Sorrow At Another’s Good: The Deadly Sin of Envy

If you are jealous of another person you want what they have. You want their material possessions, their good looks or their advantages. You want their happiness, their prosperity or their success.

Envy, however, both takes jealousy to a deeper level and originates from a deeper level. When we become envious we not only want what the other person has, but we hate them for having it. Envy is a an insidious cancer that lurks within the soul. The envious person becomes obsessed with the happiness, success or prosperity of the other person and becomes so sick that the envious person eventually longs for the other person’s happiness to be destroyed.

Is envy deadly? Of course. In one of the first human stories, God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s, so Cain—envious of his brother’s acceptance by God—rose up and killed his own brother. This tragic story at the very beginning of the Bible reminds us that envy is one of the root sins. It originated in the disobedience of our first parents and manifested in their son, then out of envy many other sins spring forth.

Envy is an insatiable desire like lust, greed and gluttony. Envy can therefore be the root out of which springs theft, cheating, adultery and murder. Out of envy we reach out to take what is not ours: another’s property, another’s wealth, another’s wife, another’s life.

Envy is rooted in a deep, foundational fear and longing for love. When we think it through we can see that the reason we are envious of the other person is because we perceive that they enjoy a happiness that we do not have. It is not only that they seem to be happy and we are unhappy, but their happiness is a sign that they are loved and accepted and we are not. This lack of love lurks deep within as an inchoate fear, and it is in this deep sense of alienation and unhappiness that envy broods like a dark and savage beast. As a result we harbor our insecurities, nurse grudges, brood over wrongs, lick our wounds, gossip about others and plan revenge.

Because envy leads us to desire the harm of another person, this sin is countered with kindness. Kindness desires the happiness of another person, not their harm. Like all of the lively virtues, kindness is proactive, positive and live giving. Kindness is also full of light and simplicity. As envy broods over social slights and small matters, so kindness is composed not of heroic acts of virtue, but small, daily, regular acts of goodness towards another. The kind person is ready with a smile, a joke, a word of encouragement and a genuine appreciation of life’s blessings and the good things we all share together. Kindness rejoices in the good of another rather than being sorrowful or angry at the good of another.

It is impossible for a saint to be envious because a saint has come to the place where he or she knows at the foundation of their person that they are loved unconditionally and all they are destined to become. At the heart of the envious person is a deep sadness and self loathing. That heart of darkness can be cured by a profound encounter with the one who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings. The knowledge of this love banishes envy as a light banishes the dark, and to experience this love is our aim and our ambition, the goal of our effort and our journey’s end.

Editor’s note: This is the seventh part in an eight part series exploring the Seven Deadly Sins. Check back each Wednesday and read previous articles here

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Brought up as an Evangelical in the USA, Fr. Dwight Longenecker earned a degree in Speech and English before studying theology at Oxford University. He served as a minister in the Church of England, and in 1995 was received into the Catholic Church with his wife and family. The author of over twenty books on Catholic faith and culture including his most recent title, Immortal Combat, Fr Longenecker is also an award winning blogger, podcaster and journalist. He is pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Ordained as a Catholic priest under the Pastoral Provision for married former Protestant ministers, Fr Longenecker and his wife Alison have four grown up children.

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