Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Psalm 73: The Distortion of Envy

"For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." (v.2)

I have said it countless times and written about it often; as a human being made in God's image, you do not live life based on the facts of your experience, but based on your interpretation of the facts. No one acts, reacts and responds purely based on the actual facts of reality because the moment we are greeted with the facts, we take them into our hearts and process them. Our response is then based not so much on what is, but based upon what our heart has done with what is. Everyone of us is a philosopher, everyone of us is a theologian, everyone of us is an archaeologist who will dig through the past civilization of our own lives, trying to make sense of what has happened to us. Interpretation is an inescapable and profoundly important function of the human heart. The problem is that most often you and I are not aware that we are doing it, so our interpretation BECOMES our reality.

There is a second thing that I've often written and talked about, and when I say it to a crowd of people they always laugh even though I'm being quite serious; no one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do. You and I are in a constant conversation with ourselves and the things we say to ourselves about ourselves, God, others, and life are always formative. Our internal conversation shapes our external responses to the situations, locations, and relationships we live in.

Now, maybe you're thinking, "What in the world does this have to do with envy?" You must understand that envy is an interpretation. Envy is not an emotional response to what is. It is a particular interpretation of what is. Envy is a way of looking at and assessing what is that results in particular emotions and actions. But this needs to be said even more strongly; envy is not only an interpretation of what is, it is a distorted interpretation of what is. Envy is looking at life through a rippled window that will always distort whatever you see. In that way envy is madness. In its own way, envy separates you from reality. Envy expands certain facts, it neglects certain facts, and it reshapes certain facts; all the while presenting itself as a valid, accurate and reliable view of life. It makes you like the crazy guy on the street. What makes him crazy is that he doesn't know he is crazy. He looks, speaks and acts weirdly because what he thinks is real simply isn't real. Such is the world of envy. Envy is rooted in a distorted interpretation of life that will make you mad. Let me explain.

1. The distorted interpretation of envy makes it all about you. Envy always puts you at the center of your universe. It is all about what you have or don't have. It shrinks your world down to the Lilliputian size of your wants, your needs, and your feelings. The good life then becomes the life that you say is good for you and the bad life is bad because you say you are not getting what you want or need. In this system the world is evaluated solely on the basis of what you do or don't have. The problem is that life is not about you. You and I have been born into a world that by its very nature is a celebration of the glory of Another. I am not at the center of my world; God is. The fulfilling of my desires and needs is not the most important thing in the world; God's will is. Envy is angry because my kingdom doesn't seem to be coming and my will doesn't seem to be being done. Anytime you have you at the center of your world, you have a distorted perspective on what is.

2. The distorted interpretation of envy is always idolatrous. Envy always puts the creation in the place of the Creator. Envy evaluates life on the basis of physical experiences, relationships, and possessions. Envy says that the good life is all about having a bigger pile of creation stuff than your neighbor does. Envy is obsessively comparative; always weighing the size of your stuff against the stuff of the people that are near you. And why does envy do this? Because envy places it's identity, inner sense of well-being, and meaning and purpose in the basket of creation instead of in the hands of the Creator. Envy looks to creation for satisfaction and peace. Envy looks to creation for life. Envy looks to creation for what only the Creator can give.

3. The distorted interpretation of envy is self-righteous. What is the fundamental perspective of envy? Here it is; "I deserve better!" I am a better person than my neighbor, therefore, I should have more of this world's goods, relationships, and positive experiences than my neighbor. That fact that envy begins with "I deserve" is the dead give away of its distortion and danger. Envy isn't humble and approachable. It isn't honest and properly introspective. It doesn't weep over sins of the heart and hands. It isn't blown away at little blessings and major graces. Envy allows you to look at yourself in a carnival mirror. Yes, you are seeing you, but with distortion. It convinces you that you have done what you could never do and deserve what you could never have earned. Envy denies your crushing need for grace. It forgets that you've broken every law. It ignores the fact that each of us is a rebel and a fool, deserving only of God's rejection and wrath. Envy neglects to celebrate that every day you live and breathe you are afford gorgeous grace; because self-righteous people don't notice grace because they don't think they need it.

4. The distorted interpretation of envy is always short-sighted. Envy simply forgets that this is not all there is. Envy is very skilled at ignoring eternity. Envy has a truncated view of reality. Envy acts as if all there is is the here and now. So envy forgets that this is not a destination. This is not the final place of peace, rest and satisfaction. In that way, envy misses the whole point of the here and now. This present moment was not designed to be a destination. No, it is a preparation for a final destination. There are times when God ordains it to be hard because that's exactly what I need in order to be prepared for what's to come. In this way, the moments of lack that envy rages against, are actually moments of grace. No, I am not having my needs withheld, but in grace, am being given exactly what I need. While I am focused on the here and now, a lovely Savior is preparing me for what is to come.

5. The distorted interpretation of envy is the soil of other sins. Envy never stops with envy. It always produces other sins of the heart and life as well. Envy will cause you to bring God into the court of your judgment and to sentence him as being unfaithful, unloving, and unkind. Envy will make you angry and you'll act out that anger against the people who are near you. Envy will make you unloving and unkind, because, rather than considering the needs of others, you will be obsessively focused on your wants and needs. Envy will make you ungrateful. Envy will cause you to despise the blessings of others. Envy will put hatred in your thoughts and murder in your heart. It will cause you to will others ill instead of wanting blessing for them. Envy will cause you to say things you shouldn't say and do things you shouldn't do. Envy is a source sin.

Perhaps you're thinking, "Wow, Paul, this is really disheartening!" Well, here's the good news. Jesus conquered envy so you could too. His grace promises you a new heart. Because of his grace, you can grow in thankfulness and appreciation. Because of his grace, you can learn to run from old idols. Because of grace, you can find joy in loving others as you have been loved. Because of grace you can really come to believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Because of grace you can be free from a life that is self-centered and demanding, and begin to live a life that is Godward and thankful. Grace really does rescue you from you. The cross of Jesus Christ really is the only hope for the envious heart, because on that cross sin was defeated and righteousness was given. Trust the grace of Jesus and don't let the madness of envy control and defeat you.


At 9:38 AM, Blogger misslenbuster said...

"Envy will cause you to despise the blessings of others." This is the fact that alerted me to envy in my life a year ago. Living with chronic illness made me despise and discount other's lack of physical difficulty and lift myself up for coping with mine. Thank you for this insightful account of envy. I've been blessed, Eleanor

At 10:00 PM, Anonymous Pete DeSanto said...

Paul, I am looking for some clarification of a quote attributed to you. "Human beings by their very nature are worshippers. Worship is not
something we do; it defines who we are. You cannot divide human beings into those who worship and those who don’t. Everybody worships; it’s just a matter of what, or whom, we serve."

Could you define "worship?"
Could you please explain what you mean by "humans are by their very nature worshippers?"
Could you define what you mean by "serve?"


At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Because of grace you can be free from a life that is self-centered and demanding, and begin to live a life that is Godward and thankful. Grace really does rescue you from you. The cross of Jesus Christ really is the only hope for the envious heart, because on that cross sin was defeated and righteousness was given."

Thank you for not only identifying and explaining the sin of envy but for sharing our only hope.... the cross of Jesus Christ and His grace alone.

Have a great day!

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Mark said...


Fair questions, but Paul is simply using these terms in conventional, theological ways.

By "worship" he means something like "ascribing worth and greatness to someone or something"; by "serve" he means something like "placing ourselves under, or seeking to please, someone or something."

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Mark said...


Sorry, Pete, forgot to mention a few books that would help to elucidate further:

A Quest for More by Paul Tripp

Desiring God by John Piper

You Are the Treasure That I Seek by Greg Dutcher

Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin

Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick


At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Pete DeSanto said...

Mark, that's an incorrect definition of worship. Any conventional, theological definition of worship I can find includes a religious component, which is definitely not part of human nature and excludes the irreligious from being worshippers.

There are a lot of things to which we ascribe worth and greatness. Breathing and eating are two. I don't think you can say we serve either of those things. Service is quite different from worship. As such, the referenced quote is pretty far off base and misleading.

At 2:53 AM, Blogger Michelle Lu said...

amen brother. this is something i needed to read at the right time. was convicted many times while reading psalms and this is a practical way for me to begin wrestling with God in this matter. may grace abound!

At 7:10 PM, Blogger zia said...

thank you so much for this post, it is well written, and it is exactly what i wanted to hear or read at this right moment! thank you and i bless your spirit in Jesus 's name whom led you to write it :-)

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