The Deadly Sin of Envy

I’ve been thinking a lot about envy and the destruction that it can create in our lives lately.

I suppose it’s only natural — after all, I’m the mom of a two-year-old and a soon-to-be four-year-old, and what can I say? Envy is an inescapable dilemma in my house. My children can be jealous of each other. They can fight with each other. Sometimes they want what their sibling is playing with and, when they can’t get what they want, they throw a tantrum.

And I hate it when this happens. I love my children so much, and to see the turn on each other and do their darnedest to destroy each other? That hurts on a level that I cannot even explain.

They are little and this sort of thing is natural, so I simply separate them, let them know that what they are doing is unacceptable and, if they cannot calm down, put them in time out. And I’ll tell them sometimes life isn’t fair and they can’t get what they want, no matter how much they might desire it. And I let them know (though they definitely don’t understand) that they’re dealing with jealousy and, if left unchecked, jealousy will turn them into monsters.

Of course, dealing with these sorts of issues on a constant basis, I’ve been thinking about my own life. How many times do I not get what I want, no matter how much I desire it? Do I ever get jealous or filled with envy because I can’t seem to get what I want? Do I get filled with bitterness or resentment or anger or rage whenever I am confronted with the fact that someone else is doing better than I am? Do I act upon this feeling?

And then I wonder, if it hurts me so much to see my children hurt each other out of envy… how much more so does God feel when He sees us destroy each other out of envy?

And, of course, this brought to mind the story of Cain and Abel:

It’s a very raw and brutal scene that really illustrates the depths of depravity that we humans are capable of.

Now, there are many artworks that show Cain in the act of murdering Abel. But, I really like this picture because Cain is depicted very sympathetically. Take a look:

The Death of Abel, by Michiel Coxcie, c. 1539-1559. Museo del Prado. Via
The Death of Abel, by Michiel Coxcie, c. 1539-1559. Museo del Prado.

Abel lies dead, his head bloodies by a donkey jawbone, which tradition states is the weapon that Cain used against Abel. In the background, you can still see the fires of their smouldering sacrifices. Abel’s sacrifice is bigger and burns greater, while Cain’s is small and pitiful. And God comes down and confronts Cain for killing his brother.

But, look at Cain’s expression! It’s anguished. Then look at God’s expression! It’s angry! Had you not known the story, you could look at this picture and think that perhaps God is just attacking people and Cain is simply running away from God. In many ways, Cain looks like he feels that he is the victim!

And he does seem to feel like that, even if you just look at scripture! After God punishes him, he calls out, “My punishment is too great to bear.” Remember: Cain has just murdered his brother. In many places, murder is a death sentence. And yet, when God simply banishes him, which is a comparatively mild punishment, considering, he is upset by this because he thinks that he will be murdered. He thinks of himself as the victim!

And, I don’t know about you, but that makes me nervous. After all, when we are jealous or envious, how often to we punish other people — and feel completely justified for punishing them — just because we are envious? And we can punish in such creative ways too… my children will hit each other. I tend to make biting, hurtful remarks that I shouldn’t. Still others will go as far as Cain, murdering and destroying everything they can.

And the worse thing is, when we are called out on what we have done or said, we act defensive, as if we’re the victim!

As if!

But, God gives us a way to handle our resentment. Let’s take a look at the words He says to Cain, before Cain chooses to murder his brother:

Sin lies at the door, and yet God assures Cain that he does not have to submit to this sin and can rule over it.

Then, later, in the gospel, Jesus explains this a little bit more:

That’s a hard commandment. Especially since forgiveness is not a passive thing. Forgiveness is active and sometimes requires you to do it over and over again.

Yet, you are in control when you forgive. You can rule over the sin.

And this is important. After all, when resentment is taking you over, let’s just face it — the people you resent feel like your enemies. The first instinct you have is to fight them. Which makes forgiveness all the more important.


Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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