Jealousy is a powerful emotion that touches all of us at one time or another. It is something that troubled me more in the past than it does now, but it still gets under my skin from time to time.
So what is jealousy?
According to Merriam-Webster, the word jealous describes a feeling of intolerance or suspicion due to rivalry or unfaithfulness. Or it can be hostility toward a rival or one who enjoys an advantage over you.
Have you ever felt that? If you are human, your answer should be yes.
Jealousy is a feeling you get when you lose a competition, when the other guy gets the girl, when those who you thought were your friends are out on the town without you, or when you otherwise wind up holding the short straw. It is that left-out, left-behind, left-in-the dust feeling. You know what I am talking about. It feels terrible!
The word jealous actually comes from the word zealous, which, according to Oxford, is a fervent devotion to someone or something, passionate ardor, intense earnestness or active enthusiasm. Those are all powerful emotions as well, but we need to recognize that they can be positive or negative. We often think of jealousy as a purely negative emotion, but I think at times it can be positive. In fact, I think there is something we could call godly jealousy. Let me explain.
The scriptures teach that God is a jealous God. Here is a sample of some verses that spell this out. “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). “For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). “God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth” (Nahum 1:2).
Does God sin? No. Is it a sin then for God to be jealous? No. Is it always wrong for you to feel jealousy? No. Sometimes you can feel godly jealousy.
I have an example of that. Over the last five years, I have interviewed several wives whose husbands were having trouble with pornography. Some of those women have expressed this sentiment to me, “If I could get my hands on those women who posed for those pictures, I would rip them to shreds” or something similar to that.
Now I wouldn’t encourage anyone to rip someone else to shreds, but I think the feeling these women expressed is a form of godly jealousy. Why? Because a wife who feels that way is defending her most precious possessions: her relationship with her husband, the sanctity of her family, her future, eternity itself. In the same way, God is jealous of those who worship other gods or things. “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5).
Ungodly jealousy is at the other end of the scale. That form of jealousy is an emotion that evokes covetousness, forbidden in the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17). Covetousness is a selfish desire that can be so intense that it tempts us to break the other nine commandments.
Here is an example of ungodly jealousy. “She looks gorgeous in that dress. I hate her.”
Do you see the difference? Godly jealousy protects sacred relationships, and ungodly jealousy is evidence of faltering faith—faith in ourselves, or in God.
I think this kind of jealousy doesn’t exist unless you judge that other person first, and judgment doesn’t come out of nowhere. Judgment is rooted in pride and pride is rooted in self-betrayal.
Self-betrayal, once again, happens when we suspend our standards or our faith in favor of emotions or actions of a lower order. We believe we are justified in our feelings at the moment a disappointing or disturbing situation arises, and though we know better, we set our standards aside, take off our gloves, and start punching. Simply put, we accept something false and pretend it is true to serve some puerile need.
Pride follows hot on the heels of self-betrayal. Pride is self-deception. When we are full of pride, we are like the fallen Olympians who, having won by false means, stand on the podium to receive a medal but later it is discovered that we were taking steroids and must be stripped of our trumped-up honor. Those steroids are the temporary thrill of self-betrayal and self-deception.
When we are enamored of pride, we are lost, at least for a time. It is then that we judge, fight, contend, belittle, make enemies, bite the backs of our neighbors. It is then that we can be overcome with a surge of ungodly jealousy.
How do we overcome jealousy, then?
It is simple, but it is not always easy. We have to take up the “shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16; D&C 27:17). We have to take up that shield and hold it in front of us, for it enables us to “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked,” the fiery darts of pride, judgment and contention, to name a few. When you hold up the shield of faith, you are taking conscious action to defend yourself against self-betrayal and self-deception. I can imagine a mirror on the back side of that shield. It is hard to look in that mirror and lie to yourself, and you can’t betray yourself unless you first lie to yourself.
When you hold up that shield of faith, you are saying yes to the truth and yes to God. You are saying that even though she looks gorgeous in that dress, you are gorgeous, too—and worthy and good and kind and loving. You are saying, “The Lord loves me and will reward me all good things in His own time.” You are saying, “I believe in myself and in my Heavenly Father.” You are possessing your soul in patience (Luke 21:19; D&C 101:38). You are saying, “I can have all things, too, in the right way and in the right time and in the right place.”
Faith quenches fear, doubt, shame and even the fire of jealousy. Faith heals us and makes us whole. Faith sees the end of the road before we arrive there. And faith is the only way we can overcome our adversaries.
In fact, faith is what shows us that our worst adversary is ourselves, and, if the whole truth be known, the only real problem we have.