The Deadly Sin of Envy

The Deadly Sin of Envy

Anastasia and Drusilla. These two give stepsisters a bad name. They are cold and cruel. They want to reduce Cinderella to cinders, rags and ashes. They degrade her, demean her, and dehumanize her. They experience her beauty as emptiness inside themselves. They experience her quiet peace as something they lack. Her presence causes them the pain of self-awareness. They feel persecuted by the good in her. Not only do they want what she has, they want her not to have it.

There is a name for this – envy. And it is a deadly sin. Those who practice it will never know life happily ever after.

Of course, Cinderella isn’t the only classic story about envy.

There’s Cain and Abel. God is more pleased with Abel’s sacrifice. Crawl inside Cain’s head and you hear envy talking. “You’ve been robbed. This isn’t fair. You deserve better. Abel gets all the breaks.”  So Cain kills Abel. The crime is murder. The motive is envy.

There’s Joseph and his coat of many colors, which agitates the tar out of his 11 brothers. Joseph didn’t do himself any favors by wearing it everywhere he went.

There’s a shepherd boy who brings down a giant with a slingshot and becomes more popular than King Saul. Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands. And Saul, full of envy throws a spear to pin David to the palace wall.

There’s the elder brother stewing out in the backyard while the father hosts a welcome home party for the prodigal inside.

Envy is classic in the stories of human perversion.

Under the microscope, envy is fatal.

Envy is a deadly sin, destroying our capacity to enjoy life. We’re always feeling robbed, cheated, defrauded. We experience our own life as a lacking, an emptiness.

We know how to act on envy. Sabotage the project of the person who got our promotion. Paint graffiti on their door. Key their new car. Dig dirt and spread it. Campaign for their demotion. Roll our eyes every time they say something. Make them the butt of our sarcasm. Chip away at their reputation. Tell lies.

The Psalmist confesses the sin of envy:

I was envious of the arrogant;

I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pain;

their bodies are sound and sleek.

They are not in trouble as others are;

they are not plagued like other people.

Therefore pride is their necklace;

violence covers them as a garment.

Their eyes swell out with fatness;

their heart overflows with follies.

They scoff and speak with malice;

loftily they threaten oppression.

They set their tongues against heaven,

and their tongues range over the earth.

Therefore the people turn and praise them,

and find no fault in them….

Such are the wicked;

always at ease, they increase in riches.

All in vain I have kept my heart clean

and washed my hands in innocence.”

(Psalm 73:3-13, NRSV)

This person can’t enjoy his own life because he has his eyes on another. And he is a believer envying a wicked man. Ever heard a Christian say something like this:

  • I could own a bigger house like them if I didn’t have to tithe all the time.
  • I could go play golf too, if I didn’t have to teach the fifth grade boys in Sunday school.
  • I could have a bigger business if I were willing to break the law like my competition.
  • I’d be driving a new car if it weren’t for the church building fund.

The followers of Jesus are not immune to envy. I suppose we expect a break or two, a divine edge on the others.  After all, we give, work, care, volunteer, and sacrifice. Others just look out for number one. If our lot in life is worse than theirs, we feel cheated, robbed, and unappreciated. And our envy is masked as religious martyrdom. Deep in the heart, we stop believing that God is good to us.  We experience life as a chore rather than a gift, a curse rather than a blessing, a weight rather than a grace. Envy is the ongoing regret of the life we have been given.

Too many Christians are eaten up with envy, hanging onto God with one hand while clutching for the life of another with the other.

Reality check. We are followers of the Christ who wanted only the life that came from the hand of the Father. He experienced life full and free. He wronged none, served all. He redeemed, healed, included, forgave. Did we experience his presence as our emptiness? His grace as our lack? His fullness as our void? Did his life remind us of the life we wanted but did not have? Was it easier to kill him than to face our hunger? Was it easier to kill the good than to admit our lack of it?

Envy seeks to destroy the good it does not have. Envy pounds nails through flesh into wood. Whose hands are you hammering? Cinderella’s? The father-blessed Jacob’s? Whose life do you prefer to your own? Look again at the hands. It is your own that you are wounding. You crucify the life God has given you for envy of another. Look one more time.

Someone has taken your place, gone to the place where you are dying of lack, dying of emptiness. His hands receive the nails. The same hands that extend to give you the gift of your own life. Stop hammering. Open yourself to the joy of your own life. Be thankful, even charitable. You are not robbed; you are rich. You are not cheated; you are cherished.

The Psalmist finally figured it out—life as a gift from God.

I am continually with you;

You hold my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,

and afterward you will receive me with honor.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth I desire other than you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.”

(Psalm 73:23-26, NRSV)

Today’s post is an excerpt from Seven Deadly Sins: The Uncomfortable Truth.

Click here to read all the posts in my blog series, “Seven Deadly Sins.”


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