Envy and Dreams

Envy: a confused, tangled guide to one’s own ambitions.  
- Alain de Botton
This past Sunday I heard a great message on jealousy from 1 Samuel 18 and 19. Saul is king of Israel but David just defeated Goliath and is now the up and coming leader of Saul's army. David wins every battle against the Philistines. Saul gets jealous and tries to kill David. It's an age-old, tried and true formula.

Envy and jealousy are synonyms. Being jealous of someone's else accomplishments is envy. To envy means to covet another person's possessions and as a result, resent the fact that you don't have what they have while hating the other person in the process. 

We are susceptible to envy in the areas we find value. For men, it's work. And for pastors, there is really only one measurement of success: the number of people in your church. Numbers are tangible evidence. You can touch them. You take in the fragrance of success when you enter a crowded Sunday service.

So when I see or hear about pastors more successful than I am, I am envious. I feel a writhing in the pit of my stomach and life drains from my soul. In its place is a hardened resentment towards myself. I wonder what's wrong with me. I obsess about my flaws and weaknesses. I feel like I'll never amount to anything. The hatred I feel towards those more successful than me reflects a profound dissatisfaction with who I am.

Envy is a form of self-hatred.

I don't really care about having a big church. I don't care that much about money. And I don't care about fame in the conventional way. But I do dream about having a positive impact on a large group of people and to be viewed as competent in what I do. Envying celebrity pastors doesn't show me exactly what my dreams are but it gets me in the area. I see pastors of large churches as competent and having a significant impact - and that's my dream. Envy refracts my dreams for God through the cracked lens of my ego.
Saul was anointed by Samuel as king over Israel. He dreams about being the type of king that David is becoming. And David is a constant reminder that Saul is not that guy. That's what covetousness is. The object of our jealousy is an ever-constant reminder that we are not the person we're hoping to become. Saul's dreams of the kingship were shattered and yet he was holding on, no matter what. 

Envy also indicates in whom we are trusting to fulfill our dreams. Saul's jealousy of David tells us that he no longer trusted God to fulfill his dream of retaining the kingdom. He resorted to his own devices. When I envy, I am telling God that I do not trust him to fulfill my dreams. I do not trust his timing, I don't trust his plan, and I don't trust his provision. 

Envy is the dark side of one's dreams.


  1. At Berkeley I had this amazing Shakespeare professor who talked about envy when we were reading Othello. She made a distinction between jealousy and envy I thought was interesting. She said jealousy wants to acquire; envy wants to destroy. Envy being the state where you feel that other people's successes make you seem worse by contrast, and you don't try to take what they have for yourself, you just try to destroy it so it will stop making you look bad. Iago was the epitome of this form of envy, because he thought Desdemona was beautiful, but he didn't scheme to get her for himself; he schemed to have Othello kill her.

    In the Saul and David story, you can see the same thing: Saul's response to David is not to go out and kill Philistines to get the people to love him. Saul's response is to try and destroy the man who makes him look bad by comparison. I think you're exactly right about envy being self-hatred, because it's the belief that goodness in someone else makes me look evil. It's also giving up hope: I can't ever be as successful or beautiful as this other person, so the only thing I can do is destroy what they have.

    I haven't thought about envy relating to trust before. But that makes sense: if I felt secure that God would fulfill my dreams, I wouldn't compare myself to other people who are further along than I am. I get that a lot with writing, feeling threatened by reading about authors who are already published.

    1. Yeah, not crazy about the distinction OR perhaps we often misuse the words - we hear about the jealous lover who killed her ex-boyfriend and in Romans 11:11-14, envy is used in an acquisitive sense. But certainly Saul wants to destroy. If he can't be king, then no one, particularly David, should be king either.


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