Christian Love: the Antithesis of Envy
The Christian’s self-understanding is that she is precious before God—however much a sinner, however much a failure (or success) she may be by the standards of worldly comparisons—and that every other person she meets has the same status…This vision is not only one that levels every distinction by which egos seek…glory…This vision, when appropriated, is also the ultimate ground of self-confidence.
For the message is that God loves me for myself—not for anything I have achieved, not for my beauty or intelligence or righteousness or for any other “qualification,” but simply in the way that a good mother loves the fruit of her womb. If I can get that into my head—or better, into my heart—then I won’t be grasping desperately for self-esteem at the expense of others, and cutting myself off from my proper destiny, which is spiritual fellowship with them.
Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 69. See the updated chapter in his Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).
Coveting Yesterday and Today
Remember how you felt that Christmas when your sister opened the gift you wanted? Or when your brother got a T-bird for graduation and you got stuck with the family Nova? Fast-forward to today and ask yourself how it hits you when a co-worker gets a raise but you have done more work—or perhaps, his work?
Or when a neighbor decorates her home from an unrestricted budget and you’re gluing the peeling wallpaper back on the wall? We find ourselves kids again, pouting around the Christmas tree amid our piles of toys. There’s a reason Scripture has to command us not to covet. It’s in our (fallen) nature. It’s systemic. It’s the kneejerk reaction of jerks. If we can’t have more than others, at least we want it equal. But less than others? Uh, no.
An Englishwoman, Frenchman and a Russian
Joseph Epstein tells a joke that illustrates envy’s malicious and impotent character well. Once there was an Englishwoman, a Frenchman, and a Russian:
Each [was] given a single wish by one of those genies whose almost relentless habit is to pop out of bottles. The Englishwoman says that a friend of hers has a cottage in the Cotswolds, and that she would a friend of hers has a cottage in the Cotswolds, and that she would like a similar cottage, with the addition of two extra bedrooms and a second bath and a brook running in front of it.
The Frenchman says that his best friend has a beautiful blonde mistress, and he would like such a mistress himself, but a redhead instead of a blonde and with longer legs and a bit more in the way of culture and chic.
The Russian, when asked what he would like, tells of a neighbor who has a cow that gives a vast quantity of the richest milk, which yields the heaviest cream and the purest butter. ‘I vant dat cow,” the Russian tells the genie, “dead.’
Envy is wanting what another person has and feeling badly that I don’t have it. Envy is disliking God’s goodness to someone else and dismissing God’s goodness to me. Envy is desire plus resentment. Envy is anticommunity. Paul said that we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Envy causes me to mourn when others rejoice and rejoice when others mourn.
Envy is dangerous because it is opposed to other people. Sins like greed and lust are simply about the gratification of my desires. Envy not only seeks self-gratification, but it seeks to diminish the one I envy. …
Envy is primarily a sin of the eye. It makes my brother’s piece of cake look bigger and better than mine. A child may have a hundred toys, but envy makes the one toy that a sibling asks to play with the most desirable of all. When it comes to envy, the eyes have it.
Envy in The Disney/Pixar Film The Incredibles
Syndrome (formerly called Incrediboy) in the film The lncredibles is one example of envy’s futility and the envier’s inferiority, which together secure the inevitable lack of success in besting one’s rival to which the envier feels doomed. Early in the film, Incrediboy is an ardent but annoying admirer of the superhero Mr. Incredible.
Having been spurned and his inferiority openly acknowledged, he launches on a lifetime’s work of killing off superheroes while at the same time creating a machine that only he, with his superior technological props, can defeat.
He spends all his energy trying to make himself into an imitation-superhero. His plan, as revealed to Mr. Incredible, is simple: perfect the machine, defeat it in a mock battle to win acclaim, and then sell his technology to the masses.
His rationale? If everyone can be “super,” then no one will be. His efforts are shown to be a pathetic failure when he sends his machine to wreak havoc in the city, and his charade of “defeating” it with pseudo-superpowers is exploded for the second-rate fakery it is. No technological imitation can be a real superpower. His position of inferiority cannot be changed, despite his best efforts. His inferiority can only be exposed even more painfully for all to see.
A Poem by Victor Hugo recounts an opportunity granted to Envy and Avarice to receive whatever they wished, on the condition that the other receive a double portion. Envy replied, “I wish to be blind in one eye.”