Schadenfreude and the Gospel of Love

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I recently heard a BBC broadcast in which the hosts were discussing the German word schadenfreude. Schadenfreude is the combination of two other German words: schaden (harm) and freude (joy). Put together, the word means to derive pleasure from someone else’s pain. I am not aware of any equivalent term in the English language, but I’ve known people who get a kick out of seeing others suffer. You might be one of those individuals who, upon seeing your enemy hit hard times, think to yourself, “that serves them right!” Maybe an old boss, coworker, family member, or even an ex-spouse has wronged you in a deep way and you loathe their existence. When you see them down on luck you then begin to feel a sense of satisfaction and righteous pleasure. The Germans would say “schadenfreude!”

In the beatitudes, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5: 44). Schadenfreude might be a term in German, but it has no place in the Christian vocabulary. According to Jesus, we are called to love our enemies, and not only love them, but also pray for them. To pray for an enemy would be the exact opposite of schadenfreude. To pray for someone, as Jesus speaks of it here, implies that you are actively seeking the good for your enemy and not deriving pleasure from their pain.

Jesus said to love your enemy so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. In other words, our love for the enemy should mirror the love that the Father has for each and every one of us. If the truth be told, we were once God’s enemies, but he loved us anyway. He loved us so much that he sent Jesus so that we might be reconciled to Him and one another. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…” (Romans 5:10).

(Rev. Will Wilson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore. Contact him at revwillwilson@gmail.com)

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