Over these past few weeks, I have been giving some time to the topic of envy. And as I was doing this I found my mind wandering back to my years as a youth pastor. Those years certainly included a lot of different games and, of course, a lot of great memories and relationships. But there is one particular game that stands out in my mind, if only for its pure dramatic flavour:
The game is called the Red-Black game (for lack of a better name).
The Red-Black Game
The game basically involves dividing the youth into two even-numbered groups, while I assume the role of mediator in the middle. I then give both teams two pieces of paper, one with a black circle and another with a red circle, while in the center of both groups I place a selection of desirable looking candy. I then give the teams a chance to deliberate, and after calling them back together instruct them to hold up a paper of their choosing on the count of three.
And here are the rules. If both teams end up holding up the paper with the red circle, then the candy in the middle would be divided evenly between both teams. If one team holds up the black and the other red, the team with the black circle gets all of the candy while the other team gets none. But if both teams hold up the black circle, neither team gets the candy.
Now here is the thing. For every time I have played this game, it never failed that there was at least one person from the group, usually more, who believed they knew how to beat this game. And the way they attempted to do this was by crossing the divided line and deliberating with the opposing team in an effort to create an alliance. The way for everyone to be happy, for everyone to win, they would insist, is for both teams to agree to always hold up the red circle. And to their credit, the plan usually worked… for a few rounds anyways. It was inevitable that the game eventually found a way to bring out that black circle, and… here’s the key… it always happened as a result of raising or changing the stakes of the reward in the center. And of course from there it would essentially just spiral out of control, to the point where youth were crying or storming out of the room angry- you know, the mark of any great and successful youth event.
But here is the thing. It also provided one of the more memorable and meaningful teaching times as well, allowing me to tie it into a lesson on “envy” in a sort of “real life example” kind of way. And this was as true for them as it was for me. When it comes to the 7 deadly sins, our current summer series (at Church), there is a tendency for me to view these sins as something that exists “out there”, the product of extreme examples that are not really relevant to my everyday life. What this game showed me, or reminded me of, is that we all carry a similar potential to give into these sins, a similar potential to give into envy. And often all it takes is the right game, or the right life circumstance to pull it to the surface.
Bringing Envy to the Surface
Author, blogger, writer Tim Challies argues in a series he did on the subject of envy that envy is something we don’t talk about near enough. Which is perhaps most surprising given “how much the Ancient writers and theologians talked about it” a whole lot. So what I want to do (with this blog/sermon) is give attention to a subject that I believe affects us all a in some form or another, a subject that likely deserves far more attention than many of us tend to afford it. And my hope is to do this by looking at the following:
- What envy is
- Why it is a problem,
- What we can do to guard ourselves against it.
WHAT IS ENVY?
I will begin by looking to google- because of course google has the answer to everything. Here is a simple online dictionary definition of the word envy:
“Envy is the malign feeling- mean spirited, cruel- toward one who possesses that which we greatly desire.”
There are two things that I pulled out of this definition that I thought could be helpful in allowing me, allowing us, to begin to locate envy in our lives moving forwards in this (one way, yeah I know) discussion. First, if we want to recognize envy in our lives we can look towards the object of our desire. Secondly, it is helpful to look towards the/a relationship(s) that most closely share this desire.
And with these two things in mind, I want to turn to a passage of scripture that I think exemplifies the problem of envy in an instructive and powerful way, the story of Joseph found in Genesis 37-50, beginning with 37:1-4:
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.[a]But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Returning to the two ideas I mentioned above, I found the object of Joseph’s brother’s desire here to be “the love of their father”. The shared relationship is, of course, the “family” of 12 “brothers”. The malign feeling, then, surfaces because the brother’s see the special love that Jacob (also named Israel) gives to Joseph and believe it to be unjust, unfair.
A Growing Conflict
Now, as we read further into the story of Joseph we are able to note a growing conflict developing between the brothers. We notice it fist in verse 2, where it says that Joseph “brought a bad report of them (his brothers) to their father.” Which, if you have ever had siblings or had to live under a siblings shadow, it is easy to see why this would rile them up.
Actually, this did remind me of a time when I was about 7/8 years old. I found myself playing in the mud after a fresh rainfall, and I may or may not have tracked a tiny of bit of this mud into the house, only to have my brothers take this information to my parents. I was sent to my room without screen or play time for the rest of the evening and night. I don’t remember much about that time, but what I do remember is, the longer I was in that room the angrier my feelings towards my brothers became. And it didn’t help that their voices were all I could hear from the next room over.
The wonder of envy at work.
And then, when we take a look underneath the passage we are also able to note the presence of a certain cultural conflict surrounding the place of the firstborn son, which held much significance in the ancient world. And given that Joseph is the second youngest of the brothers, this special attention typically reserved for the firstborn upsets the paradigm, a paradigm which the rest of the narrative will look to address moving forward.
And then there is the fact that Jacob/Israel (one in the same person in this narrative) had two wives, with Joseph (and Benjamin) being from a different mother than his 10 other brothers. This is of course speculative, but this certainly could have been another source of this growing conflict.
Finally, we arrive at Joseph’s dreams (and these dreams are a reoccurring subject in his story as well). First, Joseph brings one of these dreams to his brothers, informing them that, according to this dream one day they (his brothers) will bow down to him and that Joseph, the second youngest of the family, will reign over them. Which of course, like any good sibling conflict does, incites their anger even more.
And as if this is not enough, Joseph then proceeds to bring a second dream to his father, perhaps thinking that he would take the news better than his brothers. But after informing his father that one day both his brothers AND his parents will bow down to him, like any good parent would likely do in this case, Jacob “rebukes” this crazy idea- in your dreams Joseph.
So two things to note here at this point in the story:
- Envy doesn’t come out of nowhere. It is something that grows.
- And often envy grows because we feel that someone or something is conflicting, challenging or threatening our sense of who we are or the way we believe things should be.
And as envy grows and conflicts, it ultimately begins to distort the truth we believe about ourselves, about others and about God.
Given this reality, it is relevant to note here that Joseph’s brothers are never said to be outside of their father’s love. Rather, they simply misplace the special love being afforded to Joseph, a love that we know stems from being “a son of his old age” (37:3). And if we look back, this connects us to the birth of Benjamin, a birth that follows a revelation of God given to Jacob in chapter 35. It is in this place that we locate the relevance of Jacob’s old age, which is anchored in the promise God makes to Jacob, now given the name Israel, of his family name being made into a fruitful nation of God. And by misplacing the context of this special love, the seeds of envy, as it is referred to in later biblical witness, begin to take root. There is hatred, and then more hatred, and then finally we come to this word “jealousy”.
The Relationship Between Jealousy and Envy
It is worth pausing on this word jealousy for a minute. In his blog series on the subject of envy, Tim Challies argues that one of the reasons that we don’t talk about envy enough is that we often confuse envy with other words, other sins. And the most common confusion is between envy and jealousy. So I found it worthwhile to look into how these words differ in order to better understand exactly what envy is and why it is a problem.
The Triangle vs. The Straight Line
The field of Psychology recognizes jealousy within the paradigm of a “triangle”, or the “triangle theory”. In this theory we have three persons or objects. The top of the triangle represents the shared person or object of desire, while the bottom of the triangle represents the two forces who share in this desire. The point of the theory is to suggest that the attention in jealousy is always on the on the object of desire. And what motivates jealousy is fear- fear of losing this object/person and fear of someone else having this object/person instead of us (and what this might mean for us).
Where envy differs is that it is has two components rather than three. And these components are always interpersonal- which means envy always occurs between two persons on a straight line, or the bottom of this triangle. And what is most important when it comes to understanding envy (theoretically) is that, unlike jealousy it wants nothing in return. While envy often grows out of a shared desire, as it grows the object of our (the envious one) desire falls further and further out of view, to the point where the motivating force of envy is no longer fear, but rather malicious intent, anger; a hatred that simply wants to see something “denied” to an opposing party rather than obtaining something for ourselves.
Returning to my personal story of playing in the mud, one of the curious things about sitting in that room is the way in which I can remember my desire to get let out the room fading further and further from my mind the more I listened to my brothers playing. After a while, the only feeling I had was that I wanted to see the play time taken away from them.
And I believe we can see this same theory at work as we continue to look at the story of Joseph. As Joseph is thrown into a pit and eventually sold into slavery to a passing caravan on their way to Egypt, the brother’s shared desire for the love of their father couldn’t be further from their view. They simply want to see Joseph denied the love of their father, because this is what envy is and what envy does. Author and activist Dorothy Sayers, whom happens to also be an expert in the art of mystery and languages, puts it this way.
“Envy is the great leveller: if it cannot level things up, it will level them down … rather than have anyone happier than itself, it will see us all miserable together.”
So if all this has something to say about what envy is, it was worthwhile for me to push this one-way discussion a bit further towards the question of why envy is a problem, which I hope is becoming a bit more clear at this point.
Why Is Envy a Problem
In the (necessarily) limited research that I was able to give to of the fields of Psychology and Social Sciences over these last few weeks, I found envy to be a much discussed and researched topic of interest when it came to the study of human relationships. And in my research, I found a common understanding that suggested, “for as long as the idea of human relationship has been in existence, we have needed a word to describe envy”.
Most of the scientists that I encountered spoke of envy from its etymological roots, helping to show that every culture and every language has in fact needed a “similar” word to describe envy. And so, even on this most practical of levels we know that envy is a problem. In fact, the research went so far, at least in one context, as to describe envy as the “central problem of the human condition”. And as I continued through the story of Joseph, I began to see more and more this same idea being expressed in the context of the God-Human relationship as well.
This One Thing
After having been sold into slavery Joseph ultimately lands in Egypt where it says “he became successful… in the house of his Egyptian Master”. So successful that his Egyptian Master (Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh) “made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had (39:4-5)”. It just so happened that this also put him in close proximity to his master’s wife.
So one day, it says, his master’s wife took notice of Joseph (and his handsome good looks) and asked him to “lie” with her (39:7). To which Joseph responds,
“He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except this one thing (some translations say “yourself”), because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
In other words, I have been made Potiphar’s equal in this house except for this “one thing”, so why should I desire to have to one up him, to become better than him?
How often do I find myself asking this very same question in my own life? I am faced with the potential for envy and I ask, why should I do this? And how often do I pretend to have a great answer (or two or three) to this question? Far more often than I care to admit if I am being honest.
When I first came to this part of the story, my mind immediately went to another moment in the larger Biblical narrative to which Joseph belongs, a moment that took me all the way back to Genesis 1, 2 and 3 and the dawn of the God-Human relationship. Here we see that Adam and Eve have been given everything in the garden where they share communion with God and one another. Everything, it says, except for this one thing (2:17). And it is in this moment, in the midst of this shared community, that they become envious of the one thing God has that it appears they do not. They become blinded to what they have been given, and get hung up on what they do not have. And so they exchange this shared relationship for a life of envy, and we are able to recognize in this passage that God becomes more and more distant from the picture, even relegated to third person language.
From this point in the narrative we, as readers, are able to watch the problem of envy take root. It grows as a reflection of the central human problem, our common human condition. And it spreads outwards into every relationship that follows: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau- all the way to the story of Joseph. And so the story of Joseph appears poised to face this problem head on, recognizing that rather than living in a right relationship with God and one another, envy sets us against one another- it divides, it deceives and it destroys. And it is because of this that we stand in need of something- someone in the Biblical view, who can make things right again, who is able to address the problem that our inherent human condition represents. We are in need of God’s grace.
And as my pastor once suggested, we can already see this grace taking root in the garden, in a quiet moment found in Genesis 2 that finds God “clothing” Adam and Eve even in the midst of their rejection. He does what they were not able to do on their own in the previous verses. And we can find these same notes of grace in the story of Joseph. There is hope to be found here. We are given a way forward, a way to combat the problem. And it comes, as it did for Adam and Eve, in a way I least expect.
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT ENVY
But before I get back to the story of Joseph, I wanted to return to the field of Social Sciences for a moment, as I think it can help shed some light on the way that the story of Joseph leads us towards a restored vision, a revolutionary idea.
In the Social Sciences, common theories recognize envy as a problem but also see the answer to the problem in the context of our Tribal Past and our biological conditioning. Where envy posed a problem to human development, we (in the context of human relationship), adapted/learned how to use envy for our benefit. For example, if as a Tribe we observed another Tribe or member hoarding food, envy, as a biological response, would enlighten us to the fact that this was to our detriment. If they have the food, we will starve. So envy became anchored as a part of our DNA which helped to ensure our survival as a Tribe, as a family, as a community.
In more modern research, the same argument is also applied to our more civilized context. As a very condensed and narrowed reflection of an otherwise nuanced and complex discussion, what I found the research to share was a motivation to redeem (or reclaim) these elements of the human condition that have too often come to be associated with sin and shame. And we should embrace them for what they are- a part of our DNA, a part of what it means to survive, to progress as a human species. A part of what it means to progress as a civilization. Envy, in other words, is something to be embraced and harnessed for the betterment of our societal structures, for the betterment of our human survival.
One leading voice put is this way.
“Evolution, far from being a source of moral content, doesn’t really give us moral imperatives at all. It gives us different people with different dispositions… and so envy is appeased only at equality.”
And so the way forward in the field of Social Sciences is to use envy, a part of our naturally bred DNA, to attain equality and fairness, two primary concerns born from the development of human consciousness that are able to enhance, strengthen and progress the betterment and the survival of human, civilized society. Marks of the a more civil way, if you will.
And yet, the more I read the more I also encountered this belief that, even in light of this awareness, we still appear to be searching for an answer to, as one author puts it, “mother natures lack of direction” when it comes to envy, a problem that our institutions- political, social, economical- cannot seem to solve, but can only redirect. And it is interesting to note that envy is the only vice to be institutionalized in such a way, something that enlightens us to these necessary and intentional efforts of redirection. Just as we see this sense of disorder settling in with the garden narrative, between humanity and the created order that we are called to steward and between the man and the woman to which they are given over to something other than the original, intended relationship, we see this same disorder still rampant in our society today.
And so I found in much of this available research (in my view and understanding) that, for as much as the scientific study of envy has been able to help us better understand the flow and progression of our natural human tendencies, it is our innate awareness of the human condition, grown from the development of human consciousness, that has led us to feel the need to become more civilized than our tendencies allow. In other words, we are enslaved to the ways of our own human condition, and it requires something counterintuitive to our human nature to help motivate us towards a greater reality, a better way of living “together”.
Thankfully, in the Christian story, we do find a given direction, a greater reality to live into and to embrace. A way to frame this better way of living together. And we discover this direction, this greater reality by looking outside of ourselves and towards the counterintuitive and contrasting virtue of “humility” that we see in Joseph, and that his story will ultimately remind us has been embodied and demonstrated for us in the character of God Himself.
Humility: It is Not in Me, It is in God.
Joseph has been made overseer of Potiphar’s house, but in staying faithful to God and not giving into envy, Joseph finds himself being thrown back into the pit, back into prison after being accused of taking advantage of Potiphar’s wife (40:20). And once again the passage informs us that from the pit, from the prison, Joseph begins to find success. As he chooses to stay faithful to God, the one whom continues to be “with Joseph” in the midst of his less than ideal circumstance, he continues to grow in the way of “steadfast love” (vs. 21). And what is this love? Joseph grows in concern and compassion for the “dreams”, both figuratively and literally, of the people that surround him in the prison, and this eventually gives him a way out of the pit and back into the court of Pharaoh, where once again it is the third set of dreams that affords him an opportunity to extend this concern and compassion not just to the people around him, but to the whole land of Egypt.
7 years of prosperity followed by 7 years of famine in the Egypt.
This is where these dreams lead us towards. And as Joseph grows in success, eventually being afforded even the status of royalty in 41:42 (and it is incredibly fascinating to see just how much Pharaoh and the land of Egypt come to admire and appreciate Joseph over the course of this story as someone who is not an Egyptian), he uses this Royal position and power to advise Pharaoh in the direction of steadfast love, the direction of humility in the face of unprecedented self driven desire. Where there was an opportunity to be concerned for their own survival, Joseph advises him to consider the plight of everyone else, the people of the land.
And this humility, this steadfast love, catches Pharaoh’s attention, enough to cause him to say in 41:38,
“where do I find a man like this”
To which Joseph responds,
“It (this) is not in me, it is in God.”
Pointing Us in the Direction of Hope
There is a curious interruption to the story of Joseph that we find in chapter 38, a passage that ultimately becomes all about Joseph’s brother Judah. And it follows a rather messy sequence of events that eventually lead us towards the climatic event of this little side trip- the birth of twins. And in the picture of this birth we are presented with two brothers whom we see wrestling their way out of the womb, fighting to be the first one out- the firstborn. And in a sort of thrilling last minute twist, while they immediately wrap the first arm they see in a scarlet thread (to indicate the first born), it is the second child who ends up being the first to see the light of day.
The passage recognizes this moment as a “breach”, a break in the intended order that we first encounter in the garden. But what is really amazing about this small interruption to the story of Joseph is the way it connects us to the larger Biblical narrative moving forward. This subtle, seemingly inconsequential moment eventually paves the way for Jesus to emerge as the one to heal this breach and bring hope to the divide. Jesus becomes the focus of the “remnant” which God has raised up Joseph to help preserve (45:7), the remnant that comes up again in the book of Jeremiah and the prophets.
The firstborn son of God… the only son of God, whom scripture tells us envy, the same envy that we encountered in the garden, ends up sending to the cross. And yet, though he was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but rather emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself… (Phillipians 2)”
In humility, in less than ideal circumstances, Jesus stays faithful to the way of steadfast love, even to the point of death. It is a sort of humility that offers us a way forward out of the never-ending cycle of misery that envy in all of its false allusions and promises, tends to grow. A sort of humility that we are called to imitate in Phillipians 2 as a way of living into the greater reality for which we were intended.
And this steadfast love, this humility that we see in Joseph, caught Pharaoh’s attention. It made a difference.
Humility in the Ancient World
When I was reading through some commentaries on the word/idea “humility”, I found it interesting to note that, in the Greek translation of the Hebrew scripture, this word “humility” appears far more often than it does in any other Greek source, document, literature.
Which tells us that this kind of humility was revolutionary, counterintuitive.
One commentary went on to say it this way.
“Freedom for the Greeks, and for this age, means individual and equal self-will. Whatever restricts my freedom- the undercurrents of equality- is abhorrent. To put myself voluntarily under bondage to another is unthinkable.
In the Christian story, all is set under God. This is where we begin. And it is humility to sets us in proper relationship to God. And all of Jesus’ ministry teaches us what this looks like when it is lived out in a practical and spirit-led way.
It is not fair. It is not equal. But it is redeeming.”
And so here we finally arrive at the heart of the problem that envy inevitably represents. As all sin is, envy is the product of idolatry. When we fail to set “all” under God we give envy free reign. We desire something in the place of God. And in doing so we give space to the things of life, the things of this world to battle for our attention. But when all is set under God, envy becomes unnecessary, an inconvenience to the greater way of living, an interruption in our relationship with God.
And when “all” is set under God, it allows us to return our sights to the object of our desire, and to recognize that the true object of our hearts desire is God and God alone. We become jealous for God and God alone. And here the key. When all is set under God, everything else becomes secondary. We become secondary to the greater reality of His love and His grace.
This is the way forward, the way of steadfast love, the way of humility which, as the commentary suggests, is the place where we can begin to be repositioned back into a proper relationship with God and one another, the very thing that envy once stole back in the garden.
It is Not Equal, It is Not Fair, But it is Redeeming
Returning to the story of Joseph, we find that the 7 years of famine has now entered the land, and Joseph’s brothers, in desperate need of food, are forced to travel to Egypt where they find themselves bowing before Joseph just as he once said they would. Only they don’t recognize him, but Joseph recognizes them.
And after sending his brothers back home to summon his younger brother Benjamin- to make his family complete once again, here is what Joseph does. Rather than isolate them or seek revenge for their envious action towards him, which he was in a rightful place to do given his Royal position. Rather than punish them or deny them their need for nourishment, he chooses to sit them all down and feed them, nourish them. He invites them back into proper communion with one another and gives them a chance to become who they were intended to be before envy gave way to the divide, the pit, to slavery.
And yet, even this doesn’t tell the whole story, and so we also see Joseph go on to do something interesting with this whole idea of communion. As he proceeds to give all of the brothers an equal share of food, each of them lined up at the table according to the proper order of firstborn to youngest, he then turns to his youngest brother Benjamin and gives him five times as much as everyone else.
This feels unfair. It feels wrong. It feels unsettling. But the truth is it is also freeing. It is what allows us to let go of a need to control the ways of God, to demand our own ideas of fairness above the ways of God. It allows us to let go of the need to cater to the voices that conflict, threaten or challenge who we believe ourselves to be or the way we believe things should be when things feel unfair, unequal. It means we no longer have to be left to measure something up or measure something down, the very thing that equality and fairness demands. It is, by human nature, discriminate.
And here is the thing. Just as the push to focus on the one thing denied to them in the garden distorted their view of all that had been given, the focus on this passage is not about the amounts, but on the provision. When we are in Christ, what we have or do not have is no longer our concern. We don’t have to measure up or measure down because Christ measured down on our behalf. And in doing so he declared us all to be sons and daughters in the eyes of God regardless of our earthly status or earthly condition. This is what we now share. This is what makes us all equal. And this is what, as Christians, we have to offer to others. A love that comes, not out of a concern for fairness, but out of a concern for grace. A love that informs our spiritual identity as sons and daughters of God over and against our place in this world. And it is this indiscriminate grace, freely given, that frees us to give up our rights for the sake of another, something that equality and fairness do not expect of us when we make them our god. As Christ demonstrates on our behalf, rather than seeing equality as something to be exploited, we are called to imitate Jesus, and since this is what Jesus did for us, so we are called to do the same for others.
But when we are in Christ, we no longer have to measure up or measure down, because Christ measured down on our behalf. And in doing so he declared us all equal in the eyes of God, regardless of our earthly status or our earthly condition. This is what we now share, and this is what, as Christians, we have to offer to others. A love that comes, not out of a concern for fairness, but out of a concern for grace. A love that informs our spiritual identity as sons and daughters of God over and against our place in this world. And it is this indiscriminate grace, freely given, that frees us up to measure down, not because we must, but because in order to raise another up towards their given spiritual identity, something that equality and fairness do not leave room for when we make them our god. As Christ demonstrates on our behalf, rather than seeing equality as something to be exploited, we are called to imitate Jesus, and this is what Jesus did for us, so we are called to do this for others.
There is a point in the story (50:20/21) where Joseph’s brothers begin to wonder why Joseph does not retaliate, why he does not want revenge, why he does not want to even the score. And they fear Joseph. This is what envy does, it makes us fear one another rather than being able to embrace or serve one another. And it then learns to hate rather than love. And it is in the midst of this fear that Joseph’s response brings us to a final realization, a final way forward out of the cycle of envy.
What “you meant for evil… God meant it for good”.
“So do not fear, for I am in the place of God.”
“So do not fear, I will provide…”
- Do not fear
Stop jealousy in its tracks. Do not give unnecessary power to the voices of this world that distort our perceptions of who we are and the way we believe things should be. If you are someone who feels the burden of these voices, who feels trapped by feelings of fear, anger, desperation in a world that is far from equal, far from fair. If you are someone who has had someone in your life measure you down. If you are someone who is desperate to measure up. If you are someone who has measured someone down. The words you need to hear from this story are “do not fear”. In Christ, set under God, these voices no longer have the power to define us. In Christ, we are all sons and daughters of one God, just as Joseph’s brother were all sons of one father (42:32). This is what we share. And while envy tries to divide us and set us against those in which we share the most, the good news is we have one who is in the process of healing this divide, of restoring us to our greater purpose.
- So Trust (I will provide)
Trust that God is doing good even when things look and feel messy, unfair, unequal. Trust that God will provide for our needs even when we feel we deserve more than we have. Trust that God is in the process of meeting us where we are at, lifting us up in the midst of the lot that we have been given, and reminding us of what really matters, of the love that we already have. And learn to allow this trust to let go of the demands that envy makes. Let go of these notions of leveling the playing field, of getting what we believe we deserve. Let go of the hate that resents others for having more than we believe they deserve. Let go of the need to rally against the unfairness and inequality that life seems to bear. And instead, embrace the kind of steadfast love that Joseph embodied, the kind of grace filled humility that Jesus demonstrated on our behalf. Embrace the spirit that allows us to forgive those who have measured us down, not because it is fair but because it is godly. And seek forgiveness for the role we play in leveling others down in our lack of godly vision. Embrace the spirit that of freedom that calls us to give up our rights for the sake of another, the spirit that calls us to find our joy in seeing others given more than we think they deserve in our limited and distorted perceptions- more grace, more love, more of all that God has also afforded us in our own weakness, in our own human condition.
- And finally, be in the place of God
The way Joseph was able to live in the sort of steadfast love that his story models, was by “being in the place of God. This certainly speaks to the worth of spiritual discipline- prayer, devotion, meditation, spiritual community, worship. But it also speaks to something more- of living into the “way” of God. It speaks to a movement. An invitation to break out of the sin of sloth that holds us back from living into the greater reality that awaits us.And as we near the end of Joseph’s story, we find him making the curious demand not to be buried beside his fathers Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. Instead, he instructs them to take his ashes “wherever God leads them”. And as we read through the story of Exodus, the Israelites eventually take Joseph’s ashes with them out of Egypt, and eventually bury him at a place called Shechem, the same place that Abraham met God when God called Abraham to “go”. The same place that seems to come up again and again on this journey towards Jesus.
And so we find in this word “Shechem” this idea of a movement, a movement that looks to break us out of the static and stagnant spirituality that these sins tend to create and foster. And instead, it pushes us to follow God to wherever He chooses to lead us. The root word of “Shechem” comes from the word “shoulder”, which carries this idea of putting the weight of our journey on the shoulders of our donkey, our beast, and to set off in the early dawn towards what lies ahead. And this is the call that we find in these final chapters being offered to the sons of Israel, whom eventually become the 12 Tribes of Israel. As Jacob blesses them (ch. 49) they are not made equal, but rather the blessings call them according to where God places them. The blessings call them according to the strengths and weaknesses that God sees in them and the circumstances of life that place them under God. This is where God meets them, shapes them, and yes, corrects them. This is where God begins to build His witness to the world of a greater reality, a greater way of living.
So no matter where this life finds us, no matter what we feel we have and do not have, when we have Christ, we have the only thing that truly matters- his love, his acceptance, his call to love and to serve others out of the same steadfast love that he offered to us in submission to the Way of the Cross. May we learn to do this and to be found as righteous in the eyes of the world as Joseph was to the eyes of Pharaoh. For this is where the world sees God, through the witness of His continual work in us. This is where the world is afforded a greater reality, a way forward, is through this sort of willing and spirit led humility that works to stand against the power of envy in this world and in our lives. So may that be our prayer, may that become our conviction. And through this same spirit may God increasingly become the object of our desire.
Slaying the Green-Eyed Monster of Envy
The Cure For Envy
The Call by OS Guinness
Sapien: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Ways of Understanding Envy by Jefferson M. Fish
Hara Marano (on fear and Jealousy for Psychology Today)
Envy by Helmut Schoeck
Jealousy and Envy: New Views about Two Powerful Feelings by Léon Wurmser, Heidrun Jarass, Taylor & Francis
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and our Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky
Genesis: A commentary by Bruce K. Waltke
Genesis by Derek Kidner
Humilitas by John Dickson
Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney
Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament by Sandra L. Richter
Equal is Unfair: America’s Misguided Fight Against Income Inequality
The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton