LOVE DOES NOT DELIGHT IN EVIL BUT REJOICES WITH THE TRUTH
1 Corinthians 13:6
by Ted Schroder
Schadenfreude is the German word which describes our malicious enjoyment of the mishaps or misfortunes of others. Schadenfreude is part of our culture. Everyone of us experiences schadenfreude. It is intrinsic to every sport. We love it when our golfing buddies hit their balls in the bunkers or miss their putts. We inwardly applaud when our tennis opponent double-faults or hits into the net. We cheer when the opposing quarterback in football fumbles the ball. We thrill to see cars crash in the Daytona 500. Much of the fun in sports comes from schadenfreude: malicious enjoyment of the mishaps or misfortunes of others. It is central to the slapstick comedy of the Three Stooges, and many cartoon series such as Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner.
News organizations love schadenfreude. Nothing excites the public more than breaking news about the latest scandal amongst celebrities or politicians. We secretly rejoice to see self-righteous leaders fall from grace. We gloat when prominent and powerful politicians on the opposition party are caught in crimes and misdemeanors. We love scandals because they give us something to be disgusted about, and to make us feel so morally superior. Other people's sins make us look virtuous. Other people's misfortunes make our lot easier to bear. They put our problems into perspective.
We are delighted when our enemies suffer. Nothing gives us greater joy than seeing our opponents get their comeuppance. When we are engaged in a battle we are relieved when the enemy is killed or destroyed in some way, shape or form. We feel justified when people whom we loathe, because they have hurt us or our loved ones, drop dead.
But love cannot delight in evil. Though we may have to go to war, though many people may be killed, and families lose loved ones, we cannot delight in it. It is the sadist who enjoys seeing pain inflicted on others. No matter how much the punishment fits the crime we can take no joy in executions or incarcerations. While we may support the free market and the risks associated with investment, we do not delight in downturns, personnel reductions, and bankruptcies.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. When love enters the picture the whole equation alters. When it is our friend who falls from grace, we are dismayed. When our beloved encounters adversity, when bad things happen to her, when the evil day comes for her in her life, when the medical diagnosis is poor, we are saddened and shocked. It is hard to delight in the misfortunes of those you love, no matter what they have done. It is hard to rejoice in the downfall of leaders, if you wish them well. Love recognizes that "there but for the grace of God go I," - or as John Donne observed, "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
There is no more poignant story in the Old Testament than that of King David's handsome son, Absalom. In his father's old age Absalom began to court the popularity of the Israelites. We are told that "he stole the hearts of the men of Israel." (2 Samuel 15:6) In time he gathered enough of a following to initiate a conspiracy against his father. He proclaimed himself king in Hebron, just twenty miles south of Jerusalem. David fled from the city with his household and royal guard. "The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed....David continued up the Mount of Olives weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up." Absalom had turned many of the people against his father who could not believe that his son would do such a thing.
Conscious of David's love for his rebel son, his military commanders: Joab, Abishai and Ittai, persuaded the king to remain behind in the camp. His last words to his generals as the army marched out to battle were: "Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake." The battle in the Gilead oak woods, after 20,000 casualties, closed with Absalom's hair getting tangled in a tree, and his mule leaving him hanging in midair. Joab defied his royal master by killing Absalom instead of capturing him alive. When David heard of it he was overcome with sorrow. "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you - O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 18:33)
David was only too well aware of the truth - that he had aided and abetted the rebellion by turning a blind eye to Absalom's ambitions over the years. He was also aware of his own sins that had contributed to the moral decay in the court. His mourning for his son was also a mourning for the culture that he had allowed to flourish, where abuse, anger, adultery, incest, and murder had been tolerated in his own household, and by himself. He came face to face with his own culpability, and the cost in human lives that resulted. He could not delight in the destruction of Absalom's army because he knew the truth of his own negligence as a father and a ruler.
Love rejoices with the truth. One truth, one reality, is that every one of us sins. "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8) We don't delight in the downfall of others when we know our own hearts. We are guilty by association. We have to admit we can be entertained by their sick and scandalous behavior. The media provides its audience with a menu of immorality and violence.
Love rejoices with the whole truth, not partial truth. Love knows the difference between a momentary mistake, and a persistent pattern of immoral behavior. Love does not blind us to the lifetime achievements of a person because of the fact of a single error. Love has the perspective to see the whole truth, and does not obsess on one sin as though it negated the rest of life. Love rejoices with the truth, the reality, of redemption - that Christ has come to forgive us and give us a new start when we repent and turn to him in faith. Love rejoices with the truth that failure is not final.
Love rejoices with the truth that God is personal. Jesus said, "I am the truth." (John 14:6) We can rejoice that Christ is the truth, for he shows us the reality of human life that is pure in heart - sincere, unsullied by evil, full of integrity. We can rejoice with the truth of his life. There is something to rejoice about - we need not be cynical or despairing of life, of goodness, of truth.
Love rejoices with the good news that Jesus has triumphed over evil on the Cross. We can rejoice that if he is victorious over evil we can share in that victory with him. Evil is the antithesis of the truth. Jesus came to save us from evil. We cannot delight in evil and rejoice with the truth. We have to choose between the two. That choice is an act of faith, a decision that is critical for our lives. Christ can take men or women at their worst, steeped in wickedness and sin, and still deliver them from evil. That is why we can rejoice with the truth of the Gospel.
Love acts on the power of the truth that is in Jesus to change lives. Love does not delight in other people's failings, but rejoices with the truth that saves us. "There but for the grace of God go I!" Love is the grace of God that reaches out to us in Jesus. When we receive him, and live with him, and are empowered by his Spirit, we have his truth within us. That gift of love is cause for rejoicing:
Ted Schroder's new book, SURVIVING HURRICANES: DELIVER US FROM EVIL, is now available from www.Amazon.com or Amelia Island Publishing, (firstname.lastname@example.org) 904-277-4414, for $24.95 (free shipping). It deals with the problem of evil and suffering from the point of view of the Armor of God, and the Lord's Prayer, and provides prayers and questions for reflection and discussion.
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