Do I find envy a problem? Specifically, do I find envy of the rich a problem? Most references to the rich in the Bible, more accurately those referring to those who ‘trust in wealth,’ warn of the dangers of wealth. Solomon serves as a case study of where things can go wrong even when I start right. So if I make a generalization from the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles about wealth: it is something I should avoid pursuing. Also, when I have it, I should remember it can become an enormous obstacle in my relationship with God.
In a modern, developed nation, with a strong middle class, the distance between middle class and rich is not as great as it was even as recently as before the First World War. The distance between the very rich and rich is still great but that doesn’t really count. I mean really, who cares? Do I know someone with a stable full of 100K+ cars? Day to day perceptions count, not what I see on TV or see in the tabloids.
The important daily perception, not what I see on television or internet, but how I perceive the real people around me daily, does that lead to envy? I may perceive some of the people around me as having more or being rich. Tangible envy presents more of a problem than digital envy. Especially the expensive numbered German car that cuts me off in traffic; I might perceive that person as rich, and then anger mingles with my envy. I forget the dangers of wealth and the isolation it causes many. Why is my first thought usually not pity? If I don’t pity the rich, perhaps there is envy in my heart.
The first thought frequently reflects my thought upon them having more, and me less. If I don’t respond to this mental turn immediately, this thought can transform into a low grade envy which can grow into bitterness and a lack of gratitude for gifts, blessings, and relationships.
When I catch a thought or comparative observation that can turn into ugly envy, I do these four things.
1. I ask Jesus how he looks at things and what just happened. Because he transcends time, when he looks at something, he sees it across time. So he views a brand new numbered German car finally as a pile of rust and dust. It ends as it began.
2. Why would I envy someone who places their faith and hope in material possessions? As Isaiah would say, ‘Is this not a lie?’ Almost immediately I feel sadness and pity for the person that cut me off in traffic driving shaped dust. Dust driving dust.
3. If the person behaves rudely, perhaps all they have is money, a big pile of dust. If I’m only comparing appearances, I’m missing all of what is under the surface.
4. If this hasn’t nipped the potential envy in the bud, I ask myself about my top three blessings? Is there one I would give up and trade for what I perceive that person to have or be? The answer is always, never.
5. I remind myself that if I’m thinking I have less and that someone else has more, I’m forgetting who I am and what has been given to me. A relationship with God gives me far more than a pile of dust. As CS Lewis said, “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”
How Does the Inside Appear?
I would propose that the most polished, poised, and successful appearing people are probably not as good or happy inside as they appear to be on the outside. Look at all the effort invested to keep away external disorder, entropy, wrinkles, dirt, and age. If I spend all my time looking good, how much time do I have to be good? I’m not proposing physical sloth and laziness. I should try to look my best, but not obsess over appearance or trust in it.
The world is a prison economy and what awaits me beyond it is immeasurably better than having all good things multiplied by infinity. The more I possess, the more I think I own, the more I hoard, the more I trust in things, the more entrapped, buried, and placed in solitary in this prison economy I become.
A vow of poverty is not essential or necessary, what is necessary is that like the Apostle Paul said, when I buy something, I should use it as if it is not mine to keep, and use the things of this world as though not engrossed by them. (paraphrase I Corinthians 7:30b, 31)
In the end, it all turns to dust, and what I am left with is my relationship with God and my relationships with others. So if I don’t pity the rich, perhaps there is envy in my heart, and I need to stop worshiping dust. I also need to remember that I can intellectually know something without really understanding it or grasping it spiritually. Trusting in wealth — myself and the things I have — is a terrible trap. A trap that kills any genuine relationship with the risen Christ. If I ask Him to train me to see what is real, He will.
So when the Land Rover shoves you aside and cuts in front, take time for a prayer of pity. Pray that they turn from the lies of dust and that they can come to experience that there is no greater thrill than prayer with the Father.