Enemy of Life?: A Rot in the Bones
Excuse me while I do some “plank in my own eye” removal before I tackle this subject…
I must confess I do not consider myself “the jealous type”. But even a quick inventory of my own soul reveals that although I have not coveted “things”, I have had desires for “stuff” that I did not possess. Intangible AND substantial stuff. I have desired the life, the ease, the comfort, the fun that others have possessed, and I have felt I had been denied. You see, I have 2 children with a genetic condition which drastically affects my life. Coveting a less hectic, more manageable schedule, with less urgent demands on me is easy bait. I have coveted the notoriety, importance, and influence that another person has held in public opinion; I admit I have deemed myself more deserving of accolades and appreciation. I have wanted more talent, more effective skills, and more efficient execution of various undertakings. I have wanted what I did not have, even though I would not be able to hold it in my hands.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I have found the book “Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins” (a collection of essays published by Desiring God Ministries, 2015) quite helpful in understanding the full breadth of envy. Joe Rigney provides a thorough examination of envy and the fellow members of this “wolf pack”. Envy is merely one member in a dark gang of similarly-acting pals: jealousy, anger, malice, hatred, judgement, covetousness, resentment, comparison, and rivalry. And of course, they are all under the command of their stealthy leader, Pride. Rigney explains that while most of these sins of desire are focused on certain objects that we want, envy on the other hand is focused more directly on the person who possesses these objects.
If we were to use the Mob for structural comparison, then we could say that Pride would be the Boss, while Covetousness, Comparison, and Rivalry would run the day-to-day crime-ring operations, each with their own focus. But Envy would be considered one of “the big guns, because Envy would play the Hitman. Envy makes it personal. It partners with Hatred and Malice (two likeminded, brooding, conniving emotions), and together, they devise a plan of attack. Envy directs them to the target.
Jealousy: Two Sides of the Same Coin
While jealousy is sometimes seen as a “bad” thing, in reality it is more complex. There are some things that we are jealous for because they are truly good desires. We can desire functional relationships, financial freedom, healthy bodies, and more flexible schedules, and not be sinning. My desire for a less hectic schedule, and less urgent demands than those expected of a Mom of kids with special needs is not a bad desire. It is a natural and good desire. I desire their healing, independence, and normalcy. All good things. Additionally, sometimes humans need to see something in action in someone else’s life to be inspired to reach for new and better goals for themselves. Seeing something admirable in someone else and desire that for yourself is not in itself a bad thing. It’s learning from the example of others. And that is okay, too.
It isn’t necessarily about the object we desire (so long as it isn’t a desire that is outside of God’s Word). What flips the jealousy coin to the darker side is what it does inside our hearts because we desire it. The measure of when jealousy has run outside healthy boundaries is in how we are changed in the process of desiring. As long as our desires give birth to gumption, not grumbling, and allows us to grow more in Christlikeness, then it is probably safe to say that our desire is not in error.
This is why God can say “I, the LORD, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5) and still be perfectly holy – without sin. Because His desire does not highjack his heart into sinful longing. His desire for us and our return affection towards Him is a good desire. He desires it because He knows it is best for us to love Him and be loved by Him.
I think Envy is a stealthy hitman. This ain’t his first rodeo. It is hard to recognize, especially when our desires begin as a longing for good things or when we long for intangible objects. We often recognize the collateral damage before we sense that our desires are starting to boil over.
When our desires (even good desires) run amuck, we can be so easily convinced that we are justified in our disdain for the person who has what we want. Comparison grows in our mind to near-compulsion. Rivalry incessantly chants, “Win! Win! Win!” Pride dupes us into believing that we are entitled to all that we could desire, whether God has provided it or not, because we are better than others: “I am more (smart, kind, giving, sacrificial, etc…) than they are! Why do they get what I deserve? How is this fair?” And once God’s justice is called into question, it can be a wild roller-coaster ride plunging us into the depths of self-righteous anger. Without a Righteous Judge to answer (at least in our minds), we can entertain any emotional whim we may have, and justify any malevolent plan our envious heart would devise.
Instead of loving a friend, “as you love yourself,” we pull away and withdraw kindness, concern, and the general warmth of friendship. We turn on others, as if their blessings and successes were a personal affront to our lives. We believe untruths about who they are as people, attaching characterizations such as lazy, selfish, greedy, attention-hog, and any other notion we could come up with to help us feel better about Envy’s hit job.
Solomon was right when he said, “envy rots the bones” (Prov. 14:30). In truth, it is a poison that leaks slowly within our souls. As we hope to see this other person shrivel away into nothingness before our eyes, we are surprised to find ourselves clenching our own stomachs – tortured by our own envious devises. When any desire, even the noblest of desires, rumbles to a feverish pitch, it has no choice but to bubble over in a flurry of seething anger. Yet, we did not consider that the boiling pot is simmering within us – in our hearts and minds – and our soul becomes blistered from the heat.
So, what now?
What does that mean for our relationships? Our friendships? Our hearts?
Solomon addressed that as well in Prov. 14:30: “A tranquil heart gives life to the body…” A heart that is tranquil. Yes, a heart that is at peace with its portion. The word for “tranquil” comes from the idea of “health”. Meaning: this isn’t just about being at peace with circumstances. Instead, it is the quality of the peace that comes from a healthy heart.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for all of life flows from it” (Prov. 4:23).
A tranquil heart is a heart that guards the truth that God has provided all that you need. He feeds tiny birds and clothes the flowers that will wither tomorrow. He has plans for your future that we cannot fathom, and therefore cannot determine what we will need along the way. But He knows all; and He will provide. We must guard these truths with all diligence. Convinced that we have a Father who can and does and will continue to provide for us, our minds can experience peace – no need to fan into flame any desires gone wild. No Hitman needed for personal assassinations against others. We are free to enjoy the beauty of who we are, who God has made us to be, the plans He has designed for others as well.
We are able to “consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24), rejoicing and supporting our friends as they step into the good works that God has prepared in advance for them to fulfill. As they pursue their purpose, our hearts are available to focus on our own purposes within God’s plans, and inside fulfilling our purpose, we are infused with LIFE; the essence of being truly alive and awakened to God's design. We can enjoy the mutual experience of seeing the goodness of God flourishing in whatever capacity He chooses to reveal Himself, and however He decides to use us. We are not a victim of the poison of comparison, or even desires that go unanswered…for now. Our hearts remain steadfast...at peace…on the firm foundation of the Truth of God's Word.
ARTWORK BY: Lauren Garner of Willow & Stone Designs.
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