There’s No Heaven That Envy Can’t Turn into Hell

Less Visible

A couple of years ago, I preached a sermon on envy from Psalm 73, which is all about envy. I’d never really thought very much about the sin of envy before, and it honestly frightened me just how pervasive and how destructive this sin is. Two things stood out to me.

One is that envy is less visible than other sins. Many things that we’re doing, if it’s a sin, we are aware of the effect that it’s having upon us to some extent, and we’re aware that it is happening. If we’re stealing from someone, we’re usually aware of that.

But envy is one of those sins that hides and lurks. And so many times, especially in a social media age, we can be experiencing envy that’s robbing our joy, and yet we’re not even aware that we’re struggling with the sin of envy. So it’s a more hidden sin.


Gavin Ortlund

In Humility, Gavin Ortlund explains that humility is not just an abstract virtue but a mark of gospel integrity, casting a vision for gospel-centered humility that is ultimately self-forgetfulness leading to joy.

More Miserable

But secondly, it’s not just less visible, it’s also more miserable. The more I thought about this, the more it was terrifying to think about where envy can take you as it’s sort of eating away at your joy. If you think of the glass as half-empty or half-full analogy, one way to think about envy is that it puts your focus upon the glass as half-empty.

You’re saying, Well, I may have this, but that other person has this. Thomas Aquinas defined envy as sorrow for another’s good. So it’s almost the exact opposite of love for charity, which is when love says, I’m happy when you’re happy, and I’m sad when you’re sad. That’s love. Envy is the opposite.

Envy says, I’m sad when you’re happy, and I’m happy when you’re sad. And to envy another person is miserable for both you and that person. And there’s really nothing that you have that is good in your life that envy cannot rob the joy out of. If you win the lottery, envy can come along and say, Well, you won the lottery, but look how much you had to pay in taxes. And that person over there still has more money than you. If you have a great job, there’s always someone out there that has a better job. Or you can say, Well, I may have the best job in the world, but that other person has more time for vacation than I do. No matter what you get to, there’s always something.

Envy Is Possible Everywhere

Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Psalm 73, talks about how the sin of envy is kind of rolled in with what’s going on in Genesis 3, because the serpent comes along and says, Well, yeah, you may be in paradise, but you’re not God.

And even there, even when surrounded in a perfect paradise, the sin of envy is possible. In fact. there’s no heaven that envy cannot turn into hell. Because no matter what you have, you can always say, Yeah, but I don’t have that. I’m not God.

Gratitude is such a powerful tool that we have to fight against envy in our lives.

I think envy’s right in there with pride as very close to the very heart of all sin. So it is helpful to draw our attention to envy and to consider, Where may I be struggling with envy? And it’s a wonderful thing, too, as we soak our hearts in the love of Jesus, we let that go. We fill our heart. The antidote that I have found so helpful is gratitude.

If envy focuses on the glass as half-empty, focus instead your attention on the blessings in your life. In social media you may say, Well, I don’t have the kind of influence that that person has. I don’t have the kind of friends that that person has. But let me be so grateful for every bit that I do have. Let my focus be there. Let me just try to steward what I do have.

Turn toward Gratitude

When you’re tempted to think about your neighbor or your friend who has something you don’t have, recall your focus upon the blessings in your life. Practice intentional gratitude. As you’re driving to work in the morning, you have time to think. Just recount. This is a practice I started doing a couple of years ago. Whenever I’m in my car, I just start counting my blessings. And what’s always amazing is how many there are and how easy it is to overlook them.

That glass is very half full. I have so many things to be grateful for. Most of us do. We can just start with the air we’re breathing. Every breath is a gift from God. And then we just go through and there’s so much to be grateful for. And gratitude is such a powerful tool that we have to fight against envy in our lives.

Gavin Ortlund is the author of Humility: The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness.

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