Glittering Vices: by John Frye

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.35.58 PMA year has passed since we introduced Dr. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s book Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies.  Those initial two posts were a fly-over of the book and only dabbled a little with a few specific vices. In this series of posts, we will take a closer look at each of the seven “capital sins,”that is, the deadly ones that are the source of so many other expressions of our depravity. Two observations as we begin: first, this book is about serious discipleship. It is for grown-ups who take following Jesus seriously and who aren’t too fragile to take a hard look at the infestation of sin in us. Second, this book is about hope and transformation. Grace hasn’t looked so beautiful to me as after reading this presentation of the seven deadlies. With the use of “remedies”in the title, we understand that we will engage in a sickness/wellness model as each vice is considered.

DeYoung quotes John Chrysostom, “As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man”(47). The envious see the world as one great competition with only winners and losers. Inferiority drives the envious. DeYoung illustrates this by unpacking Salieri’s consuming envy of not just Mozart’s God-given musical genius, but of Mozart himself. The envious person is not content to be like their (assumed) rivals, he or she must be superior to the rival. Comparison is the activity that provokes envy. Another’s abilities, successes, status almost always provoke a sense of inferiority in the envious. Envy causes us to sorrow over another’s success not only because it excels our own, but because it reminds us of our lack of ability. That lack is welded to our sense of worth or, in the envious, worthlessness. Thus, “envy’s ruinous impulses are always personal,”about who we are, not just what we do or cannot do, what we have or do not have.

Here is an abbreviated description of envy’s litter: feeling offended at another’s talent, success or good fortune; unnecessary rivalry; ill will; pleasure at other’s distress or difficulties; reading false motives into the successful; belittling; back-biting; organizing antagonism against the rival; bullying; scorn; ridicule; prejudice. I am afraid that I have participated in too many conversations with pastors were envy was a driving force.

Envy may fester into malicious intent to detract and into murderous hatred itself. Envy works surreptitiously, avoiding open warfare, because to act openly would expose the envious person’s inferiority. An envious person targets someone like them in some way. In a compelling discussion of the film Chariots of Fire, DeYoung shows how Harold Abrams is consumed with comparing himself to Eric Liddell. Both desire to be runners in the Olympics. Even when he wins, Abrams cannot enjoy his success or be content. He must beat Liddell. Abrams’self worth is contingent on his performance and Liddell is a threat to that performance.

At heart, envy, like sloth, is a glaring failure of love. Envy has to manufacture self worth. Envy cannot enjoy another’s success, so gratitude and contentment are absent in the soul. Salieri’s blame for his discontent is laid on God. God created Mozart and gave Mozart his talent. Eric Liddell felt God’s pleasure as he ran, not just when he won as DeYoung points out. The antidote for envy is God’s non-comparative and unconditional love.

We must cultivate shared successes, shared goods, shared joys. Who owns the Rockies or the Smoky Mountains? Who made the oceans and Redwood Forests? As we share good things together that make comparisons and ruinous impulses irrelevant, we can foster deep gratitude and contentment. We can cultivate a love for God, for others, and for our selves. We can rest content in who we are as loved by God. We can celebrate the successes of others. We can give up “feeling bitter when others have it better.”

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