Envy Ease… Or Suffering?
She has 1053 “friends.” I have 789. He has a window with a view. I have a cube with a coffee stain. They have kids in the Talented and Gifted program at school. My kids struggle. The neighbors’ church is adding an addition. Our church building is a school gym.
Putting it in those simple terms, it sounds petty. We envy those who have what we want. However, envy can so easily be couched in grown-up terms of “fairness” and the desire for “justice.” It is very Christian to want to right the wrongs of the world. I personally like to play up my situation with the guy in the SUV. He was riding along in the right turning lane only to whip in front of me at the last minute. I was patient. He was a jerk! But honestly I think the guy has guts- and he definitely spent less time in stop and go traffic than I did. I envy him, though I am piously proud of my actions as a “Good Christian!”
Interestingly enough, the sin of envy may be an easier trap for a “Good Christian” because of our theological misunderstanding of what God will and “should” do for us.
Albeit simplistic, this conflict can be seen by putting one Old Testament and one New Testament verse side by side:
Psalm 5:12 “Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” (NIV)
1 Peter 4:12-13 “ Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (NIV)
There is something within us that naturally reverts to a system of blessings and curses. We love the idea of the bad guy getting his, and the good guy riding off into the sunset. Something wells up within us as we read accounts of destroying the Canaanites and plundering the Egyptians. Putting wealth and land in the hands of the righteous makes for a great story… the kind that even sells well at the box office.
This is generally the system we see at work in the Old Testament, and yet even Job shows us that the righteous may suffer to bring God greater glory. Job, as you remember, lost family, possessions, property, and health. His (very unhelpful) wife simply told him to “curse God and die”- yet Job continued to trust God’s heart… even though he was quite bewildered.
Throughout the New Testament the suffering of the saints became somewhat of a badge of honor. Paul encourages followers to be content in all circumstances, just as he was during times of shipwreck, cold and hunger. It is generally accepted that all of the apostles (with the exception of John) had shortened lives because of their faith in Christ. Probably the most famous martyr of the twelve is Peter who tradition says chose to be crucified upside down because he didn’t feel worthy to die in the same way as his savior.
We as believers intellectually know that suffering is supposed to be a part of the Christian life. We marvel at the oft quoted phrase, “the blood of the saints is the seed of the church.” We know that affliction causes our faith to grow, but we long for ease. When the way is difficult, we are not content as Paul implores us to be, but we actively envy those who are on a smoother path.
I can’t help but think of singer/songwriter Laura Story who herself is beginning to understand God’s unusual way of “blessing” his children.
‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?
Songwriters: Story, Laura Mixon
© new spring publishing;new spring publishing
Laura’s young husband of one year, Martin, was hospitalized with a brain tumor in 2006. He had been strong, athletic and so very capable- and yet post-surgery there were episodes when Martin could not even remember being married. Laura endured times when the love of her life was kept alive by breathing machines. Yet all the while she could see God involved in the midst of her pain and struggle.
Before I close I would like to share one final story. An American pastor had the chance to visit a Chinese house church. He had an exclusive opportunity to visit underground believers and to tell them the American church is praying for them.
One of the men responded, “And we pray for the church in America too.”
The pastor asked, “When you pray for the American church, what do you pray?”
The man and another Chinese Christian talked together and looked down sheepishly. “I’m not sure you want to know.”
The pastor was like, “No. Seriously, how do you pray for us?”
The man finally said, “We pray that you will endure suffering so your faith will grow.”
Perhaps it is those who joyfully endure persecution, not those with easy lives, who are really worth envying!