In case you didn’t notice: there was no post in my Corner last week. My column has turned biweekly for the time being as I take on other writing and editing projects—such as this article about anime and religion on MAL.
Busyness has cut my anime intake down. I’ve only started three of this season’s anime, and I’m only caught up on one of them: Sakamoto desu ga?, aka Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto. It’s about a first-year high school student who quickly makes a name for himself as the coolest kid in school. All the girls crush on him, and most of the guys are jealous of him. He’s stylish, he’s smart, and no matter how many pranks his jealous classmates play, he always comes out looking even cooler—in fact, his would-be tormentors become his biggest fans.
It’s really not that great. Animation isn’t notable. Sakamoto isn’t even attractive, at least in my eyes. And while I chuckled a few times, especially in the first episode, it’s not that amusing. Sure, there’s some satisfaction each time he cooly outwits a troublemaker. Sure, I can appreciate how he’s a caricature of the already caricatured school idol characters in various anime. But that’s it.
This show isn’t meant to be taken seriously. And yet… I’ve started to think about the jealousy theme. It’s a theme that pops up all over anime: the main character is extra suave or talented, or he attracts a certain love interest (or all the love interests), and other characters get jealous and try to make him look bad. The opponents usually end up looking ridiculous, of course, since they obviously don’t deserve the attention they so desperately want. It’s all exaggerated, and we’re usually set up to sympathize with the main character, so it’s difficult to see ourselves in the jealous ones. After all, most of us don’t go stealing the cool kid’s chair out from under them or throwing water into their bathroom stall. We prefer to keep the jealousy inside.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to admit jealousy even to ourselves. For me, jealousy creeps up when I’ve started to define myself by a certain role or strength within a group. This happened a lot in school—both high school and college—when an underclassman attended a higher level class and performed better, or at least with more ease, than I did. In AP Calculus senior year, there was a junior who sat near me. His work ethic wasn’t the same as mine, and my perfectionism kept my grade up, but when it came down to it, math came more naturally to him than to me. I never felt particularly sour toward him, but I wasn’t particularly eager to see him succeed, either. As the school year went on, the jealousy was replaced by admiration and pride in association—a pride that’s motivated by a similar sinful place as the jealousy.
Even online, I catch myself in jealousy. As we had more and more staff join BtT, some at the same time as me and some later, I confess my first thought was not, “Wonderful! It’ll be great to have more voices on the site, and I love how many of us have come together to glorify God through our otaku hobbies!” Nope. My first thought was that if there were many of us, my role would be less special—both as a writer to the public and in our staff community. How ugly and un-Christlike is that? I should have rejoiced when I learned how our varied and talented group of writers would continue to grow, since these writers can better point others toward God. I already prayed that my words in this column would glorify God, not me, but my heart clearly wasn’t in the right place. Now, I’m grateful for everyone who’s joined BtT—for both their service and their friendship. I wouldn’t want them to leave, and if it’s God’s will for another writer to join our ranks sometime soon, I’d eagerly welcome them.
My jealousy doesn’t usually manifest in visible ways, and I’m sure people have no clue when I’m jealous. But that doesn’t make it less ugly before God, or less poisonous to me.
Possessiveness and passion has its place, of course. Jealousy itself is not a sin. God’s very jealous, and unlike us in 99.99% of situations, he has the right to be. He’s jealous of our worship because it rightfully belongs to him. He jealously pursues a relationship with us because that’s our rightful state—it’s what’s best for us, and we belong with him. God’s jealousy and zeal for his people—both Israelites and Christians—are connected, and it’s a frightening but beautiful thing. He’s never unfair or abusive about his jealousy, but it’s powerful.
I’m not God. I don’t deserve praise or special attention. The gifts that I have come from him, and anything I can do decent, he can do better (and he’s made other humans who do better than I do, too). In fact, when someone praises my writing or smarts without primarily praising God for these things, they’re misplacing their compliments. So when I’m jealous of someone who’s outshining me—or just changing my role in a group—I’m committing a grave sin, even if I still admire them and never show my jealousy. Because in truth, it’s a symptom of a far worse jealousy: I covet the attention that belongs primarily to God. I’m just not willing to admit it, because, well… he’s God. It’s easier to admit that I’m jealous of a human being.
So, how do I deal with this sin? Start by admitting it to myself, and then confess it to God and to at least one other person. Pray for help. And spend more time with God, humbly studying his Word and asking him to show me his greatness. The better I understand who he is and what my role is in relation to him, the easier it is to remember that he deserves all glory. The more I learn about him, and the more I meditate on what he does, the more I love him and want him to be praised. It’s a lot like how the troublemakers in Sakamoto desu ga? become Sakamoto’s greatest admirers after his cool thinking saves them from a fire.
Sinful jealousy arises from ill-placed possessiveness of status, person, or object—and from a self-centered, rather than God-centered, point of view. And make no mistake: even if you successfully hide it from others, and even if you never do or say anything to hurt the people you’re jealous of, it’s still sin. It hurts your relationship with God and with others, and it’s symptomatic of a prideful identity problem. Plus, it’s just plain uncomfortable in your heart and mind. Unfortunately, unlike anime characters, we often have more trouble letting go of our pride and redirecting our worship from ourselves to the One who deserves it. So I encourage you, readers, if you’re like me and struggle with jealousy, to confess and repent, seeking help from the Lord. Because I’ve found that when we’re busy truly worshipping God, we desire less attention for ourselves—and we’re more joyful for it.