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Sunday, September 14, 2014

No Schadenfreude in our Salvation


After 400 years in Egypt, after years of slavery and oppression, after bitter rigor and slave labor and tears, the people of Israel were ready to leave, were ready for freedom.  They were oppressed.  They were burdened and beaten. 

Imagine them sitting huddled in their homes during that Passover night – hearing the screams and the shrieks in the dark.  Imagine the moans and sobbing and weeping as the angel of death passed through the country killing the first born sons of Egypt.

Then came their flight towards freedom, but first they had to cross the Sea of Reeds. So the angel, the cloud, the Lord moved to a place behind them to shield them from the pursuing Egyptians, as sort of smoke screen as they passed between the towering walls of water on either side.  And then, on the opposite shore, they watched as the Egyptian army followed them into the sea-bed.  Imagine the horror as those liquid walls came crashing down upon the Egyptians.  It must have been a horrible sight – to the Egyptian horses and riders and crumpled chariots washed upon the shore (Exodus 14: 30). 

Rabbi Johanan  taught that as the Egyptians were drowning the angels of heaven began to sing and to rejoice, chanting their hymns– but God rebuked them saying, “The work ofmy hands is being drowned in the sea, and shall you chant hymns?


I imagine that it would have been tempting for the Israelites to cheer when they saw those bruised and battered and bloated bodies on the shore.  We want the bad guys to get what they deserve.  We want justice to be done.  We need justice to be done. But the line between the desire for justice and the desire for revenge is thin.  The desire for revenge and justice is natural and normal.  But dangerous.   Like fire that can cook food, heat homes, and disinfect can also burn, and destroy and kill. The need for justice or the desire for revenge can help or hurt us.

We want justice.  We want the oppressors to be punished, indeed we need for them to be punished.  But we should not let ourselves be so filled with hatred for our enemies, for our oppressors, for those who would hurt us – that we begin to enjoy and celebrate their pain and death.

Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls, when they stumble do not let your heart rejoice.”

The German language has a word for this, it is schadenfreude - literally that is: “harm joy.”  A somewhat silly example of this is the slapstick humor of the Three Stooges.  We laugh when they take a prat fall, or get smacked upside the head with a shovel, hit with a frying pan.  But it becomes a matter of hatred and even sin when we begin to celebrate the pain and ruination of our enemies. 

Jesus said that we should “Love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44 / Luke 6:27).  This is a difficult thing to do.

A number of years ago I received word that a fellow Salvation Army officer – an officer who had been … less than kind to me, had been injured in a car accident.  I remember that my first thought upon hearing of his injuries was, “well good!”  I, for that brief moment, took some perverse pleasure in the fact that he’d been hurt.  And I did not like myself very much in that moment. 

We must somehow learn to love our enemies – to pray for and even bless those who would do us harm.  Even as we celebrate justice and the punishment of evil men and women, we must somehow learn to love them.  We must be people of love, not people of hate.

There is no room for schadenfreude in our salvation.  

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