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Envy and a jealous God

Envy and a jealous God

From this morning’s Daily Office:

“’What a weariness this is,’ you say, and you sniff at me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 1:13)

Envy is at the root of our evil, writes James: What we want but do not have; our inordinate desires aroused by envy cause us to covet, to kill. From the days of Cain and Abel, we are envious even of God, Malachi warns, withholding our best sacrifice in case we can make better use of it than can our God.

Envy of one another, as James describes and as philosophers have remarked and as we, in our grumbling hearts, recognize as rotten, is bad enough, but are we, as Malachi charges, also envious of God?

I am. That is, there is a part of me that even at the height of prayer is inclined to hold back, to say, “Does God, who is all that is necessary for life, have need of me?”

It is a paradox, because if there were no God there were no me; yet I try to separate myself, tease myself out, creation from Creator. I want to make myself in God’s image, to become self-sufficient, as lofty and unneedy as She.

My envy tempts me to cheat, to tempt fate, to tempt God, wondering, “Will it be missed, this little part of me, this breath that goes out and fails to find love, this prayer that defiles my confession by omission, my praise with pride?”

It makes as little sense as for the moon to envy the sun its brilliance, turning a cold shoulder into the shadow; always, inevitably, turning back full-faced to see that the object of its envy still shines, and being illuminated by it.

I envy the mystics, full-hearted and abandoned. I envy the empty, whose sacrifice is complete. I envy the generous, who are innocent of envy’s grip.

The only cure is the seasoning of the soul. If envy is desire run cold, it can be reheated. If envy is admiration turned bitter, it can be salted. If envy is love turned sour, can it be sweetened?

Let this, then, be my prayer: not for an unblemished sacrifice, but for an unblocked heart; not for a unwearied spirit, but for pasture to rest in; not for the perfection of love, but for love enough to continue to pray imperfectly and fervently.

“Or do you suppose,” James writes, “that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’?” (James 4:5)


The Revd Rosalind C Hughes is Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio, and author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 2020). She blogs at over the water/rosalindhughes.com

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