I’m almost finished with my exploration of the Seven Deadly Sins. The penultimate sin is Envy, which is the sin of envying other people.
If Wrath is about allowing a natural visceral emotion to become so uncontrolled that it leads to obvious sins like murder, Envy is about an emotion that is perverse from the beginning.
Faced with someone else’s good fortune, we should feel happy for them. There really is nothing in someone else’s happiness that could reasonably make us upset. And yet many of us behave as though happiness and good fortune are a zero sum game. We look at someone who seems to be doing well and feel bad, thinking, “I should have that!”
This takes our attention away from our own good fortune and happiness, the good things that God has given to us even though we clearly don’t deserve them what with all that sinning we do, and puts our attention instead onto things we don’t have.
The result is often bitterness, resentment of the person whom we envy, and perhaps also active sin if we go ahead and say unkind things or lash out at someone because of the unhappiness our envy causes us.
The solution for envy? First, be grateful for what you have and let that gratitude give you contentment with the simplest pleasures available to you.
I have some simple pleasures here to show you. #2 son has gone on to his summer job, and though I will miss him, I will also enjoy a quiet weekend reading. Here you can see the nice places where I get to read: a lovely teak steamer chair surrounded by flowers, and a comfortable chair on the porch, also surrounded by flowers.
I have a seemingly endless supply of free novels on my Kindle, pleasant breezy weather, and nothing in the world to complain about.
Do you envy me? The first possible solution is to decide instead to rejoice with me in the simple pleasure of enjoying a good book outdoors. My good fortune in having these things doesn’t take anything away from you, and by rejoicing with me, you might even find that your own happiness is increased.
The second solution is to decide that you also want this and to get it. If we are inspired by someone else’s good fortune to achieve the same thing for ourselves, not by taking it from them but by following their lead, then we’ve accomplished something.
Suppose instead that you do not envy me. Suppose that you pity me, because instead of a quiet weekend reading you plan to fly to Greece and slink about on a yacht having amorous adventures.
I don’t envy you. I’m happy for you.
Like Wrath, Envy is a sin I don’t find all that tempting. It would be easy for me — and I assume this is true of you as well — to feel all superior about the sins I find easy to avoid, and to overlook the ones that I have to fight against. Perhaps a list like the Seven Deadly Sins, unlike the vague things we pray in church, serves to remind us that we are not better than people who commit sins we don’t happen to find appealing. “Lord, we confess that we have not always done as we should,” is easy to say without having anything particular in mind at all.
I have one more Deadly Sin to go, and so far I have recognized in myself a tendency toward most of them. I also can’t help but notice how much these sins all connect with selfishness and with excess. Envy surely makes people unhappy immediately, while lust might make people unhappy only when they look back on their behavior, but all these sins lead to unhappiness in the end.
Simplicity and humility look pretty good in contrast.