“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30).
Arthur C. Brooks of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute penned an op-ed for The New York Times titled “The Downside of Inciting Envy.” He quoted U2’s Bono on the differences he saw between Americans and the Irish: Americans see a rich man living in a big house on a hill and aspire to achieve the same, while the Irish see the rich man and aspire to destroy him.
I don’t know if that’s generally true or not, but I do know how nasty envy can be. Brooks cites research that contends envy “pushes down life satisfaction and depresses well-being … is positively correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility it breeds may actually make us sick. … It’s safe to conclude that a national shift toward envy would be toxic for American culture.”
Any link between “economic envy” and unhappiness will only get stronger, given the country’s economic situation. Possible solutions include a moratorium on legal immigration, enforcing laws against illegal immigration, and encouraging businesses to hire by decreasing regulation and lowering taxes. Envy is the emotion I’ve cited in my criticism of liberal policies. Inciting class envy among “the poor” toward the “rich” and between the races is a formula that’s served politicians well.
Covetousness is seeded by dissatisfaction with one’s own circumstances. I’m reminded of a line from a poem I used to keep nearby called “Desiderata”: “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” It’s part of our nature to compare ourselves to others. The Bible-believers among us don’t need studies to understand the bitter taste of envy and jealousy and how they eat away at the spirit. Covetousness by any other name is still a sin. God deemed this particular sin offensive enough to state it explicitly in the Ten Commandments:
“You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's” (Exodus 20:17).
Wanting to improve our lives isn’t a sin. In fact, the ultimate “good” act toward improving our lives is acknowledging we’re sinners in need a Savior. The rotting sets in when we crave what other fallen creatures have and begin to resent them for it. God says that yearning to possess what others have is wrong. We’re all guilty of it from time to time. Other people’s lives seem so much better/easier/more glamorous/more awesome on the outside. Vanity lies at the other end of the comparison spectrum.
Trusting in Christ means understanding that our present condition, whatever it may be (unemployed and facing homelessness, a cheating spouse, a terminal illness with constant pain), serves His purposes. Though the repentant can’t comprehend it all, we know that God will be glorified. What of the unrepentant? Their change of heart will come from the Holy Spirit.