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The Lost Sin of Envy - How Envy Behaves
May 01, 2012
Yesterday I began to write about what I called The Lost Sin of Envy. I gave a short history of Envy and then shared some of what the Bible says about him. Today I want to show how he behaves and how you can expect him to work himself out in your life.
Who is Envy? What does Envy do? How do we define Envy? Something like this: Envy makes you feel resentment or anger or sadness because another person has something or another person is something that you want for yourself. Envy makes you aware that another person has some advantage, some good thing, that you want for yourself and, while he’s at it, he makes you want that other person not to have it.
This means that there are at least three evil components to Envy: the deep discontent that comes when you see that another person has what you want; the desire to have it for yourself; and the desire for it to be taken from him.
It’s crucial to understand that Envy flows out of Pride. (A commenter said it well: “In my wretched experience pride has always been envy’s father…”) Pride says, “This is what I deserve” or “Let me boast about all I have” or “I am better than you in all of these ways.” Have you ever thought about the fact that pride always compares? C.S. Lewis says, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.” When you are proud you compare yourself with another person and there are only two possible outcomes: If you believe you come out on top, you feel even more pride; if you believe you come out on the bottom, you feel envy. Envy comes when Pride is wounded.
Envy does something very strange and ugly. When I look at your success or your money or your joy, that good thing makes me feel bad. It somehow calls me into question, it taunts me, it makes me doubt myself, it even makes me doubt God. When I see your success, it makes me think less of myself. It calls into question all that I am, all that I’ve done, all that I’ve accomplished, all that I’ve worked for. It becomes an issue of my own identity. Your success screams that I have failed.
I know this so well. Several years ago I wrote my first book and received so much encouragement from people who read it. But then more authors came with more books and theirs sold better and they got more accolades—well-deserved accolades for excellent books—and I found that I couldn’t even bear to think about some of these people. They had more sales, they had more speaking opportunities, and somehow that made me feel useless. I felt like if those guys were loved, it must mean that I wasn’t. In my heart these guys were competition and I was losing. Envy brewed despite all the blessings I had experienced.
That is Envy. Envy convinces me that I am competing with another person, and when I lose that competition, I feel worthless.
Envy exposes your deepest desires. Why does Envy want what another person has and why does it want that other person not to have it? Because that advantage the other person has, that possession or money or skill or character quality or whatever it is, exposes what you really want. It shows what brings you joy, what you value most, where your heart loyalties really lie.
If you value money above everything else, you will envy those who have more of it than you do and you will rejoice when it is taken away from them. Envy exposes your heart like no other sin really does, it lays it bare, it shows what you desire more than you desire God.
Envy exposes the idols of your heart and tells you what you really live for. Think of Saul and his relationship to David. Saul’s god was the praise of men. This is what he loved and longed for. He wanted to be held high by men, to be held higher than anyone else. When David won his great military triumph the women sang, “Saul has killed his thousands and David has killed his ten thousands.” This called into question everything Saul was. Envy came calling and said, “David is getting the love and acclaim that you want for yourself.” So Saul embarked on a long campaign of trying to murder David. Envy laid his heart bare and drove him to insanity as he pursued this false god.
I have had to admit to so much pride pride. I came to see that I valued popularity, that I wanted to be known and loved and widely-read. That was my idol, the idol of popularity and recognition. I became envious of people that I perceived to be more popular that I am. I would quietly rejoice when someone gossiped about them or when something happened that would call their popularity into question. That was my idol and it was, it is, gross.
So first Envy competes and then it exposes your heart loyalties and false gods. And having accomplished that work, it now takes action.
Envy Takes Action
Just like Satan, when you spend time with Envy, when you see those things that you desire and you see that you have lost the competition you’ve created in your mind, you begin to take action. You act out against God and you act out against other people.
You act out against God by resenting him because you determine in your mind that God has given you less than you deserve. You believe that God owes you more and better and that God must love that other person more than he loves you. All things could never work for my good if he is wealthier than I am, if he has a wife and I do not, if he gets all of those advantages and opportunities and I get so little.
You also act out against the person for whom you feel envy. When you spend time with Envy, you experience sorrow in another person’s joy and joy in another person’s sorrow. You mourn the good the other person experiences and find joy in their pain. What you cannot enjoy for yourself, you believe that no one should be able to enjoy. When you are consumed by Envy, when you are losing that competition you’ve created, the way you respond is then to try to bring the other person down. You cannot get to his level, so you try to destroy him and bring him down to yours.
Just think of Satan. Satan is proud and wants to be worshipped in place of God. He saw that God created beings in his own image and likeness and he saw Adam and Eve walking and talking with God, loving and worshipping him in every word and deed. He became envious of God because he wanted that worship for himself. So he acted out by corrupting these people, turning their hearts away from God and toward himself.
Dorothy Sayers says it well: “Envy is the great leveler: if it cannot level things up, it will level them down … rather than have anyone happier than itself, it will see us all miserable together.” I know that misery far more intimately than I care to admit.
I will leave it here today and return tomorrow to look at what Envy wants from you.