(This week we continue our discussion of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded reading the "Application" portion of Lecture Six. We will continue with the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Seven in next week's reading. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)
From last week's reading we learned that envy is the unhappiness or discomfort we feel upon recognizing that someone is superior to us, or better than us in any way. An envious person dislikes more than anything to see someone excel above them, either monetarily, spiritually, aesthetically, or in any measure of success. In fact, because of a deep desire for superiority, the envious person will not even feel comfortable when a person is quite their equal.
In this week's brief reading Edwards encourages us:
1. ...to examine ourselves, whether we are in any degree under the influence of an envious spirit.
He asks us to think of those we've known in times past, and present, who we've seen prosper in ways beyond us. To bring it current, consider those who've grown wealthier than you, with lovelier homes than your own, or newer cars. Think of those with more status, more respect in the community, more friends, greater beauty, education, intelligence, or talent, those with more or fewer children. What about those who've augmented their appearance with a better sense of style, or even with expensive surgeries? How about those whose husbands are gentler, more understanding, or more spiritual, those who have more peaceful marriages. Maybe it's someone's good health, energy, recreation, free time, or travel you're inclined to envy. These are all things, and there are many more, in which we may find ourselves second-best, or worse.
Edwards would have us ask ourselves:
"Has there not been a great deal of uneasiness, dissatisfaction, and uncomfortable feeling, and of a desire to see those who were prosperous brought down? Have we not been glad to hear of anything to their disadvantage? and, in forebodings we have expressed about them, have we not in reality spoken out of our wishes? and, in word or deed, have we not been ready to do that which might in some respect lessen their prosperity or honor? Have we ever cherished a bitter or unkind spirit toward another because of his prosperity, or been ready on account of it to look upon him with an evil eye*, or to oppose him in public affairs, or, from an envious spirit, to act with the party that might be against him? As we look back...do we not see that in these, and many other...things, we have often exercise and allowed an envious spirit? and many times have not our hearts burned with it toward others?"
- Are there any against whom you carry grudges?
- Are there those whose prosperity makes you uncomfortable?
- Do you ever find yourself speaking unkindly or contemptuously about someone as a result?
- Does seeing such a one experience some misfortune bring a secret smile to your heart?
Now, for those among us who do prosper, or find ourselves above others, in one way or another (and we all do find that we excel above some people in some ways):
- Do you ever pride yourself in being better than another in this way or that? Perhaps you are younger, smarter, thinner, better educated, more mature, more skilled in a craft or art, more popular, have a more appealing personality...?
- Do you begin to feel uncomfortable if that person begins to become your equal in that area? Do you secretly hope they will fail in their progress?
A "yes" answer to any of these questions is an indication of envy at work in your heart. May the Lord grant that we recognize it for what it is, and run to the cross for grace and mercy to overcome it.
Edwards, understanding how adept we can be at deceiving ourselves, goes on to list the excuses we sometimes use to justify our envy:
- "...they are not worthy of the honor and prosperity the have."
"It is generally the case that, when others are promoted to honor, or in any respect come to remarkable prosperity, some are always ready to improve the occasion to tell of their faults, and set forth their unworthiness, and rake up all possible evil about them. Whereas, it is not so much that they have faults, for these would often be unnoticed if they were in obscurity, as it is that they are prospered; and those who talk about their faults are envious of their prosperity, and therefore speak against them."We ought to ask ourselves, is it their faults that grieve us so, or is it really their prosperity.
"If it be their faults, then you would be grieve on account of them, whether the persons were prospered or not; and if truly grieved with their faults, then you would be very slow to speak of them except to themselves, and thin in the true spirit of Christian compassion and friendship."
- "But you may say, they make a bad use of their prosperity and honor; that they are lifted up by it, and cannot bear, or do not know how to manage it; that they are insufferable, and scornful, and there is no doing anything with them in their prosperity, and it is best they should be brought down; that this will tend to humble them, and that the best thing for their own good is, to bring them down....
"So contrary is the spirit of envy to a Christian spirit -so evil in itself - and so injurious to others, that it should be disallowed and put away by all, and especially by those who profess to be Christians....The spirit of envy is the very contrary of the spirit of heaven, where all rejoice in the happiness of others; and it is the very spirit of hell itself - which is a most hateful spirit- and one that feeds itself on the ruin of the prosperity and happiness of others....it is the disposition of the devil, and partakes of his likeness, so it is the disposition of hell, and partakes of its misery....It is like a powerful eating cancer, preying on the vitals, offensive and full of corruption. And it is the most foolish kind of self-injury; for the envious make themselves trouble most needlessly, being uncomfortable only because of others' prosperity, when that prosperity does not injure themselves, or diminish their enjoyments and blessings. But they are not willing to enjoy what they have, because others are enjoying also. Let then the consideration of the foolishness, the baseness, the infamy of so wicked a spirit, cause us to abhor it, and to shun its excuses, and earnestly to seek the spirit of Christian love, that excellent spirit of divine charity which will lead us always to rejoice in the welfare of others, and which will fill our own hearts with happiness." (emphasis mine)
* "Evil eye is a look that is believed by many cultures to be able to cause injury or bad luck on the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike."