But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. (Psalm 73: 2-3, 16-17, 21-22)
Our perspective gets seriously skewed when we lose sight of God and start looking at something – or someone – else. It’s a slippery slope, but such a subtle transition that it’s terrifyingly easy to step off the path without being aware. Then our foothold becomes a toehold that threatens to let go any minute.
Envy distorts the lenses through which we see ourselves and others. Like a funhouse mirror, it reflects things not as they are, and the view would be laughable if we didn’t take it as reality.
Envy is rooted in entitlement and judgment: what I deserve versus what they don’t deserve; what I’ve earned versus what they’ve not earned. It weighs and measures everything on the scales of self-perceived fairness. Envy is doomed to bitterness because its scales are never balanced. It puts performance on one side of the scales and expectations on the other – if I do this, I will get that – and the two seldom weigh out. Underneath is the idea that God owes me, and should immediately punish those I despise.
Fortunately, the psalmist realized where this had brought him – to the edge of the cliff. He was grieved by the death of his expectations, bitter because he felt betrayed by God. His feelings had taken over; he wasn’t using his head or looking for understanding. He was reacting instinctively, like an animal that is threatened.
Then he took his troubled thoughts and feelings into the sanctuary, the place where he could meet with God. In His presence, the fog of feelings lifted, revealing the light. All that really mattered was his relationship with God. Everything was in balance because God held him by the right hand and would never let go. God was his guide and advisor and would spend eternity with him. Who on earth had more than that? There was, in fact, no one and nothing to envy. In fact, the whole world can’t offer anything as desirable as this intimacy with God.
So the earlier envy at the health and wealth of the godless melts away in the realization that God’s strength is the heart of his life and his everlasting treasure. Whatever happens, he has the ultimate refuge when he’s near to God. This is not something the psalmist can keep to himself: this is a story that must be shared.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.
I will tell of all your deeds. (Psalm 73: 23-26, 28)
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. (Proverbs 14:30)
Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. (Proverbs 23:17)