‘Thou shalt not covet’

The crabs harvested each year off the shoreline of Harkers Island on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast teach a metaphorical lesson in human nature.

The crabbers sort and deposit their live catch in uncovered, shallow trays just off the ocean’s edge. For visitors new to the crab trade, the low-walled holding trays seem illogical. It appears that a crab could sidestep his fate on the local lunch menu by simply climbing over the edge of the tray and falling to the soft sand below. Watery freedom awaits a few feet away.

Such escapes, say veteran crabbers, rarely occur. The other crabs won’t allow it. The moment a freedom-seeking crab ventures over the tray’s edge the other crabs extend their pincers and pull it back to captivity. No need to police the crabs. They police themselves.

Crabs and people sometimes behave alike. We, too, might be guilty of begrudging another’s success. The saying, “We all like to see our friends get ahead — but not too far ahead,” was not intended for a crustacean.

“Envy” is rightly counted among the Seven Deadly Sins. In our effort to eschew sin, we can ask ourselves if we sometimes resent our neighbors’ good fortune or worthy actions to improve their lot. Are we envious of a fellow member’s financial prosperity? Do we covet an acquaintance’s speedy black car or, perhaps, his or her prominence in the community or ward?

Counted among the Ten Commandments is this divine charge: “Thou shalt not covet.”

Covetousness manifests itself through jealousy, envy, resentfulness and greed.

Such toxic impulses have existed since the first family. Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, murdered Abel in a jealous rage when the Lord accepted his younger brother’s offering. Envy poisoned the sons of Jacob, who tossed their younger brother, Joseph, into a pit. And it was David’s covetousness of Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, that placed him on the path to even greater sin.

Bouts of jealousy also gnawed at Lehi’s elder sons, Laman and Lemuel. Their resentment of their younger brother Nephi was the impetus of the violent enmity that plagued their shared posterities for generations.

Of course the scriptures also include the accounts of men and women who found joy in the success and worthy efforts of others. Consider Aaron of the Old Testament. In contrast to the actions of Cain and Joseph’s older siblings, Aaron faithfully supported his young brother/spiritual leader Moses.

Latter-day Saints can also find a noble figure from Church history. President Heber J. Grant said of Hyrum Smith: “There is no better example of an older brother’s love than that exhibited in the life of Hyrum Smith for the Prophet Joseph Smith. … They were as united and as affectionate and as loving as mortal men could be. … There never was one particle of jealousy … in the heart of Hyrum Smith. No mortal man could have been more loyal, more true, more faithful in life or in death than was Hyrum Smith to the Prophet of the living God.”

What causes one to covet, envy or resent another? The sister sin of pride is a likely culprit. We may begrudge another’s success, believing it dims our own achievements and capacity. We seek the praise of men above the praise of God.

“We find examples of this so often where a person, forgetting who he is, wants to be popular with his peers and wants their praise,” said President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency in his October 1975 general conference address. “So often athletes get so carried away with their success and desire for praise that they forget their duty to God and the importance of His approval and as a result lose their way. This applies equally to politicians, members of fraternal organizations, professions and business. This craving for praise and popularity too often controls actions, and as they succumb they find themselves bending their character when they think they are only taking a bow… .

“If individuals are more concerned with pleasing men than pleasing God, then they suffer from the same virus Satan had [in pre-mortality], for there are many situations where seeking the praise of men will clearly result in their hurting, not helping, mankind for they will do expedient and temporary things instead of those which are lasting and beneficial.”

How much more satisfying, he declared, when we receive the praise of God, “knowing that it is fully justified and that His love and respect for us will persist, when usually the praise of men is fleeting and most disappointing.”