What if I told you about a game that everybody plays, yet nobody ever wins? Would you want to play it? The fact is, you probably already do, or at the very least, are tempted to play it. “What game,” you might ask, “is it?” And my answer would be: The Comparison Game.
In our sinful nature, we are hard-wired to compare anything and everything in our lives to the lives of those around us, whether near or far, believer or unbeliever, friend or foe. Not only is the game broad in its potential participants, but it’s equally as broad in content. We can pretty much compare anything: spouse, lack of a spouse, job/career, lack of a job/career, children, lack of children, financial situation, opportunities, family, ministry, physical appearance, where we live, what we live in, mode of transportation, physical health, friendships, church, mental ability, physical ability, and that’s just a start. The list could literally almost never end.
Because it’s woven into fallen human nature, it’s woven into God’s Word again and again. In fact, God knew that it would be so prevalent among us that He instituted a law against it in the 10 Commandments. It’s a pretty big deal when the ONLY commandment of the 10 that deals directly with a heart issue (rather than the outward expression of a heart issue) focuses squarely on the issue of covetousness, whether it’s coveting someone’s spouse, house, or ANYTHING that belongs to him. Put comparison and sinful flesh together, and more often than not, they’ll birth the baby of covetousness.
The most “famous” example of this in the Old Testament, of course, is our friend Asaph in Psalm 73. I love this guy’s absolute honesty, and I wish more people were like that. Not the sinfulness part of course, but the honesty about it before God and man. In his case, he envied the wicked (ie: unbelievers), when he compared their lot to the lot of the righteous (ie: believers).
I appreciate what Asaph is saying, but for me, that’s never really been where comparison and covetousness gets me. I don’t look at rap stars, the Kardashians, or famous actresses, and envy them (for the most part), mostly because their lives seem so hollow and twisted, and their fate (unless they repent) is tragic. But my version of covetousness is probably even worse than Asaph’s, because I tend to do it with other believers.
For some reason, it seems like suffering as believers would be easier if we were all in it together on the same level. But quite frankly, that’s not how God has arranged it, for reasons I will never understand until glory (where He’ll either explain it, or I won’t even care anymore since it simply won’t matter). The fact of the matter is, while all believers suffer on one level or another, some suffer much less than others, and some suffer incredibly more. Some believers will have a monthly paycheck that allows them to live comfortably and not in constant anxiety for how they’ll make it through, others live hand-to-mouth in poverty. Some believers have sweet marriages; some believers have horrible ones, or perhaps the deep (and often invisible) pain of wanting one, and never having one. Some believers are healthy as a horse; other believers are sick as a dog. Some believers go on vacations; others can only find respite and escape in their dreams. I don’t understand this. It deeply disturbs me. I want it to be “fair” and for everyone to be the same.
Think about a scenario with me: we’re in Acts 1, and Judas has hung himself. Peter announces to the 120 believers that they need a replacement. The two men on the ballot: Barsabbas (Justus) and Matthias. They prayed and cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. Perhaps you’ve never wondered this, but here’s what I wonder: how did Barsabbas feel in that moment? Maybe it didn’t bother him at all. Or maybe he felt a little ashamed or embarrassed, in the presence of 120 people, having not been the one chosen. Maybe, just maybe, he went home that night and prayed, asking the Lord, “Is there something wrong with me, that I wasn’t the one chosen? What does Matthias have that I don’t have? Did I do something wrong?” I don’t know.
Consider another scenario a bit later in Acts 12: Herod is on the rampage against believers, and James and Peter are the objects of his wrath. However, things go down very differently for each of them. James (the brother of John) was killed; Peter was imprisoned and miraculously rescued by an angel of the Lord. Not a very “fair” outcome for two of the Lord’s apostles, eh? I try to imagine what I would feel like if I were James’ wife or child, mourning his death, while Peter’s family and the believers were rejoicing at his “miracle” deliverance. Again, I don’t know if anyone actually felt this way, but sometimes we forget that these were real people, with real feelings, and real griefs.
I hate the comparison game because it produces anger, envy, jealousy, depression, and a sense of isolation from other believers. None of those things are good. Yet my flesh is powerful, and only God’s grace can pierce through all that junk. And it really is pathetic, because I’m evaluating according to what I can see (which is very little), rather than what I can’t see (which is the entire picture, which ONLY God can see).
Yet I’ve saved the biggest biblical example for last: the interaction between Jesus, John, and Peter in John 21. When Jesus tells Peter he is going to die a martyr’s death, he immediately turns to John and asks, “Lord, what about this man?” In other words, Peter wants to know whether John will have the same fate as he will. Comparison 101. And the response is, I must say, CLASSIC Jesus, when He replies, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
So I don’t intent to wrap up this post with tidy answers or platitudes. It’s too deep, too real, and perhaps, too raw for me to do so. But at the end of the day, the focus lands squarely on the only place it rightly can: on Jesus Himself. Stop looking around and follow Me. Stop comparing what I’m doing in others’ lives to yours. You simply lack the sovereign intelligence to evaluate it. It’s not easy, and it may be a daily discipline with failures and restarts. But all we can do is choose to look at Him, look at Him, and look at Him again, and simply follow Him. As much as I’d love to change roles with some of my fellow actors in the drama of redemption, I can’t. I’d be a fool to try. I have to follow Him, and trust that the Screenwriter, Producer, and Director knows what He’s doing far more than I do, whether in my own life, the lives of friends I love, or the lives of distant sufferers I only read about or hear about on the news. I can’t see how any of it is good with my eyes, so I must believe it by faith, until faith becomes sight, God is justified, and I repent in dust and ashes.