I opened the newspaper Sunday morning to a full weekend spread on the housing market in Indianapolis. It’s booming. And the full-color photo collages were there to prove it. One in particular caught my eye. It was a wide-angle shot off a beautiful custom kitchen, complete with high end, hand-made cabinets, stainless steel appliances, marble countertops, and stunning hard wood floors.
“We need a house like that,” I thought to myself.
“And, you know, our bathroom could sure use a makeover, too. Our shower is too small, and the space isn’t segmented properly.”
“You know, I wonder if we could swing a bigger mortgage? Maybe get into a nicer part of town?”
“I tell ya, some people are just luckier than we are. I wonder what kind of work they do to be able to support a home like that.”
“If we didn’t have to think about getting three kids through college, I bet we could afford something like that. It just doesn’t seem fair sometimes.”
It’s amazing where the sinful mind instinctively takes you. We have a beautiful house with a huge finished basement, some custom features, and a mortgage payment I am fortunate enough to be able to make every month. And I’m lucky enough to have three incredible kids I get to try and help make it through college.
Here’s some irony: it’s often hardest to see what you actually have. It’s much easier to see what you don’t.
And when I really begin to feel what I don’t have by meditating on what others do have, I can even begin to despise them for their “good fortune.” Catch me in a really fleshly moment, and the road to bitterness will lead to an even darker place. It’s called envy.
We talk a lot about greed in Western contexts, and rightfully so. We are the wealthiest culture in the history of the earth. We roll around in abundance like no generation before. Add Christian faith to the mix, and we are admonished by Christ to care for the poor and to serve the least of these among us. We need to be challenged not to hoard, to live with an open hand. It’s biblical.
But while greed causes us to say “I deserve to keep all that is mine!” envy drives us to scream “I deserve to have what is yours!” For some reason, we don’t seem to challenge envy quite as much. Perhaps it’s our love for the underdog. Perhaps it’s something darker.
When you dig right down to the bottom of it, both greed and envy are symptoms of the same root cause – sinful desires.
“You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”
It’s interesting to me, especially in a hotly contested political season like we find ourselves in today, to watch how different candidates have learned how to tap into our visceral, sinful natures.
“Build a wall!”
“It’s not fair!”
“You should keep what you have!”
“You should have what they’re trying to keep!”
They’re two sides of the same broken coin. We need to confront the scourge of both in our lives.
What about a Gospel solution? A third way? A free people willfully generous with all that they have, while simultaneously content with all that they have. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?
Come, Lord Jesus.