Let ruin come on them for their mean behavior
Rev. John Zehring
May 10, 2019
“Let ruin come on them unawares. And let the net that they hid ensnare them; let them fall in it – to their ruin.” (Psalm 35:8 NRSV)
Think about a national leader who lies, who is nasty, and who seems to be on the wrong side of every good and just issue. Or, think about someone who has been mean to you – someone whose unkindness makes your teeth grit and your face turn red just to hear his or her name. Wouldn’t it be fitting if misfortune came their way? As Psalm 35 says: “…let the net that they hid ensnare them; let them fall in it – to their ruin.” Let them have a taste of their own medicine. Maybe that would teach them a lesson!
That wish, of course, is not God-like. It may even be a sin. If it is, it is humankind’s favorite sin. There is a word for it in German: Schadenfreude.
Schadenfreude is delight in another person’s misfortune, the malicious enjoyment at the misfortunes of others, or finding joy in other people’s misery. It is that feeling that we hope they fall flat on their face. May they get what’s coming to them.
When someone has insulted you, made you look stupid, has led you to feel devalued, or has betrayed you, you do not exactly feel like telling them to have a nice day. In fact, if justice were to be fulfilled, you hope they get back some of what they gave…an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Schadenfreude wishes bad things to happen to those who have been mean, unfriendly, who have gossiped, spread rumors, or spoken lowly of another. “HA!” jeers Schadenfreude. “They got what they deserved.”
The whole of Psalm 35 is a glaring example of schadenfreude. The Psalmist wishes ruin for his enemies. He wants bad things to happen to them. He is human.
The Psalmist’s wish for ruin upon those whom he dislikes sounds similar to feelings which creep into your mind or mine from time to time. We can get so upset at those whose behavior is adversarial that we wish them nothing but the worst. May bad things happen to them, we secretly wish.
Schadenfreude, cathartic as it feels, stands in in contrast to the way Jesus taught about love and forgiveness. Jesus taught, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ (Matthew 5:44 NRSV). This is the way of Jesus: to desire truly that which is in the highest and best interest of all…extended to those ones you like the least.
Schadenfreude, cathartic as it feels, stands in in contrast to the way Jesus taught about love and forgiveness.
Matthew 5:44 does not actually say that you have to like your enemies, invite them out to lunch, feel warm affection for them, enjoy being in their company, condone their behavior or add them to your Facebook page. In the fewest possible words, it simply says to love them.
Loving our enemies does not come naturally. To follow this teaching will require a change of the heart and a determination of the will to wish for enemies that which is in their highest and best interest.
“Pray for those who persecute you.” Who would ever be inclined to pray for an enemy, except the person who loves God and desires to obey Jesus’ commandments?
To pray for the highest and best interest of an enemy is a high expression of love. This shows a love which flows out of the person praying because of the love flowing into them from God. It is hard to hate a person when you are praying for them.
The word “pray for” which Jesus used is a translation from the Greek word eulogeo, which means “to speak well of.” Jesus is asking his followers to speak well of their enemies. That is where the word eulogize comes from, like when a person is eulogized at his or her funeral. He or she is spoken well of.
When I think about people who have been mean or unkind, I am inclined to curse them, but Jesus calls me to speak well of them. When I wish for bad to happen to them, the One I follow asks me to extend love, grace, and forgiveness.
Love is kind. Love is not resentful. The power of love is greater than the need for schadenfreude.
Paul taught to rejoice in the right, to leave vengeance to God, to feed and give nourishment to your enemies, and to overcome evil with good (Romans 12). Jesus taught to love your enemies, to turn the other cheek, to walk the second mile, to not resist an evildoer, and to speak well of those who persecute you (Matthew 5).
I can understand that when the call to overcome evil with good is about people who have been mean, although in practice it is a soul-wrenching endeavor. But how does that apply on a national level?
There are some in the leadership of our nation who I think are doing so much harm and whose behavior seems so unlike the heart of God that I wonder, how could anyone not crave their demise? Would not their ruination be preferable to the ruining of thousands if not millions of citizens? I am inclined to grant myself permission to engage in schadenfreude for them. But then, my spiritual autopilot kicks in and directs me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute. Love the person, hate the evil they do
I suspect that schadenfreude is the opposite of agape. Agape, the Bible’s word for love, is the God-like wish and hope that what is best for the other is what happens. This is the way of God. It is not the world’s way. It is not the way of aggressively ambitious nations.
For leaders who do evil or for people who are mean, we cannot pray, like the Psalmist, to “Let ruin come on them unawares.” Rather, we are best served to pray for good to triumph over evil and for God to give us strength to overcome evil with good.
Interestingly, the ones whose behavior I disdain are adored by some of my neighbors, fellow church members, and even family members. For leaders who do evil or for people who are mean, we cannot pray, like the Psalmist, to “Let ruin come on them unawares.” Rather, we are best served to pray for good to triumph over evil and for God to give us strength to overcome evil with good. That seems to be the right pathway to usher in the Kingdom of God.
The Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations for 22 years as a pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. He is the author of more than 30 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.”
Want the latest from The Christian Citizen?
Subscribe to Christian Citizen Weekly