The history of envy began with the ambitions of a rebellious angel who said, “I will make myself like the Most High,” (Isaiah 14:14). The fallen angel then spread his envious spirit by inciting into the hearts of the first humans the suspicion of Eden – that the Creator was keeping the goods to himself and depriving them of their full potential (Genesis 3:1-6).
Envy then appeared in the first human family as the insidious motive to the first act of homicide. The first son of the first family (Cain) was envious of his younger brother, Abel. Cain’s envy was the prelude emotion that lead to an unimaginable act of homicide (fratricide), (see: Genesis 4). And to establish a connection in the history of envy, Cain, according to Scripture, “belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother” (I John 3:12).
The most vicious crime of human history
Envy was also the motive behind the most vicious crime of human 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).
How does envy grow?
Envy is a satanic trait found everywhere today. Before feeling safely distant from temptation to envy, consider how envy feeds on other more common temptations like ingratitude and discontentment. These are prelude conditions of the heart that provide fertile soil for envy to grow.
Envy grows on a combination of a deep-seated discontentment and a surveying spirit of resentment toward the blessings of others. And do not underestimate the power of envy. It carries the lethal potential of becoming bitterness and hatred toward the objects of the envy with a wish to see them suffer the loss of what is envied.
Who are we most tempted to envy?
“We are always most vulnerable to envying those closest to our own gifts and callings. Musicians generally envy musicians, not politicians; politicians other politicians; sportspeople other sportspeople; professors other professors; ministers other ministers” (Thomas Mann)
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 and multiplies into other related emotions) begins to target 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.
“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 form envy and together turn friendship and good fellowship into a rancorous shambles” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to be, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).
Envy is an evil aimed at others, 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 pleasure in the misfortune of others.
We see an early form of this 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 is resentment of someone else’s good, plus the itch to despoil her of it. Its natural corollary is what the Germans call Schadenfreude, the enjoyment of someone else’s despoilment. 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” (Plantinga).
Envy, and its evil cousin schadenfreude, are universal evils found in every culture and class of people. Frankly, they are often more prevalent among refined and ostensibly religious people. Be warned of the lethal power of these evils
A cure for envy
“The cure for envy lies in living under a constant sense of the divine presence, worshiping God and communing with Him all the day long, however long the day may seem. True religion lifts the soul into a higher region, where the judgment becomes more clear and the desires are more elevated. The more of heaven there is in our lives, the less of earth we shall covet. The fear of God casts out envy of men” (Charles Spurgeon).