Some thoughts on envy from the book Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be by Cornelius Plantinga:
Envy is a nastier sin than mere covetousness. What an envier wants is not, first of all, what another has; what an envier wants is for another not to have it. (example: an 18 year old lobbying against a liberal curfew for his 16 year old brother even though the 18 year old can gain nothing positive by winning the campaign…)
To covet is to want somebody else’s good so strongly that one is tempted to steal it. To envy is to resent somebody else’s good so much that one is tempted to destroy it. The coveter has empty hands and wants to fill them with somebody else’s goods. The envier has empty hands and therefore wants to empty the hands of the envied… What the envier really wants is to spoil something– or someone… Cain no longer wanted Abel’s blessing, he wanted Abel’s death.
Envy, like the pride that spawns it, is inevitably comparative… Thus if he gets an A on an examination in school he’d like to be the only one… Having to share first place makes him feel like a loser.
Being envied is, at least for a person of character, no delight either… For them, being envied is an awkward sorrow. To be envied is to have something venomous aimed at you for which it’s surprisingly hard to find the right anti-venom. If you do well, you will be resented. If you ignore the envier, you nick his pride. If you try to be nice to the envier, you may be thought patronizing…
Today we are thinking about envy, resentment, and the alchemy of God. I am thankful for this community and the way we wrestle with these things.
October 3, 2010 @ 7:05 pm
Truly–I could feel something inside of me akin to “conviction” as David was talking about envy this morning. I was embarrassingly shocked to slowly realize throughout the day as I reflected how envy is so intimately woven into my view of life….almost like it, in its unacknowledged state, exerts a far greater power of me than I’d care to admit. So, keep telling the truth, David. It really is freeing.
October 3, 2010 @ 7:47 pm
Connally, I love how you put yourself out there to recognize our brokenness and God’s mercy and grace. That authentic living within a community (even online community) is something that I desire so much more of – specifically in people who follow Jesus. Thank you.
October 4, 2010 @ 7:44 am
I remember taking a “sin test” a couple of years ago (in William Backus’ book “What Your Counselor Never Told You”). Before you begin taking it, though, the author asks you to predict your ranking of the seven deadly sins. I pretty confidently put envy and greed near the bottom, thinking, “Hey, that’s not a big problem for me. I am pretty content with where I am. I am not materialistic. I don’t really need a lot of stuff.”. HA! Turns out when you were raised being compared to others, you end up with a strong strain of envy, no matter how you try to cover it up.
I think my envy tends to focus on whatever I feel I am not doing well at the moment—so these days, I feel an acidic grumbling inside when I see (what I perceive to be) peaceful, happy, contented mothers, whose families seem so harmonious, and who seem to know just the right amount and kind of discipline to use on their highly compliant, prayerful children. At other times in my life, though, it was people who were achieving things I desired in my professional field, or getting better grades with seemingly less studying, or whatever. I realized while listening to David yesterday, too, that I also tend to envy others’ spiritual gifting.
David’s sermon also got me thinking about how envy is really a denial of God’s blessings–which He has given specifically and abundantly to me! So gratitude is key, as is telling ourselves the TRUTH about these things. For example, I used the word “seem” a lot above. Things are rarely ever what they seem. We’re all broken, we’re all messed up. We are all in need of the One who is in the business of cleaning up messes.
So, thanks, David, for getting us to look at this insidious sin head on. It’s a sneaky one! And incredibly poisonous, as you pointed out, for both the envier and the envied, as well as the whole community that surrounds them.
October 6, 2010 @ 1:30 pm
We have met the enemy and it is us. We are all our own worst enemy until Jesus sheds light on our darkness and leads us out into the light. It happens daily as we try to follow him.