desired (God still desires) to see souls won for the Kingdom.
Therefore, jealousy is the favored set of emotions. It is not evil, nor is it vile.3
However, we are a people who have turned from jealousy toward envy. We have become the primary aggressors, using the power of the state to obtain possession of the rightful assets of others. And we many times we do this in the name of God.
So we advocate for the redistribution of wealth. We ask the state to tax those who possess more than we possess in order to fulfill (or so we think) our mission to help the poor. But, as James warns, "For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work." (Jas. 3:16)
Is that not our world today?
Paul asked, "Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?" (1Cor. 10:22)
We dare not provoke God to jealousy by turning away from Him. So why would we dare provoke jealousy in others by using the power of the gun to take from them that which is rightfully theirs And why would we invite the wrath of God on ourselves "according to thine envy?"
Many claim that stealing with a good intent (can that be possible?) is a godly action. But as Paul wrote, "Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? (Rom. 2:21)
Do we not also preach "thou shall not steal?" Turning around, do we then pull the lever on the ballot box, setting in motion various acts of theft? Do we advocate for state interventions that take from others? And do we really believe that one can only steal from those who are less fortunate than we are — as if those more fortunate can find no protection under the word of God?
When we embrace a system of envy, we also ignite the fires of sin that exist in hearts of all men. We end up pushing our fellow believers — and unbelievers — farther from the spirit of the Lord. In essence, we fan the flames of all those sins Paul noted above, including unrighteousness, wickedness, murder, deceit, etc.
Instead of winning heart for heaven, we condemn souls to our envious ways. Is this to be our epitaph?
It is time that Christians turn away from envy and embrace jealousy. We should actively keep watch over that which we hold dear — whether it is our property or the hearts of our children. And we should despise a system of government that seeks to take from one and give to another — a system of government that is both based on envy and controlled by the envious. There is nothing godly about such a system.
- All Bible quotes are from the King James Version, available at BibleGateWay.com — a wonderful resource.
- In addition, the envious man may simply want the object of his envy to not be allowed to possess some asset that that man currently possesses. In essence, the envious man is willing to be harm himself as long as the object of his envy is harmed also. Ludwig von Mises called this the Fourier complex.
- Due to his sinful nature, man can take jealousy too far and desire to hold onto his worldly possessions in lieu of his heavenly ones. But it does not follow that the state must thieve his earthly possession — it is a matter of the heart, not the possessions, that is the issue. And theft is always theft, regardless of the rationale behind it.
March 15, 2010
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