That’s not fair! — How often have you heard this cry in your life? If you’re a parent, odds are you’ve heard it more times than you can count from your children. “Why does he get to do that and I don’t? That’s not fair!” “Why does my friend get to stay out until 11 and I don’t? That’s not fair!” But it’s not just children that cry foul in the arena of fairness in life, is it? We adults do it too. We’re just a little better at hiding it, or at least knowing how to keep our thoughts in our heads and not let them come out of our mouths like children.
Perhaps you’ve looked around and seen a family member or a neighbor receive material blessings in this life that you haven’t received, and you think to yourself, “That’s just not fair!” Perhaps you work and work and work, barely scraping by, all the while your friend does the bare minimum and gets the big end-of-year bonus and you cry out, “That’s not fair!”
Or perhaps you are striving to live a godly life, submitting yourself to the Lord and seeking to live for him, and it just seems that there’s one hurdle after another, one storm after another, and you can’t seem to get above board. All the while, you look around in the world around you and see the wicked, the godless, the unrighteous, who care nothing about the things of God, who are living for themselves, their own pleasure, and their own glory, and they’re wealthy, healthy, and carefree, and the cry of your heart is “THAT’S NOT FAIR!”
My suspicion is that each and every one of us has been in that very spot at one time or another in our life. Perhaps at many times. Perhaps even right now. It’s a temptation that is common to man because of the sinful jealousy and envy within our heart. And it is a temptation that is not only common to man today, but is an age-old temptation, dating all the way back to the garden when Satan convinced Eve that God was withholding something good from her.
One of my favorite Psalms in God’s Word is Psalm 73 because it addresses this very struggle in our hearts. In this Psalm, we see Asaph — the Israelite worship leader and psalm composer — chronicle his descent to the depth of envy, the transition of how he saw clearly and gained a new perspective, and then the ascent back up whereby he regained a proper, heavenly, eternal, and Godward perspective on the fate of the wicked and the blessings of God. And he does so in a gritty, soul-bearing, telling-it-like-it-is honesty. John Calvin describes Asaph’s approach in this Psalm in the following way:
“The Psalmist does not ascend into the chair to dispute after the manner of the Philosophers, and to deliver his discourse in a style of studied oratory; but, as if he had escaped from hell, he proclaims with a loud voice, and with impassioned feeling, that he had obtained the victory” (Quoted in William S. Plumer, Psalms, 79).
Why Are We Envious Of The Wicked?
Simply put, I think that the root of our problem, and the root of Asaph’s problem, is that our focus is off. Our focus is on the wrong people, and our focus in on the wrong timeframe.
The first mistake we make is that our focus is on them. Notice the pronouns in the first section of Psalm 73. In 9 verses (verses 4-12) we see the pronoun “they” or “them” used 17 times. And what is it that Asaph notices about them. He notices that they seem to live such easy lives (v.4-5), such prosperous lives (v.6-7), and such carefree lives (v.8-12). Like Asaph, we can often be tempted to jealousy and envy as we look around at the godless, wicked men and women around us, whether in our town or on TV, and be tempted to think “That’s not fair!”
The second mistake we make is that our focus is on us. Notice the shift in pronounce in verses 13-15. No longer is the focus on them, but now it is on me and I (7 times in these 3 verses). After turning the spotlight to ourselves in light of the the lives of the wicked, we begin to see our righteousness as pointless (v.13) and our hardships as preeminent (v.14). Such is the descent into the heart of envy and jealousy for each of us. Our focus is off.
How do we address our envy?
Just like Asaph’s clear transition in verses 16-17, we too need to “enter the sanctuary of God” by coming to His Word through prayer, depending on the sanctifying power and presence of the Spirit through the Word. Like Asaph, we need a new perspective. A paradigm shift. If we are going to correctly and biblically address our envy, we must immerse ourselves in the perfect, inerrant, sufficient Word of God, gaining a biblical, Godward perspective on reality rather than trusting our own faulty, skewed, and sin-filtered lens through which we view the world.
So what are the three areas that Asaph, and we, need a new perspective on?
We need a new perspective on eternal judgment
As Asaph came to the Word of God and gained a heavenly perspective, we see in verses 18-20 that he was able to see with clearer eyes the ultimate reality and ultimate fate of the wicked. Yes, they may be living easy, prosperous, carefree lives right now, but right now is just a small mist compared to eternity. And the eternal realities that await them are something none of us would envy.
We need a new perspective on ourselves
Like Asaph did in verses 21-22, we need to understand who we are apart from the grace and mercy of Christ. Nowhere is the Scriptural account of human nature a flattering one. Rather, we are described as dead, ignorant, and blind. When we fail to let God’s Word be the lens through which we see the world and through which we view reality, we are, like Asaph, brutish, ignorant, and acting like animals. As we seek to deal with the envy that creeps up in our heart toward the prosperity of the wicked, let us run to God’s Word, bathe ourselves in prayer, and immerse ourselves in His perfect Word to give us His perspective on our own sinfulness.
We need a new perspective on God’s presence and eternal blessings
As we gain a new perspective on God’s presence and eternal blessings from God’s Word, as Asaph did in verses 23-28, God reminds us of the fact that He is always with us, holding us fast through life’s struggles, doubts, and trials (Jude 24-25). And He reminds us that He, Himself, is enough. That He is the ultimate treasure for which we are redeemed. That He is not the means to another end, like the health, wealth, and prosperity of the wicked, but that He Himself is the end.
Be Satisfied In God
If you are tempted to envy, if you are tempted toward jealousy, if you are doubting the goodness and justice of God because of the prosperity of the godless all around you, let me encourage you to immerse yourself in God’s word, bathe yourself in prayer, rest in Christ’s righteousness granted to you through the Gospel, clothe yourself with holiness, and be content and fulfilled with God in Christ as your ultimate treasure. Pursue His Word to gain a proper, biblical perspective on the end of the wicked, on the sinfulness of your own heart, and on the presence and goodness and blessings of God — blessings most ultimately and most fully seen in the gift of Himself, through His Son, by His Spirit.