Is There Such Thing as Holy Envy?

As some of you may already know, I was born and raised on the island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. I left home at the age of 17 and moved to the U.S. mainland to attend college. That was 34 years ago. Since then, I’ve traveled back a few times to visit my parents. Last week, our family had the opportunity to go once again and spend some time with Mom and Pops.

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Ever since I started blogging about my lighthouse inspirations (a little over a year ago) I have searched the internet and found lighthouses in just about every place on earth, including At World’s End. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered one in none other than my home island of St. Croix! Amazingly, the 102-year-old deteriorating beacon is still standing. So visiting it was definitely on this year’s vacation agenda.

Since my wife is the main inspiration for this blog and because she has accompanied me on all my lighthouse trips to date, I wasn’t surprised when she agreed to join me on my quest to find the Ham’s Bluff Light (pictured above). According to those who have been to this lighthouse before, accessing it is quite a challenge. Not only because of the treacherous road that leads to the base of the bluff but because it also requires a 30-minute steep climb uphill to actually reach it. It didn’t take long for us to confirm the first part of the warning! As soon as we arrived (no living soul in site) and began to walk the only visible and well-defined trail, I felt like a little kid embarking on a cool jungle expedition. Unfortunately, just minutes into the hike my wife changed her mind. After crossing a very short but extremely narrow path along the edge of a precipitous cliff we encountered a dark rainforest canopy which marked the beginning of the ascending journey. That is when my wife began to feel overly anxious and immediately turned around saying, “No way. I am not going any further.”

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Although she was sincere in suggesting that I continue the climb by myself while she waited in the car, there was no way I was going to leave her alone in such a desolate place. Besides, we had forgotten to pack water and bug spray. I doubt we would have survived half the trek. So with a sunken heart, I decided to follow her back to the vehicle while thinking about the amazing historical structure that, unbeknownst to me until now, laid at the top of the bluff and which I had eagerly been looking forward to visiting. But my disappointment lasted only a few minutes. Ever since dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I decided that I would visit my parents once a year. So I figured that next year I would ask a couple of my more adventurous family members who still live there to join me on a new challenging jaunt.

A couple of days ago I came across an article on the Ham’s Bluff Lighthouse in The U.S. Lighthouse Society News blog. covet As I read the detailed account of the author’s experience climbing the hill and finally reaching the top where the tower is located, not to mention his description of the amazing panoramic view, I couldn’t help feeling rather envious. Now, I know that the Lord has said, “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17), that envy is listed among the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), and that there is a form of jealousy that can be more dangerous than anger and fury (Proverbs 27:4). So, I looked up the various meanings of the words envy and covetousness hoping to find a definition that would keep me from having to repent of my seemingly pious jealousy. Here is what I found:

  1. According to dictionary.com, to covet is to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others. But it can also mean to eagerly wish for.
  2. According to merriam-webster.com, envy is the painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.
  3. According to Krister Stendahl, a Swedish theologian, the willingness to recognize elements in other religious traditions or faiths that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith is what he refers to as “holy envy.”

Considering the definitions above, could my desire to experience what Michael Salvarezza experienced when he visited the Ham’s Bluff Light be defined as an eager wish (1) or a pain driven desire to possess the advantage he had (2)? Can it, although not related to a religious element, qualify as holy envy since it involves admiring his accomplishment and wishing I could have done the same (3)? I must confess, I still wish I had been able to see what Michael saw back in 2016 and what was just 25 minutes away from my reach just a week ago!

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Have you ever desired to experience God the way others claim they have? Maybe you have seen (on TV/Video) the joy in the faces of third world country inhabitants as they welcome missionaries who bring much-needed supplies and wish you could do the same? As a church leader, have you ever prayed for committed workers or even accommodating facilities like those found in other churches? Have you ever wished you had met Jesus earlier in life like so many others have so that you could experience His love and mercy much sooner? If envy denotes a longing to possess something awarded to or achieved by another then, technically, even desires like those mentioned above are envious in nature. According to Proverbs 16:2, God weighs motives not desire. In other words, God judges the intentions of the heart. So if desiring to experience and enjoy things that other Christians have stems from a heart that genuinely wants to glorify God, then couldn’t such desires be considered, as Stendhal would say, holy envy? Keep in mind, however, that in every instance, the Bible refers to envy as something carnal and destructive. Perhaps because it originated at the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve allowed it to enter their hearts. Their desire to possess something that belonged to God and which was seemingly better than what He had already provided them with caused them to sin and actually loose everything (Genesis 3:1-7).

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There is a fine line between humbly desiring the good that others enjoy and a resentful longing prompted by an ungrateful heart. Motive being the deciding factor. Because envy stems from an inherently evil heart it can easily stunt our spiritual growth and keep us from living free of self and fully enjoying the love and grace of God. That is why it is grouped with other moral infractions such as hypocrisy, deceit, and slander. Plus, it can also affect us physically and emotionally. Medical studies show that envying and coveting can cause digestive, nervous and even psychological problems (The Nature of Envy). John Chrysostom, an early church father, wrote, “As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man.”

The Bible is clear about the ill effects of envy, covetousness, and jealousy. It warns us against them because, as mortals in a fallen world, we can all fall prey to their trap. They can arise as the result of a genuine pursuit of godly things, but they can also be prompted by subconscious selfish ambitions. Again, God weighs motives. So the question to ask ourselves is, “How do we make sure that our desires stem from the right motives?” The answer is found in Psalm 37:4.

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This verse does not only imply that God will grant us what we desire the most if we serve Him wholeheartedly. It reveals, however, that He is the “giver” of our desires. In other words, it is God himself who puts desires in our hearts when we commit to finding peace and fulfillment in Him. And if our desires are God’s desires then they are guaranteed to be free of selfish ambition. Which probably means that there is no such thing as holy envy. What do you think? I’d like to read your comments.

I will certainly be writing more about the Ham’s Bluff Lighthouse once I personally visit it and witness the awesome view from its lantern room. Hopefully, it will still be standing and safe enough to climb by this time next year.

Prayer: Jehova Jireh, you are my provider and the source of my very life. Thank you for EVERYTHING you have so graciously given me. May my heart’s desire be to delight solely in you. Help me to focus on your faithfulness and goodness so that my life would reflect how grateful I truly am. In Jesus name I pray, amen. 

SCRIPTURES
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world.” – 1 John 2:15-16 (BSB)
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” -Galatians 5:19-21
All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” -Proverbs 16:2
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” -Proverbs 14:30
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” – 1 Peter 2:1
“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” -Psalm 37:4
-ALL SCRIPTURE IS QUOTED FROM THE NIV EXCEPT WHERE SPECIFIED.
PHOTO/IMAGE CREDIT
Hams Bluff Lighthouse (c) 2016 Eco-Photo Explorers
Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1526) [Cropped]
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6 thoughts on “Is There Such Thing as Holy Envy?

  1. Our God is a jealous God, which means that the type of Jealousy God has can not be sinful. I also think that couples who get jealous when their spouse is spending too much time on a particular thing, whether it’s working, ministry or a hobby instead of making the time to be with them can be healthy if dealt with properly. You are an amazing writer, love you. Your wife, Mari.

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  2. I agree with u that every desire we have came from our good father, based on my experience, these desires direct us to what God has for us in the future. I have desires in my head that I don’t remember praying for but God gave them to me in His time. Even our desires are good, but we ought to fulfill them in a righteous way i believe. I also struggled with jealousy years ago when I couldn’t figure out what my spiritual gift was and i wanted to have one so bad while everyone around me was speaking in tongues, i thought i was too sinful to have a spiritual gift and it made me resentful, until i decided that i will not let this hinder me from serving God. God bless u and keep fighting a good fight!!!

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  3. I visited St Croix several times in 1977/8 when I was second mate on a 24,000 ton products tanker. We were loading fuel oil at HOVIC Marine and shipping it up to US east coast ports. I do recall that St Croix was beautiful. I am currently home in my beautiful home island of Guernsey, where the last two days have been misty at times – a reminder of the need for lighthouses.

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    1. Well, I am sure it’s not the same as it was 40 years ago. But, with its unchanging luscious mountains, crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, caressing trade winds, delectable foods, and harmonious nature sounds (to name a few), it continues to be referred as The American Paradise! Definitely one of my retirement choices. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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