Elder brother self-righteousness not only creates racism and classism, but at the personal level creates an unforgiving, judgemental spirit.– Timothy Keller; The Prodigal God
Timothy Keller is arguable one of the greatest theologians and urban evangelists of our time. He is founder and lead pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York. In the introduction to his book , The Prodigal God, Keller explains that when he moved to New York in the early 90s he thought he was going to plant a church for the un-churched urban population, but over the years what he found out was that over half of the people who flocked to his new congregation were what he deems spiritual refugees. These are people who grew up in the church but ended up leaving in their teens or early 20s to “find their own way.” What many of them found however was that the world is full of empty promises and through a desperate search for meaning they often end up searching for a way back home.
Keller goes on to explain through the rest of the book that the story of the prodigal son is really a story of two lost sons, one who went off in search of meaning, the other who out of a sense of obligation and self-righteousness stayed behind. But neither son could be said to have fully loved or understood the father. In the end we are left with a heart wrenching image of the father pleading with the older brother to come in and join the feast.
All this reminds me of a passage I wrote in my book – “Meekonomics; Kingdom Economics from a Love Based Mentality” on jealousy and envy.
In a worldly economy, envy and jealously are powerful motivators. They feed on our ruler nature. Mankind as ruler leaves no room for anyone else to rule or be successful other than you. As we have seen, in God’s Perfect Economy the ruler nature is counterbalanced by our caretaker nature and our acceptance of God’s ultimate loving leadership but when Adam and Eve rejected that leadership a war broke out within ourselves. That war is fueled in part by envy and jealousy.
Webster defines envy as a “painful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.” Envy itself is not the sin that caused Cain to kill his brother. Being aware, even painfully aware, of someone else’s advantage and a desire for the same is not a bad thing. This kind of awareness can and often does lead to great progress if put to positive use. The market economy to which we are so in tune is an economy that is very aware of other’s advantage. Not to put too fine a point on it, but envy drives the market and is what has created much of the modern civilization we enjoy to today. It’s not until envy meets its cousin jealousy that bad things happen.
Jealousy is defined as being “hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage.” In the end jealousy seeks to destroy that which it cannot control, it tears down rather that builds up and the result is a society that is weakened not only by the loss of something great but by the misdirected energies of the jealous individual.
When Cain became angry over Abel’s apparent advantage it was a result of his working through his feelings of envy but he had not yet sinned. At the pivotal moment in this process God came to him and gave him a choice. You can learn from this experience, you can do what is right or you can give in to sin. You can allow your envy to motivate you to do better next time, or you can allow it to morph into jealousy.
We all know what happened next but what would have happened if Cain had listened to God? [Meekonomics – Chapter Two; Paradise Lost]
You see, much of what is happening in the world today, and much of what we see repeated throughout the Bible and history as a whole is the result of Jealousy and Envy run amok. When Jesus told the story of the two lost sons he pointed out that this type of thinking also leads to what Keller called Elder brother self-righteousness.
And we see if every day… A quick glance through the major news stories of the last few days bears that out. Here are just a few of the headlines.
– “Turkish activists ignore appeals to end protest”
– “Secret tax-haven names released to public”
– “Top space agency post pick sparks militarization concerns”
Whether it’s protestors in Turkey, people cheating on their taxes or the militarization of space the underlying theme is the same, jealousy and envy leads to self-righteousness and shame and often-times violence. God doesn’t care about any of that, he wants us all to come in and join the feast and bask in his love for humanity, when we do all else fades away and we can begin to talk and listen, (really listen), to one another for a change.
For more information on The Meekonomics Project, to book a speaking engagement or a one on one consultation write to; firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to buy the book “Meekonomics; Kingdom Economics from a Love Based Mentality” now available on Amazon and CreateSpace at www.createspace.com/4289032