Envy

12 October 2013





I’d have never thought myself an envious person. But recently, after hearing a sermon on the famous passage on love in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (the 13th chapter), I discovered that I suffered from an acute problem of envy.

It turned out that mine was at quite an advanced stage. I was really envious of a lot of people who had things better than me by any measure. For some reason I never realized it was a problem in my life.

The thing that has stuck with me most from Haddon Robinson’s words on love not being envious (though it was more of an aside point) was how unreasonable envy is. The unreasonableness of envy is that it will not likely be willing to 'swap clean'. Haddon said in his sermon that the envious person must be ready to ‘swap clean’. If I’m envious of a friend who has a certain car, isn’t it unreasonable to want the good he has in his life without having to contend with the bad? I mustn’t get the car only, I must get everything else; his asthma, his broken family, his loneliness, his undetected cancer, his few remaining years on the earth etc. When you think about it that way, you stop and think twice before envying. It is unreasonable to envy; you can’t want the good only. If you envy, you must swap clean. It should be all or nothing.

Unfortunately, in my depravation, I used this to make myself feel better. I opted to dwell, therefore, on the negative aspects of the lives of those I envied which of course wasn’t Haddon’s point.

I think the most sinful thing about envy is that it is an affront to God. To be envious is to tell God that he isn’t doing his job right and that you know better. It is to tell him that he should have given you kids like that family has, a car like that person has, a wife who cooks as good as that other guy’s wife, etc. It is to basically tell God that he made a bad call. What can be more offensive? Wasn't that God's point in those several chapters in Job where he responds to Jobs complaints for the terrible circumstances he had found himself in, going from hero to zero. God was saying in all those chapters, are you sure? Are you sure you can sit on my throne and do a better job? Of course, all Job could do was repent. There is a delicate balance we must find where we do our best and not be lazy while simultaneously accepting the place God puts us, with the things and people that he gives us. We must work hard so that we avail ourselves the best things of this life while being ready to live with the things God causes us to end up with.

The heinous thing I’ve found with envy, especially in my life on a social level, is its paralyzing effect. I have found myself failing miserably and literally unable to genuinely rejoice with those around me when they are blessed in some way or other. When you envy the progress of others, it is not possible to truly be happy for them and with them. This invariably results in a failure to mourn with them in their sorrow as well since you’re happy to see them go down and lose out. It is a terrible place to be. I've also found myself crippled; too focused on what I don't have that I fail to enjoy what I do have. How sad! Worse off, I end up robbing God of the thanks he deserves for what he has actually given me all because I'm so consumed by what he hasn't.

The trickery of envy is in its perpetuity. When does it end? When will you ever have a life that is so great, no one else has anything better than you? Sure, you’ll end up with a lot of money, but you’re not likely to have the best spouse or kids as well. You can never envy enough. I remember a song that used to be played a lot when I was in high school which had a line, “Remember when you’re feeling blue, there’s always someone who has it worse than you…” Well, they’ll always be someone who has it better than you in one area or other. So envying won’t get you anywhere. Contentment really is the better alternative.

Finally, the folly of envy is that it works on assumptions. It assumes that having that thing that the other person has will finally make you happy. It assumes that you deserve better than the person you’re envious of. It assumes that the thing(s) you envy about the other person is/are the aspect(s) of their lives that complete them. These assumptions are all faulty. That thing you envy won’t make you happy; true happiness is not found in the things we envy. No sir, no ma’am, you don’t deserve better than the person you’re envious of; on your best day, you deserve nothing from God at the very least. And finally, nothing temporal can complete a person; the people we perceive to be happy and complete are often not and if they truly are, it has everything to do with something permanent that cannot be corrupted or taken from them, something which comes only from above.

Envy is a disease of the heart, and every time I find myself with a wrong attitude i.e. a heart problem, I pray this little prayer I heard sang as a child:

Change my heart, Oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart, Oh God
May I be like You

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray

I am yet to be let down after praying this prayer sincerely!