Envy has been called “the green sickness,” “a torment,” and “the most corroding of the vices.” Philip Bailey vividly described it as “a coal come hissing hot from hell.” And speaking of hell, no one has done a better job of portraying envy than Dante. In his Purgatory the envious sit like blind beggars by a wall. Their eyelids are sewn shut. The symbolism is apt, showing the reader that it is a blinding sin—partly because it is unreasonable, partly because the envious person is sewn up in himself. Swollen with poisonous thoughts in a dark, constricting world of almost unendurable self-imposed anguish.
Envy is the sin of the evil eye. The word envy is from the Latin invidia, meaning, “to look maliciously upon.” It always sees and desires what it does not have. Unlike jealousy, which focuses on possessing what you desire, envy focuses on taking something you desire away from the person who owns it. Envy is not just wanting what the other person has; envy wants the other person not to have it. Envy is sort of greed with a vengeance. Envy loves wealthy people to go broke; it loves for healthy people to become sick; it loves for skinny people to grow fat.
Envy is the one vice everybody has experienced. There are people who aren’t gluttons, who aren’t greedy, and even some who aren’t particularly proud. But everybody has been envious at one time or another. Our human nature has a built-in instinct to be envious. While we think envy is often justified and treated as a mild sin, it, too, can be just as deadly as any other.
Here are five realities of envy.
Envy is directed toward people close to us, not those who are distant.
It grows naturally in relationships between people who are equals. Two people of the same age and similar interests feel envy most keenly. Doctors envy doctors. Lawyers envy lawyers. Neighbors envy neighbors. Salespersons envy salespersons. The closer a situation comes to matching your own identity, the higher the stakes become and the more likely envy is to erupt.
Envy reaches for what is out of reach.
My family picks apples at an orchard every fall. On one of those excursions, I noticed that I was always looking for the one seemingly perfect apple just out of reach. While there were plenty of apples, beautiful apples, well within my reach, it was always the one just out of my reach that caught my eye. Such is envy.
Envious people cannot be content that they are victorious and prosperous. All they can see are others who have received more victories and achieved more prosperity.
You’ve heard the phrase, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” Why do we believe that statement? Simple. The grass on the other side of the fence is always out of reach. What is out there, or over there, or beyond what we have, is what we want. We envy it.
Envy creates the sense that life is passing one by.
The envious often feel they are in their twilight years when the rookie comes to camp. Be that a neighbor who drives up with a new SUV or takes off on an exotic vacation to Italy or has a more productive vegetable garden. Or, a work associate that gets promoted over you or gets a perk that you wanted. Others may be glad and rejoice, the envious seethe and become angry.
Envy is rotten to the core.
The Proverb says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones!” (Prov. 14:30 NIV). Chaucer’s Parson reminds us that envy is a foul sin because it sneers against all virtues and against all goodness. Envy is like a little worm inside an apple—it eats us up internally. Much of the depression people experience today is nothing more than internalized envy. Like rust eating iron, envy corrupts men and women.
Envy has within itself its own destructive seed.
The Greek proverb is correct, “Envy slays itself by its own arrows.” Envy is deadly because it will not let us live happily. It robs us of joy. It will not let us be satisfied with what we have or be grateful for our talents and personal qualities. It becomes a barrier to the celebration of who we are. It cheats us from blessings.
Which of these do you struggle with the most? What is your source of envy?
But there is help and hope. Part 2 of this article will provide steps to overcome envy.
One of my most popular books, The 7 Sins of Highly Defective People, takes a twenty-first century look at the seven deadly sins, including envy, and offers advice on how, through Christ, we can overcome them. The book is a repair guide that will take you from highly defective to highly effective in your Christian walk. Click here to claim your copy.