Comparisons are inevitable. The fact is, there are some seats over here, and there are some seats over there.
James and John could tell the difference and wanted those seats just there if you don’t mind.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”… And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:35-37)
Peter and the other Disciples did mind and were not too happy about it.
Which is what comparisons typically do: Leave us not too happy.
Multiple studies have shown that the social network phenomenon of this generation has been linked to a surprising number of undesirable mental health consequences including depression, low self-esteem, and bitter rivalry.
One study, which first appeared in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that “Not only do Facebook and depressive symptoms go hand-in-hand, but the mediating factor seems to be the psychological phenomenon of Social Comparison.”
The study suggested that people who logged more Facebook time not only had more depressive symptoms, but that social comparison—in any direction—was the mediator.
In other words, it didn’t matter whether a person was making upward or downward comparisons, they were all linked to a greater likelihood of depressive symptoms.
Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Comparison is the thief of Joy.”
If we are talking about comparisons between people, I think he’s right. We compare our children with the neighbours’ kids, a woman compares her hair to her friends’ hair, and men compare their boats, jobs and biceps with their mates.
These comparisons are often prompted by the underlying question, “Am I part of the team? Am I in sync with whatever the current trend is? Do I measure up?”
But what if the trends are backward, what if the current standards are bent and the surrounding culture sick? To quote a dead Indian philosopher,
It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
Thinking themselves independent and hip, the lads at Corinth had fallen into this trap and were comparing themselves with each other (2 Corinthians 10:12). Paul says that to use yourself or those around you as the standard is a bad idea.
Paul’s way out of this depressing trap was to abandon all comparisons with one another and instead call upon the believers to boast only in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31). For, says Paul, “it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
It is not on account of our station in life, our work for the church, our physical or mental prowess, or our trophy wives, that we receive our commendation. Approval comes from God, and if you are in Christ then you have all the status, approval, liberty, joy, contentment, grace, satisfaction and acceptance you need.
In other words, it’s not simply the comparison that’s a problem. In fact, sometimes comparisons can be helpful. The problem is the standards by which we compare ourselves and others. Is Facebook or Instagram the standard, or is Jesus the standard?
So Peter seeing John said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “…what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:22)
Peter was seeing John, but he needed to see Jesus. Peter was watching and following John. He was comparing his own footsteps, his own path, to that of John. But he, like we, needed to be looking to Jesus and following the path laid out by Jesus, wherever it may lead.
Even here we must be careful. When we look to Jesus we are not seeking, as Eve was, to appropriate his divine attributes for ourselves as a means of status. We’re not in the race to become little gods and should reject all forms of mimicry and performance art as though we were all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful.
Our comparisons and our aspirations should flow from His standards.
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:25)
It matters upon whom or what you set your sights. Whatever it is that is stealing your focus day after day, whatever it is that’s consuming your sight, will soon consume you unless you stop.
For our liberty and contentment lie not in memes, fads and fashions, whether social, scientific, academic or political. Our liberty is found in Christ.