When we think of the Psalms we invariably think of them as guides in prayer or as a divinely inspired hymn book. For those who pay a little more attention, we also see them speaking prophetically about Jesus – after all, the book of Psalms is right up there with Isaiah for the number of times it’s quoted in the New Testament (little known fact: Psalms is quoted in the NT more than any other book).
Most of us, however, tend not to think of the Psalms as didactic. When we think of books of the Bible that fall into the category of teaching, we tend to think about Paul’s letters or Deuteronomy. The Psalms are not our first thought in this respect, and yet, in the midst of all we learn about prayer and song and the coming Christ, Psalms is also a book that teaches us about ourselves in some very uncomfortable and penetrating ways. I sometimes wonder if Paul was so adept at getting to the heart of a matter because he spent time getting to the heart of Psalms.
Take this week’s Psalm, for example. In Psalm 37, David begins by telling us not to fret about evildoers. Okay, that makes sense even though it can be difficult not to fret when we see so much evil around us. But then David takes a sharp turn and just when we think he’s telling us not to fret about those who do evil – surely those from whom we would most seek to distance ourselves – he tells us not to envy them! Wait a minute…why would I envy someone who revels in evil? Surely, I would never do that? Understanding why any of us would envy those who prize evil may be difficult at first, but when we understand what envy is, our eyes are opened, and it ain’t pretty.
When we think of envy, we think of wanting what someone else has. This is true, but a more incisive way to think about envy is to realize that at the bottom of every envious urge is a simple question: why them? That is the essence of envy. Envy doesn’t like it when someone else prospers, gains an advantage, receives recognition or rewards or progresses in any positive way because it’s happening to someone else and not me. Why them? Why are they getting ahead and I’m not? Why were they chosen and I wasn’t? How is it that their life is going smoothly and mine is full of challenges? Why is their life progressing in leaps and bounds and mine is a drudgery?
We envy wicked people not because we want to be wicked, but because they still enjoy good and we don’t think they deserve that. Whether it’s in politics, at work, in your family or at church, when you think to yourself, “Why them?”, stop and consider that what’s most wrong in that moment is not them, but you. Who knew?