Envy: The Fifth Deadly Sin


We have a beautiful white cat named Lily. She is one of the dumbest (but lovable) cats we’ve owned. Lily has some of the most bizarre behaviors I’ve ever seen in a cat. As a very small kitten she got into the habit of ceaselessly pawing at the glass door until someone lets her in. She can do this for hours on end without breaking a sweat. Yes, cats sweat. It amazes me that she hasn’t cut through the glass yet. Whenever she sees us at the kitchen table, she immediately stands on her hind feet, places her front paws on the glass and starts to speed-clean the glass door. We’ve thought of taping cleaning pads on her feet and hiring her out.

Last week, after watching Lily gyrate for over half an hour, I decided to give her a break from ‘window cleaning’ and let her in. When she whizzed past me to get to her food I saw something outside that needed my attention. So I stepped out, closed the door behind me, and headed down the steps. I hadn’t reached the bottom step when I heard the scratching behind me. I turned around to see a wide-eyed Lily frantically scratching to get out. Apparently she’d forgotten what she worked so hard to get inside, because as soon as I opened the door to come back in, she sped out to get the phantom ‘better’ thing outside. Guess what happened when I went inside?

I stood there thinking,‘Isn’t that the way it is? The grass always looks greener on the other side. How many times have we gone after something we thought we wanted just to find it wasn’t what we wanted after all? How many times have our futile expectations turned to anger and bitterness? How many relationships have gone down the tubes because siblings, parents or friends begin to envy what the others have? What is wrong with us? How can we ever enjoy what we have if we have our focus on what is theirs? This unhealthy obsession to possess what we think we deserve, but that the other guy has, is a major source of discontent for many of us. This‘perceived’ lack cause’s resentment toward others, and even God. Envy keeps us from building satisfying relationships with those around us.

How can we get possibly get close to people who we can’t be happy for? It is not possible to love someone when we are coveting something they have, that we think we deserve more. For you see, envy is not only an unquenchable desire to have the possession, quality or achievement that someone else has, it is a desire to deprive them of what is theirs. Thomas Aquinas described envy as “sorrow for another’s good”. Envy is considered the seventh deadly sin because it goes against Gods’will to love others as ourselves. In Dante’s Purgatory, the punishment for the envious is to have their eyes sewn shut with wire because they have gained sinful pleasure from seeing others brought low.

Envy is an ungrateful attitude that is completely self-centered and has no place in the heart of any true believer. Why resent what others have? Why be dissatisfied with what you have been given? God says that He will bless whomever He wants to bless, and whenever it pleases Him to do it. It is not for us to figure out why He allows some people to prosper while others wait for their good portions. All I know is that He is God and we are not. He has promised that‘in all things He works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.’I have seen this promise fulfilled many times in my own life. So, knowing that God doesn’t change His nature, I will continue to believe this to be true. That promise should encourage anyone who believes. In addition to the unmerited blessings that God bestows on others, we can’t dismiss the fact that sometimes our choices reap some ugly consequences. Some people have accomplished position, wealth and healthy relationships through dedicated effort and good choices. The decisions we make in this life really do matter. The people who have made the right choices in their education, their careers, their life partners, and in their spending habits, deserve to reap what they have sown.

I also believe that God had a very good reason why you and I were born to our parents and were raised as we were. Brooding over someone else’s better upbringing or social status is an exercise in futility. Although some of us have childhood memories that are less than pleasant, and are best forgotten, it is important for us to forgive. With God’s help anything can be forgiven. And, forgiveness is for our benefit. Hanging on to bitterness and resentment over the things of the past causes us to suffer even more. Don’t make yourself sick by thinking about the things you can’t change.

When our unmet desires turn to frustration, aggravation and impatience, stress and anxiety begin to build up. Do you realize what the body goes through when our negative emotions take over? Stressful emotions set off chemicals (adrenaline and cortisol) into our blood stream which affects or bodies in many negative ways. Continued stressful emotions contribute to the onset or worsening of a number of diseases. Studies have shown that illnesses such as cancer, colitis, migraines and asthma are directly related to the amount of stress in our lives. Ironic isn’t it? Self-love actually harms our health and may eventually kill us.

There is a very good reason we are commanded to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with our entire mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Self-centeredness is the number one reason for discord and the formula for unhappiness. Nurturing an envious attitude creates a monster that is kills the love of Christ that should be in us. Proverbs 14:30 tells us that contentment lads to health, but envy can eat you up. So…love and live!

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