The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Seven Deadly Sins – Envy

Green is the color of spring.  Plants send out new shoots, dormant grasses revive, and trees bud into new life.  Green is the color of plant life and those who grow flowers or vegetation well are said to have a green thumb.  Green represents life among plants.

So why is the deadly sin of envy associated with the color green?  Because in ancient cultures, a shade of green, different from plant life, is connected to death.  Look no further than John’s Revelation: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (6:8).   The word John uses for “pale” is cloros, the root for chlorine.  Pour some bleach (Clorox gets it’s name here) into a clear glass and see what color it is.  This color is associated with death because after life leaves the body, the corpse turns pale green as red blood cells break down.  Before embalming was a common practice, people saw the dead as this color during the decomposition process.  Pale green was also associated with various illnesses, particularly those which affected the liver.  Pale green is not a color we wish to be.  Consequently, Ovid, Chaucer, and Shakespeare all refer to envy as green.   Dryden calls jealousy (often associated with envy) the jaundice of the soul.  Envy is a deadly, sickening sin.

 Envy from a 15th century woodcut from the region of Constance, now in the Albertina Collection, Vienna

Envy from a 15th century woodcut from the region of Constance, now in the Albertina Collection, Vienna

Angus Wilson points out the irony of envy, the only deadly sin which promises nothing except heartache: “All the seven deadly sins are self destroying, morbid appetites, but in their early stages at least, lust and gluttony, averice and sloth know some gratification, while anger and pride have power, even though that power eventually destroys itself. Envy is impotent, numbed with fear, never ceasing in its appetite, and it knows no gratification, but endless self torment. It has the ugliness of a trapped rat, which gnaws its own foot in an effort to escape” (Seven Deadly Sins, p. 11).

Wilson is correct.  Sloth seems to offer rest, greed wealth, lust pleasure, gluttony fullness – but envy promises absolutely nothing except sorrow.  It is a moral boomerang that, when thrown at another, returns to us.  I cannot find the quotation but remember another say it is like poisoning our enemy’s food, then eating it ourselves.  Envy takes the heart out of praise we feel obliged to give a professional colleague.  It keeps us silent when we hear a rival unfairly criticized.  It makes us quietly glad when that rival fails.  It is not a psychological problem which therapy will eliminate; rather, it is a sin for which we need to repent each time it rears it’s toxic head within our hearts.

Here are some additional helps for anyone leading a Bible study or preaching on the sin of envy.

Envy is the root of many familiar biblical stories: Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers, Saul and David, the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

http://people.cas.sc.edu/lewiske/papers/ENVY.html

“His eye was forever fixed on what he didn’t have.”  Hugh Howey in The Sand Omnibus (Kindle Locations 2407-2408). .

“Envy is the religion of the mediocre. It comforts them, it soothes their worries, and finally it rots their souls, allowing them to justify their meanness and their greed until they believe these to be virtues. Such people are convinced that the doors of heaven will be opened only to poor wretches like themselves who go through life without leaving any trace but their threadbare attempts to belittle others and to exclude—and destroy if possible—those who, by the simple fact of their existence, show up their own poorness of spirit, mind, and guts.”  Denise Mina, in Still Midnight, p. 101 .

 

 

 

 

 

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