I just finished another pilgrimage through the Proverbs, and time and again read the promises that those who live good lives will receive good things while those who live bad lives will receive bad things. This is the way God has structured his world. But while these things are generally true, they are not universally true. Sometimes the wise suffer while the wicked prosper. Solomon acknowledges as much when he warns, “Be not envious of evil men…” I read his warning and wondered, “Are there ways I can envy the wicked? Are there ways in which we, as Christians, can envy the wicked?” Here are a few.
We can envy their freedom. While we are sure to push back against the notion that Christianity is a code of laws or a system of do’s and don’ts, the fact remains that our faith stipulates a way to live. And even while we know this is the right and best way to live, it still restricts us from doing many of those things that our sinful hearts desire. We can envy the freedom of the wicked who get to do whatever they want to do, who are ultimately accountable to no higher authority than themselves. We can bemoan the many opportunities we have to decline, the many offers we have to refuse. We can forget that “for freedom Christ has set us free.”
We can envy their entertainment. We love to lose ourselves in entertainment, yet can’t help but see that so much of pop culture is suspect or even vile. We see exciting previews for blockbuster movies, but know they will be full of smut; we hear co-workers buzzing about the latest episode of that television series, but know it’s wildly inappropriate. We can look with longing eyes at those who get to enjoy such entertainment without the smallest qualm of conscience.
We can envy their prosperity. The Psalmist once declared, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek” (Psalm 73:3-4). Sometimes the wicked prosper financially and we can envy all they have and own. This may be especially true while we are writing a check to give away a significant portion of what we’ve earned that week. It may be true when we turn down a lucrative position because it would keep us from attending church or when we assure the accountant that yes, we actually are going to pay every cent we owe the government. We hold our money with an open hand and can envy those who answer only to themselves.
We can envy their ease. As Christians we believe that we are living less for this world than for the world to come. There are many possessions we will not have and many dreams we will not fulfill because we are storing up treasures in heaven rather than on earth. Instead of purchasing lives of ease in this world, we are sending treasures on ahead to the next. But sometimes our faith grows weak and we can long to have ease now, we can resent the simple fact that we are stewards, not owners, of what God has given us. We can envy their lives of ease.
We can envy their depravity. Perhaps if we were to summarize, we could say that we can envy the depravity of unbelievers. We are saved people who have undergone a great transformation. But we remain sinful people who have undergone an incomplete transformation. The old man is still within, still longing to have what he wants, what he loves, what he believes he deserves. To our shame, we can envy the depravity of unbelievers, the very acts and deeds that will assure their everlasting torment.
Solomon encourages us in this way: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.”