Thy Neighbor’s Life


So what do you do when you are standing in the check-out line at the grocery store? Probably most of us scan the tabloids if only out of the corner of our eyes. What is so fascinating about celebrities?  What would it be like to be rich, famous (infamous), beautiful, powerful? If we’re honest, there might be a hint of envy in our hearts.

Envy is a pervasive American sin. Harry Stein in his book, Ethics and Other Liabilities, says, “A convincing case can be made that the entire free enterprise system is fueled by envy.” On the television show, 60 Minutes, Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, “We worship success but we really don’t like the successful. We are envious of them.”

No emotion is so corrosive to the soul as acute envy. Unlike hatred or lust or violent anger, envy is internalized and there is nothing therapeutic about it. Envying someone causes the object of our envy no inconvenience whatsoever – in fact, he is likely to be gratified by it. Envy is an ugly sin. It is nearly impossible to “envy with style.” Invariably we end up looking as terribly small as we feel.  At its base, envy is largely a matter of self-contempt – of an intense dissatisfaction with what you are.

The Bible abounds with examples of people who were destroyed by envy. Cain envied Abel and King Saul envied David the shepherd:

And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

“Saul has struck down his thousands,

and David his ten thousands.”

And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” And Saul eyed David from that day on, (1 Samuel 18:7-9).

Saul’s envy eventually cost him his kingdom! Envy is a major cause of unhappiness and self-contempt. The man who covets another man’s wife becomes discontented with his own. The student who envies another’s grades underestimates his own ability. Envy diminishes people’s enjoyment of life because they cannot be content with what they possess.

So how can we overcome envy? First, realize God wills only the best for you. We might think we would be happy if only we could be someone else but wisdom teaches us otherwise. Do you remember the poem “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson (or the Simon and Garfunkel song by the same name)?

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

No, like we’ve been teaching our children in Vacation Bible School, I’m going to “Trust God!”

Finally, fill your heart with gratitude. As someone observed, “If you think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it is probably because you are not properly caring for the grass on your own side.”

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