Speaking of sin, a few nights ago I was kept up by a roiling case of jealousy the likes of which I had not seen since high school. This is not to claim that I’m free from all jealousy – oh, no. I quietly craft my low-grade, ever-present brand of envy while hoping that the shiny veneer of happiness, self-esteem and well-adjusted-ness I attempt to apply regularly is not easily punctured by that prettier girl’s smile, this friend’s promotion, that friend’s bouquet of roses from “the best boyfriend ever,” whathisnamefromhighschool’s award, this friend’s status update about their dogs playing in the sprinkler getting 15 comments and 20 “likes” while the ones you post about reconciliation, unity and justice go unliked and ignored while another’s deep thoughts on those very topics get reposted by a mutual friend…the list could go on. And it does, thanks to social media.
I want to be seen, like anyone else, which is probably one reason one billion of us (as of October 2012) participate in the privacy-stripping, data-collecting, potential stalker tool actively. Mostly, though, I want to know that I matter. Whether we like it or not, I think we – at least some point in our lives – turn to some form of social media for the answer to that question. The only problem is that most forms of social media (I’m especially looking at you, Facebook), were not built as connection aids at all. They were constructed, under the guise of networking, to facilitate competition. You know how Facebook got started right?
First of all, its founder was famous on the Harvard campus in 2003 for creating a site, Facemash, that cataloged Harvard students…by peer-ranked attractiveness. Now, that’s distasteful enough. But Mark Zuckerberg was, according to a Business Insider article, also charged by the board of discipline at Harvard “with breaching security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy.” Amazingly, he wasn’t expelled. This is the mastermind behind the wildly popular site, Facebook.
The fun continues. In April 2004, about two months after I joined the then for-college-students-only “social connection” website, Facebook was officially formed as an LLC – that’s limited liability company. Not corporations, these types of companies are not required to be organized for profit. When you sue an LLC, you are suing the company, not the owners or investors and its financial responsibility is limited to a fixed amount. Facebook, now worth $104 billion (at least that’s what investors think it’s worth), is a publicly traded company; it’s initial public offering was May of 2012. Facebook makes its money in advertising and some of its biggest customers are McDonald’s, AT&T, Ford, Chase, Nike and Budweiser. Sounds like America to me.
What this really means is, “Jealousy is the currency of social media,” as Parul Sehgal puts it in her maddeningly eloquent (not that I’m jealous!) TED Talk. My envy-fueled night of restless tossing and fitful sleep was kicked off by a Facebook post celebrating the achievement and recognition of another. Advertising works in just this way. Marketers pit us against each other as if life is only a big contest for the best-looking house, longest-lasting tan and snazziest car. Before we think we’re above all this, remember: Facebook is worth over $100 billion dollars and it got that way, despite it’s struggles to create tablet- and smartphone-friendly ad platforms, largely because of advertising…along with some shady tactics that Business Insider refuses to name as such since “there was no formal contract” between Mr. Zuckerburg and the people he screwed. Again, sounds like America.
Loneliness is on the rise. We seem to find it harder than ever to connect, despite the proliferating avenues that claim to help us do so. Social media may be inversely proportional to feelings of happiness. This makes sense to me: not only are you connecting with the edited versions of selves people construct online, but this editing often (though not always, of course) involves envy-inducing posts. But can the inevitable feelings of jealousy Facebook ignites really be to blame? After all, God openly admits to being jealous – though, “admitting” is probably the wrong word since God is not confessing jealousy but commanding worship. Of course, if jealousy is a sin and God is called jealous…
The argument of human jealousy vs. divine jealousy is likely familiar so I’ll just briefly summarize it here: God does not desire any particular person or thing as human jealous does. God’s jealousy is out of love whereas human jealousy is out of selfishness. To demonstrate the vast gulf between divine jealousy and human jealousy, different Hebrew words are used for each respectively: the word for God’s jealousy is restricted only to use in relation to God. The two words used to describe human jealousy are never used to describe God’s jealousy.
Yes, God’s jealousy is not like ours. For one thing, when a person feels jealous of another, they often wish the other to be small so that he or she can feel big. When God is jealous, it is because God wants you to be all you were created to be and nothing else but the love of your Maker will do that. For another, God’s jealousy is not for a particular person or thing like ours is – God desires all things and all people. But ultimately, all things (will) belong to God anyway. God’s jealousy is not coveting what God cannot have, it is yearning for what was always God’s to return.
But how helpful is all of this when we’re staring down the green-eyed monster? Like shame, jealousy is notoriously difficult to combat. I, for one, know that the conversation is shut down whenever someone brings up that jealousy is a sin. “Even if it wasn’t,” I want to say, “it feels awful enough for me to not want it anyway.” Besides, have you ever noticed how just pointing out that something is sinful is not actually enough to eradicate it? And yet, it remains. Shallow waters aren’t enough to fully cleanse anybody, you have to go deep. You have to go to the roots. I don’t think that jealousy, as Parul Sehgal says in her TED talk, is ultimately about a quest for information. I think it’s about worthiness. We clearly do not believe we are dearly, bloodily loved the way we are in this very moment right now. If we did, we would not be hooked by the temptation to compare (which is how jealousy starts). I do not mean to soften sin or re-use tired Christian cliched language about how if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have come for you. To make your uniqueness real to you, close your eyes, take ten minutes and think about each person in your life. Your best friend. Your spouse. Your siblings. Your parents. Your classmates. Your co-workers. Now, one by one, think about how that person’s life would be if you had never been in it – not, if you suddenly left it, but if you had never been in it at all. Think A Beautiful Mind, the scene where John learns that his roommate, his roommate’s niece, his boss, his job…it’s all fake. “Not dead, not gone,” as Dr. Rosen says, “but worse. They have never been.” Be fair to yourself. Where would your loved ones be if you had never been?
I think jealousy is also about isolation. We do not know how to love. We think we exist in a vacuum where love is a zero-sum game, that when one person gets attention or praise, there is less praise to go around. Even though eternity has been set in our own hearts, we do not know what it means that God is eternal. One thing it means is boundless in love, steadfast in grace, singing in joy over you. Take a few minutes and listen. Really listen. Where do you let your heart go? Where do you want to let it go? Ultimately, I think jealousy is about desire. I don’t condone or celebrate jealousy, but if I’m paying attention, it helps me sharpen my focus because it tells me what I truly want and what I can stop wasting my time on. And in this way, human jealousy is like divine jealousy: God’s jealousy tells us that God deeply, steadfastly and unfailingly wants us.