The history of Envy

The history of envy began with the ambition of a rebellious angel who said, “I will make myself like the Most High,” (Isaiah 14:14). The fallen angel then incited the suspicion of Eden, suggesting to the first humans, “You will be like God…” (Genesis 3:1-6). “Perhaps the Creator was keeping the goods to himself and depriving them of their full potential.”

Envy then appeared in the first human family as the motive to the first recorded act of homicide (Genesis 4). Cain, the first son of the first family was motivated by his envy of his younger brother, Abel.

Envy was the prelude in Cain’s heart that lead to an unimaginable act of homicide (fratricide), (see: Genesis 4). And to intensify the narrative of envy, according to Scripture, Cain “belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother” (I John 3:12).

Envy was also the motive behind the most vicious crime of history, the crucifixion of the Son of God. “The leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy” (Mark 15:10). Once again, the Evil one is behind this crime, for “the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus” (John 13:2).

Envy is a satanic trait. But it’s profoundly sobering and deeply disturbing to consider how envy feeds on the common sins of ingratitude and discontentment. Envy grows on a surveying spirit of resentment that carries the lethal potential of becoming bitter hatred toward the envied

Envy vandalizes joy and joyful community.

Someone suggested that envy is a venom whose anti-venom is hard to find. The only anti-venom powerful enough is love — which “…does not delight in evil” (I Cor. 13:5-6).

Envy (as it intensifies) targets its object to destroy it. An envious person doesn’t merely covet what another has; he resents him for having it. The envious person wants to see you fall; to see you lose; to see you suffer.

Envy is evil and vicious but it ultimately destroys the person who gives way to it. “Envy rots the bones, but a heart at peace gives life to the body” (Proverbs 14:30).

Envy fuels social cannibalism

Envy is a predatory motive behind behavior that can be found early in life. It has a bedfellow that the Germans call schadenfreude — a twisted and sadistic pleasure in the misfortune of others.

We see it in early form when siblings tattle on each other and find pleasure in seeing a brother or sister get in trouble. But don’t think the behavior is left to children. Adults are just as guilty — albeit in more disguised ways.

Envy and its evil cousin schadenfreude are universal evils found in every culture and class of people. They are often more prevalent among refined and ostensibly religious people. Be aware and warned of the lethal power in these evils.

See: “Are you a social cannibal?”

Steve Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another field worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in envy, Evil in the world, Evil One, Satan and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The history of Envy

  1. Very well stated and food for thought. I especially was impressed by your insight into the motives of Satan and Cain. the latter might have suffered from a common source of envy–longing for approval from a parent, which other siblings enjoy, which poisons the soul towards a brother or sister.

    But is all envy of this dramatic nature?

    The other day I was waiting for my radiation treatment, talking to another cancer patient, whose disease seemed more serious than mine. He had a positive attitude, which i admired. He was also well traveled. As he told of his many visits to Italy, France, Russia and the South Seas, I felt envy. My experience abroad was limited to Asia, courtesy of the Air Force many years ago where I was a Chinese linguist for NSA.

    But it wasn’t envy as you describe it Steve. Aren’t human behaviors, good and bad, on a bell curve? My envy was a milder sort, rather on the left side of the curve. I wished him no ill for his good fortune and obvious wealth, but felt jealous that I hadn’t had his experiences as well.

    By the way I was happy to see your reference to Schadenfreude, taking delight in others misfortune. I wonder if our obsession with the six o’clock news isn’t often of this sort. We are drawn to others suffering because it makes us feel better about our own lives.


    • All true. Some of the best insight I’ve found is from Not the Way It’s Supposed to be, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

      “Envy is resentment of someone else’s good, plus the itch to despoil her of it. … The envier not only sorrows over another’s good fortune and wants it to change; he also rejoices in another’s misfortune and wants it to persist. Hence an envious conservatory student may feel privately delighted at the memory lapse of a rival during her recital performance.”

      “Envy (and its gloating subsidiary, Schadenfreude) shows us human antagonism in one of its basest and most unheroic forms. Wherever we find envy, we find the wreckage of human and Christian community. Envious people backbite. They deliver congratulations with a smile that, in another light, might be taken for a sneer.”

      “The envier gossips. He saves up bad news about others and passes it around like an appetizer at happy hour. The envier grumbles. He murmurs. He complains that all the wrong people are getting ahead. Spite, bitterness, discord which undoes all friendships, accusation, malignity — all these things flow from envy and together turn friendship and good fellowship into a rancorous shambles.” (from: Not the Way It’s Supposed to be, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).

  2. one door at a time says:

    I agree, envy is a not such a matter of hating what others have, it leans more to fighting a battle inside oneself and building hatred for others. It is a sad evil that nothing on EARTH (notice I didn’t mention God, because he can obviously fight it) can fight. Well except love. Like you have mentioned, Love builds a deep connection with the envious person and the envied guy. It gives them that sense of friendship so that they are no longer envious of one’s victory. Instead, their partner’s accomplishments become your accomplishment.

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