Envy and the Fullness of God

In the Praises for Matins of Holy Wednesday, we read:

Oh, the wretchedness of Judas! He saw the harlot kiss the footsteps of Christ, but deceitfully he contemplated the kiss of betrayal. She loosed her hair while he bound himself with wrath. He offered the stench of wickedness instead of myrrh, for envy cannot distinguish value. Oh, the wretchedness of Judas! Deliver our souls from this, O God.

We are also told in Scripture that Pilate perceived that Christ was being handed over to him “for the sake of envy” (Matt. 27:18). Thus, it seemed important to me to offer this small meditation on envy, or at least one of its sources – for it is rooted in false beliefs about God and His world and the hardness of our heart that keeps us from seeing the truth. There is much more to say of this primal passion. But this will have to suffice for now.

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We stand mournfully around the grave, letting the strains of the hymn find their resolution in the final chord. The priest approaches the coffin, now closed and ready for lowering into the grave. The closing of the grave begins with a single handful of dirt. The priest tosses the dirt with the words: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

Fullness seems strangely contradictory to the mood of a funeral. The pain of loss and the emptiness of a life that seems to have gone from the midst of us speak not of fullness but of scarcity. I will not hear that voice, hold you close to me or listen carefully for your footsteps.

No setting could be more stark in which to proclaim “fullness.”

But it is at the grave that we are perhaps most clearly confronted with the claims of our faith. For it is here at the grave that God made His own final assault on the myths and fears of a world dominated by death. This world of death always proclaimed the sovereignty of sorrow, the ascendency of scarcity.

From the abundance of Paradise man falls into a world in which thorns and thistles dominate:

Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground (Genesis 3:17-19).

But now, standing at this funeral, the priest proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

What fullness? Again it is the assault of God on the world man has made. The earth is not the kingdom of scarcity, but now the Kingdom of God. The grave is not the gate of Hades, but the gate of Paradise. Fullness can again be proclaimed for the grave has been ruptured and cannot hold its prey.

This struggle is a daily struggle. Is the world I live in one of scarcity or abundance? The answer to the question has much to do about almost every decision I make. The threat of scarcity tells me that whatever I have, like my own life, is limited. Nothing is ever enough. There is not enough money, enough food, enough love. The abundance enjoyed by another is always at the expense of myself and others because the world is governed by scarcity. Thus I must fight; I must wrestle to gain whatever I can and cling to it ’til death wrests it from my cold, dead fingers.

However, if the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof – if every good thing comes from God who is without limit – then scarcity has been defeated and abundance reigns within the Kingdom of God, now and always. In this abundance there is not just enough, but more than enough. I can share. I can give. I can love without fear that there will be too little to go around. The abundance enjoyed by another is not at my expense for those who have much are not the rulers of this world. Thus I need not fight; I do not need to gain or to cling. God knows “you have need of all these things.”

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. The emptiness of death has been filled with such an abundance of life that it has been trampled beneath the feet of those who walk the way of Christ. In this fullness we can do more than give – we can love even to the excess of forgiveness. My enemy has stolen nothing from the abundance that fills my life.

This proclamation of abundance has nothing in common with the prosperity gospel which is all too often driven by the fear of scarcity and the need to amass material things to prove the goodness of God.

Instead, as proclamation the abundance of the Kingdom needs no assurance greater than the resurrection of Christ. He is the abundance of Life.

In the world in which we live it is all too easy to create yet another scheme of the two-storey universe. The world we inhabit we assume to be defined and finite with scarcity as one of its leading boundaries. Abundance is shuttled off to a heaven somewhere else. But this is a failure to recognize what has happened in the world in the coming among us of the God-Man, Jesus Christ. As He Himself said:

Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

In Biblical language, this was Christ’s proclamation of a Jubilee year – the great Jubilee Year – in which all debts are cancelled and righteousness is restored. He has extended this confidence of abundance even to the blind and the lame. They receive the abundance of sight and the ability to walk. Lepers, once trapped in the scarcity of their disease and shame, are cleansed and returned to the company of men. The world has changed. Christ did not do these miracles in a world removed from the one we inhabit. It was the blind and lame in the very midst of us and in this world who were healed. Thus it is with the same confidence that we proclaim the victory of His kingdom – in what we say and do.

What martyr disdained to live the abundance of this proclamation? What saint, in His poverty, declared God to be poor and this world to be bereft of its fullness? And yet in our own confidence in the material machine of modernity (not in God) we worry and are anxious about its limits. Modernity’s fullness has its limits for it is not the fullness of God but of man (and this as unredeemed). It offers a false promise. It’s fullness does not generally induce kindness and generosity but acquisition and envy.

True fullness will always beget generosity and kindness – it is a hallmark of the work of God. True fullness brought a cry of “the half of my goods I give to the poor” from the lips of the Publican Zachaeus. True fullness will always be marked by such cries – they are echoes of “Indeed, He is risen!”

The abundance found in the Kingdom of God is not the same as the abundance imagined by a planet enmeshed in its own cycle of scarcity and envy. The abundance proclaimed in the Kingdom of God in which the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, is an abundance in which there is not enough to waste but more than enough to share. The abundance flows from the enlargement of our heart as we expand our very existence to include the other. A world constituted by love rather than the envy of individualism will always have more than enough.

Envy plays a large role in the events of Holy Week. Strangely, it is a passion which is rarely mentioned in our culture, even though the Fathers (at least some) thought of it as the root of all sin. We frequently think of pride as the root of all sin, but some of the Fathers note that pride, unlike envy, can be completely private, whereas envy always seeks harm for another.

Many times the sins we think of as pride, are, in fact, envy, insomuch as they are directed at other human beings. We envy their success, their “good fortune,” and many other such things. If we examine our heart carefully we will discover envy to be frequently at the root of anger, our sense of injustice and unfairness. The first murder, Abel’s death at the hand of his brother, is clearly the result of envy.

Even Judas is described as envious in the hymns of the Church, as well as the rulers of Israel by the Scriptures themselves. Sometimes in our “free-market” society, our failure and the envy it engenders gets turned against us and we condemn ourselves because we are not as clever as others. The basic inequalities of life become the source of either anger towards others of self-loathing depending on our own personality (and sometime a mixture of both).

The great difficulty with having a God is the fundamental requirement that we renounce envy. As one friend told me, “The most important thing to know about God is that you are not Him.” And this is something that I must learn to be content with. God is the Lord of the universe and not I. Things work together for good according to His own redemptive plan and not according to my secret machinations.

Envy is perhaps the most subtle of sins. Even in the desert where no one possesses anything, there is always something about another that we can find to envy. Our adversary, himself dominated by his envy of God, will always have envious suggestions to make to us.

To combat envy several things are necessary:

We must believe that God is good.

We must believe that God’s will for us in particular is good.

We must believe that God’s goodness is without limit.

We must believe that God’s goodness, shed upon someone else, does not come at our expense.

Thus we can “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We can see that it is possible to turn our lives over completely to God and trust Him in all things. We can bless who we are and where we are (even if our own sins and limitations have made of our lives a difficulty). God is good. We need not envy. Further, we can give thanks for all things for they proceed from the fullness of God and His kindness to us. Even those things we perceive as “evil” occur in the context of the world we have entered through Baptism. We may give thanks despite all the troubles that afflict us – for God is good, and His mercy endures forever.

Envy has no place within the Christian life. It belongs to those who drive nails into the flesh of God and taunt Him with their perceived victory. When all is said, they will stand as mute as fish, unable to cry, “Alleluia.”

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16 Responses to “Envy and the Fullness of God”

  1. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless! Thank you for this from the depths of my heart!

  2. Karen Says:

    Perhaps it would be correct to say that envy is the public face of pride. It is the manifestation of pride. Pride and envy then are just two aspects of the same heart attitude, which as you show is rooted in a false understanding of God (that diminishes either His goodness or His power or both) and a false understanding of the world (i.e., that the fallenness of the world around us is the final truth of it, rather than what it is in God Who is yet present in it, or that God’s abundance is removed to the “second-storey” and thus unavailable to us in this life).

    What a different place this world would be if we all truly believed Christ’s words to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

  3. Lewis Says:

    This is clear and simple, though not easy: as we deny envy a place in our hearts, we are able to see God’s blessings.

    This is not good advice for stimulating the economy. One president urged us to buy and the next gave us money to do so. Nevertheless, a great many nonreligious people are becoming freshly aware of the futility of pursuing things and the blessings of simplicity.

    Why are there so few Christian leaders teaching that sins like envy are detrimental to the very fulness of the life we desire? Instead, they exhort us to be ‘faithful’ and give more to their enterprises, which will fail without our money.

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for blessing us with Truth.

    Lewis

  4. Seraphim Says:

    Amen, Father!

  5. mushroom Says:

    That is some good preaching. Thank you very much.

  6. Margaret Says:

    God be praised! May He bless you always, Fr. Stephen! I am so thankful to read this address of envy!!! I will especially commit to memory these:

    We must believe that God is good.

    We must believe that God’s will for us in particular is good.

    We must believe that God’s goodness is without limit.

    We must believe that God’s goodness, shed upon someone else, does not come at our expense.

    and also these statements:

    God is good. We need not envy.

  7. It’s Been a While « Robby Lobby… Says:

    […] morning, Fr. Stephen at ‘Glory to God for All Things‘ posted a blog titled “Envy and the Fullness of God“.  Since it begins by talking about a funeral, it seems appropriate to introduce it here. We […]

  8. epiphanist Says:

    Poor young Judas.

  9. Sadness | Tinyhousebigfamily's Blog Says:

    […] this incredible post by Fr Stephen Freeman, perfectly timed just as I begin a fresh round of self-pity regarding the little old house in which […]

  10. Tiny House Big Family Says:

    Thank you Fr Stephen, this was perfectly timed for me.

  11. Mrs. Mutton Says:

    I remember learning, when studying accountancy, that Western economics is dominated by Adam Smith’s Principle of Scarcity — “There is only a finite number of goods and services, so you need to grab all you can before it’s gone” — and that Eastern economics is dominated by a Principle of Abundance — “There’s enough for everybody.” I don’t practice as an accountant because the current economic climate requires accountants to maximize profit to the shareholders (often at everyone else’s expense); imagine if we focused instead on maximizing profit to the *stakeholders,* which is pretty much everybody! Shareholders wouldn’t get that much less, but there’d be jobs for anyone who wanted one!

  12. Bruce Says:

    Wonderful post, thank you and God bless you Father!

    If we think about the Greatest Commandment which was fulfilled in Christ, perhaps the most important reminder this post triggers is that God is abundant in the way He loves us….His Love is hidden in the midst of every circumstance….Faith in the abundance and goodness of His Love allows His light to shine most brightly in the midst of what would otherwise be dark.

    The lie I often find myself believing is that God’s Love is scarce and not available; when the Truth is that my faith is scarce and often not available. An excellent way to sense my lack of faith is when I find myself believing in the lie that the Love and Forgiveness of Christ is gone and unavailable.

    I really appreciated the line below from your post:

    My enemy has stolen nothing from the abundance that fills my life.

    If we can learn to believe this as Truth, we can quickly find ourselves learning how to love our enemies and, as in Bishop Nikolai’s beautiful Prayer By The Lake poem, “Bless our Enemies”. We also find ourselves in a daily adventure of finding God in new places; in the midst of the very circumstances where He was previously hidden. The true enemy lies within not without and in the words of St. Issac the Syrian “Make peace with yourself, and all of heaven and earth will make peace with you.”

  13. Darlene Says:

    “The emptiness of death has been filled with such an abundance of life that has been trampled beneath the feet of them who walk the way of Christ.”

    In this truth there is much to be gleaned. When one is joined to Christ, His life is breathed into that one and that Life is perpetuated. His life lived within and through us is life abundantly lived. When we discover this life, His Life, we do not fear death. We can visit the place of the dead where monuments to their lives are erected and find hope in the resurrection. We can hear the echoe of the prophet Isaiah and rejoice with him in saying, “Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust awake and sing for joy! For thy dew is a dew of light, and on the land of the shades Thou wilt let it fall.” We can know that as “we live and move and have our being” in Him, we are also trampling down death, for our Savior went before us and trampled it, arising out of death’s chamber unscathed and victorious.

    Oh that we might live in such a manner that as we are transferred from our earthly life to His everlasingl Kingdom, as we make this transition in physical death to eternal life, it will seem as though no change has occurred because of the close communion we have shared with our Lord Jesus while living on this earth.

  14. Darlene Says:

    I’d like to add that envy is not only coveting what others have, but also wishiing in our heart of hearts that what they have will be taken from them. This all points to the selfish, greedy nature of those who are not united to Christ such that their only hope is in the here and now, in material, temporal things. Such evil longing only brings death, that which immediately begins to effect the very heart of man producing separation from God in the here and now and eventually in eternity. Thus we see that storing up and thirsting after more material goods finally yields death in the end. And what did our Savior say to the man who tore down his barns to make greater and bigger barns, thinking to find life in the material world, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Better that we should thirst after righteousness and be satisfied.

  15. Sean+ Says:

    “The most important thing to know about God is that you are not Him.” That’s good. The only prayer I pray at all well is “Thank you, God, that you are God and I am not.”
    I think I might spend today examining my sins as they crop up throughout the day in light of envy. That will most likely yield some surprising results.
    [By the way, in this otherwise marvelously written essay, there is one small typo which changes a meaning radically. “God is the Lord of the universe and not me.” I think you meant “…and not I.” As written, it says that God is not the Lord of me. It took a second to realize you mean to say that he is the Lord and I am not the Lord.]

  16. jhe Says:

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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