My feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked… Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. Psalm 73:2-3, 25
In The Hidden Persuaders author and social critic Vance Packard quotes an American advertising executive as saying ‘What makes this country great is the creation of wants and desires, the creation of dissatisfaction with the old and outmoded’. In the same paragraph Packard says that merchandisers of products are being urged to become ‘merchants of discontent’.
That was 1957. Packard’s book, which was a critique of consumer motivational research and manipulative techniques used by advertisers to create desire for products, became a bestseller and proved itself prophetic in many aspects.
More than two millennia earlier Asaph wrote a Psalm in which he tells of his own temptation to become discontented with his lot and desirous of others’ possessions. Dissatisfaction and envy, it seems, are as old as the human race. The wise Solomon once said that ‘all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor.’
How does a Christian overcome this universal temptation to break the tenth commandment? One could remove the object of temptation as they did in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, where the Buddhist authorities banned advertising. If you remove the source of envy, they say, you also remove unhappy and resentful feelings about others’ possessions.
Aspah, however, overcame his temptation in another way. At the end of the Psalm he tells us that he found his satisfaction in God and, as a result, no longer desired the things on earth. This is the Biblical way: Not obliterating desire, but changing the object of desire.