The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

In my last blog I told you that I am studying the seven deadly sins as part of the C.S. Lewis Institute fellows program. Even though I’ve gone to church my whole life, and spent the last ten years seriously pursuing a relationship with my Lord and Savior, I have never before taken a hard look at the seven deadly sins. And yet I am more and more convinced that talk of love and grace without acknowledgment of our own sin trivializes the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. As one scholar rightly asks, “What had we thought the ripping and writhing on Golgotha were all about?” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be). His observation that the local church often ignores “the lethal reality of sin” resonates with me; he says the “sober truth is that without full disclosure on sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally uninteresting.”
And I have to say, I am finding the study of the seven deadly sins to be a very fruitful endeavor. It is altering the way I look at myself, and the way I look at society as a whole. There is so much sorrow in this world. We rightly attribute much of our pain to natural causes, but we also allow individuals to escape blame for the most heinous of crimes. We reason that people with horrific backgrounds of abuse, neglect or other injustice cannot possibly be held accountable for their actions. But I believe this is a mistake. Let me be clear: I am not saying that experiences do not affect our behavior, they do. But even though we are uncomfortable with the topic, even though it’s taboo in our politically correct culture, we cannot ignore that sin also plays a role. Sin is real and we are all masters at denying it. As we start to be more aware of its reality, we begin to see it as a major component of the sorrow all around us.
Although the sin of pride is usually listed first among the deadly sins, I’m going to close these seven blogs with pride and start with envy. There are many facets to envy, my Webster’s Unabridged has three full paragraphs describing it, but simply put, to envy is “to feel resentful and unhappy because someone else possesses, or has achieved, what one wishes oneself to possess or to have achieved.”
Have you ever felt that way? Of course you have, and so have I. It’s a terrible feeling, and even though we don’t go around admitting it (you hear people say they struggle with lust, with greed, with overeating, but when’s the last time you heard someone say they struggle with envy?), but we are all guilty of it, some more than others. And all sins have built-in punishments, but the terrible thing about envy is that there is no pleasure in it, and yet it is insatiable. Even if you obtain the possession or the status that you envy, that is no cure–you’ll just envy the next thing.
As Frederick Buechner says, “Envy is the consuming desire to have everybody else as unsuccessful as you are.” But not only is envy consuming, it can lead to all kinds of other sins. Remember how King Saul envied David or how envious Joseph’s brothers were of his special status in the eyes of Jacob? Where did their envy lead them? Not exactly to the paths of righteousness, right? So we’re fooling ourselves if we think envy isn’t a big deal. Envy impedes our ability to recognize the blessings that God has graciously bestowed upon us, and envy also keeps us from rejoicing in the blessings of others.
So what’s the cure? Well, naming it is step one, but beyond that I’m certainly no expert. I just started studying this myself, remember? But from what I’ve read, here are some ideas:
  1. Take an honest look at your life, ask God to reveal to you where you have issues with envy;
  2. Then pray for confidence in God’s Word, that in your heart of hearts you will rest in the fact that you are His unique creation and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made;
  3. Pray for the person you envy;
  4. Meditate on God’s love;
  5. Know that love and envy are incompatible (“We cannot deeply love and at the same time envy, for in love we wish the very best for others.” Dr. William Backus).