Envy: The Sin We Can't Talk About

The Really Ugly Sin!
As if they are all not really ugly... but this one is really, really yucky. Which is why we never talk about it. Which is why we rarely make progress in it. As Dennis Okholm shows us in Dangerous Passions Deadly Sins, the ancients had penetrated deeply into the nature of this deadly vice. Here are some scattered statements from chapter six, Envy: The Silent Killer.

1.  Aquinas: Envy is a kind of sorrow for another's good that the envier perceives to be harmful to her or him self.

2.  Envy is grieving over another's good when it seems to lessen the envier's own good name.

3.  Envy is being racked, tormented, frustrated, upset by the prosperity of another.

4.  We are envious of those with whom we are in social proximity. In other words, I won't be envious of the creative communication of a Rob Bell, but I may be envious of a colleagues ability in the same area. I won't be envious of the writer's success of a Don Miller (Blue Like Jazz, etc.) but of a friend who is a writer as well and who sells more copies of her book. We struggle with the giftedness of those who are closer to us in social space. Academics are notoriously envious of other faculty members. Pastors are often envious of other area pastors (not the mega-church in the other state).

5.  The more someone else succeeds in life, the more pain the envier feels.

6.  Basil:  I am envious and bitter: the gifts of my friends are a torment to me.

7.  Envy is that sin which wants the other who has more, to be reduced and diminished so the envier may feel better about their self. Envy works on the assumption of a "zero sum game" where there is just a certain amount of pie. If you get more of the pie, then I get less. For me to get more pie, you must get less. Therefore, envy works in insidious ways to undermine the other who has more. 

Envy seeks (whether subtly or brazenly) to diminish the accomplishments, the achievements, the qualities of the one who is envied. Innuendo, suspicion, gossip, slander, and more are the weapons of the one who envies.

However, because these things are themselves frowned upon, the envier plays a dangerous game in using them. For they may always backfire on the envier and she or he is then seen as negative, critical, and so on. So, for many, their envy remains hidden and gnawing.

love does not envyI think envy is a common problem among professionals of all fields. Certainly the domain of Christian ministry is not exempt from this deadly sin. I have been envious, and in retrospect, I suspect I have been on the receiving end of the envy. We tend to camaflage our envy in the Christian world with being "concerned" about the issues, the doctrines, the methodologies of those we envy. It is easier (and holier!!!) to cast suspicion on the theology or spirituality of those we envy. That way we are concerned for truth and can speak in ways to diminish the one envied.

It is not only a deadly sin... it is a disgusting one. And for this sin, there is only one cure.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International
BrianRice@lcileaders.org