Monday, July 11, 2011

Jealousy

Some of the bible’s most compelling stories have a dark side. Like a television drama, the story of David and Saul takes a decidedly fatalist twist in this morning’s Old Testament lesson (1 Samuel 18:5-16,27b-30). As they return from battle, the crowds come out to celebrate the successes of their king and his captain. But, as the story shows, they attribute greater success to David, stoking the flames of jealousy in Saul: “Saul has slain thousands, and David has slain ten thousands.” That made the king very angry—and rightly so.

Scripture contains stories that capture the basest of human experiences, and this story is a great example of that. It contains success, rivalry, jealousy, anger, and violence, and it reminds me that the wide range of emotion and response to emotion has been a part of that experience forever. The Lord’s favor was with David. It had been withdrawn from Saul. Everything David did was blessed—destined for prosperity. Saul, although successful by almost any measure, could not compete with David. Like so many human relationships (sibling-sibling, parent-child, boss-subordinate, friend-friend), a pattern of comparative success leads to jealousy and on to violence.

Near the end of the reading, the author reveals the ultimate end of allowing such comparative jealousy to grow: “But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that all Israel loved him, Saul was still more afraid of David.” When one’s rivalry reaches an uncontrollable level, fear results. If I become consumed by my desire to compare myself with another—so much so that I lose the ability to distinguish between myself and my successes—then I lose my awareness that I’m not actually defined by my accomplishments. Those were never mine in the first place. They were always a gift of God. And, when I lose sight of that, I lose my faith that God will take care of me.
 
If God gives and takes away, then why do we measure self-worth by comparing ourselves with others? Why do I get lost in the vicious cycle of rivalry, jealousy, and fear? Because that’s what it means to be human. The message of David and Saul is complicated. On the one hand, it’s a portrayal of human nature at its worst. But it also gives insight into God’s role behind the scenes. Only in God do we find our true worth. Our job is to remember that—even when (especially when) jealousy occupies our every thought.

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