When bad things happen to people (or when they suffer the consequences of the bad things they do), there’s usually no shortage of people willing to gloat over them.
- Why would we find satisfaction in the misfortune of others?
- Does it make us feel better about ourselves?
- Does it redirect the light from our own sins?
In The Lost Cosmos, Walker Percy wants to know that,
“the self—though it professes to be loving, caring, to prefer peace to war, concord to discord, life to death; to wish other selves well, not ill—in fact secretly relishes wars and rumors of wars, news of plane crashes, assassinations, mass murders, obituaries, to say nothing of local acquaintances dropping dead in the streets, gossip about neighbors getting in fights or being detected in sexual scandals, embezzlements and other disgraces?”
Why are we drawn to gloat over others?
Perhaps the ancient sin of envy lies behind gloating.
“Envy is resentment of someone else’s good, plus the itch to despoil her of it. Its natural corollary is what the Germans call Schadenfreude, the enjoyment of someone else’s despoilment. The envier not only sorrows over another’s good fortune and wants it to change; he also rejoices in another’s misfortune and wants it to persist. Hence an envious conservatory student may feel privately delighted at the memory lapse of a rival during her recital performance” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to be, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.).
Envious people find sadistic pleasure in the downfall of others. Worse, they will appear publicly sympathetic while privately gloating.
“Envy (and its gloating subsidiary, Schadenfreude) shows us human antagonism in one of its basest and most unheroic forms. Wherever we find envy, we find the wreckage of human and Christian community. Envious people backbite. They deliver congratulations with a smile that, in another light, might be taken for a sneer.” (Plantinga).
“The envier gossips. He saves up bad news about others and passes it around like an appetizer at happy hour. The envier grumbles. He murmurs. He complains that all the wrong people are getting ahead. Spite, bitterness, discord which undoes all friendships, accusation, malignity—all these things flow form envy and together turn friendship and good fellowship into a rancorous shambles” (Plantinga).
Scripture warns: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice” (Proverbs 24:17). Remember this: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). Alternatively, love “…does not delight in evil” (I Corinthians 13:5-6).
Perhaps the person easiest to gloat over is an enemy. When those who hurt us suffer, it’s tempting to enjoy their pain. But Jesus’ commanded people to love their enemies. This is not easy to obey but by recalling that God loved us when we were his enemies, we are empowered to love others—even our enemies.
“…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8,10).
Ask God to fill your heart with His love so that you can overcome gloating and envy.
See also: Social Cannibals