I agree with the author who suggested that this kind of response, “shows us human antagonism in one of its basest and most unheroic forms” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.). This is also detestable to God.
Why are we drawn to bad news about others? Could it be a diversionary tactic to make us feel better about ourselves? We must guard against this deeply sinful tendency.
But for some people this isn’t an occasional experience. There are people who habitually enjoy bad news about others. Let’s call such people “social cannibals.”
Social cannibals look for satisfaction and pleasure in the problems, difficulties and failures of others. They feed on weaknesses in others. It’s dangerous to be in their company because you might end up in their pot. They might look to feast on you!
This tendency starts early as siblings tattle on each other and find pleasure in seeing brothers or sisters get in trouble. Some parents foolishly fail to correct these tendencies because they display the same behavior themselves.
Don’t think for a moment that this behavior is left behind with childhood. Adults are just as guilty — albeit in more refined ways. Sometimes they nurture social cannibalism in the way they talk about those who “compete” with their children.
Here is a predatory form of behavior that can be found in every culture and class of people. Although cannibal sounds like a term for the jungle, social cannibalism is often more prevalent among refined and ostensibly religious people.
The Germans call the behavior schadenfreude. It’s a twisted and sadistic pleasure of the heart at the misfortune of others. It threatens all good relationships. Look more closely:
Schadenfreude: (shäd’n-froi’də) a compound German word (lit. “damage-joy). It refers to malicious joy in the misfortunes of others. From “schaden”– damage, harm, injury + “freude”–joy.
When bad things happen to people (or they suffer the consequences of the bad they do), there never seems to be a shortage of those willing to gloat over them. If your life is public and you enjoy some measure of success, expect people to want to see bad things happen to you. Sometimes they will even spread slanderous rumors to feed their desire to see you fall.
But why find satisfaction in the misfortune of others? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Are we really that insecure? Is our goal to redirect the light from our own sins on to those of others? We all have to battle this tendency to one extent or another.
Here we find one of the deepest evidences of evil and it’s more universal than most admit. Some hide their schadenfreude behind a hypocritical veneers of concern. Openly gloating over another is bad, but it’s more detestable to appear publically sympathetic while privately gloating. Some speak of the failures of others with sneering smugness; others act publically concerned while privately feeding a sense of moral superiority and malicious delight. Both responses come from deeply depraved hearts—no matter how much one feigns religious or spiritual concern.
Have you ever transparently shared a personal misfortune with another only to feel that she found a kind of pleasure in your circumstances? Perhaps she lets out a little laugh and you’re not sure if indicates a strange enjoyment in what you shared.
This is what the Germans call schadenfreude (i. e. enjoyment obtained from the trouble of others). Envy is a close cousin.
People who find pleasure in the misfortune of others also tend to be equally displeased by the good fortune of others (envious). Here are two evils feeding off each other: schadenfreude and envy.
These behaviors reflect the depths of human antagonism and destroy true love.
“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” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).
“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 from envy and together turn friendship and good fellowship into a rancorous sham bles” (Ibid).
Whatever the motive for gloating, we’re told to resist it. “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice” (Proverbs 24:17). “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). Love “…does not delight in evil” (I Corinthians 13:5-6).
Perhaps the one easiest to gloat over is an enemy. When those who hurt us suffer, it’s tempting to enjoy their pain. But Jesus taught his followers to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
A man or woman of godly character refuses to stoop to social cannibalism. People who claim to be Christians and engage in the evils of schadenfreude and envy must see their attitudes and actions as profound contradictions of the gospel
The gospel tells us that God loved us when we were his 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).
Cannibalistic behaviors like schadenfreude and envy will not find a home in hearts filled with God’s love.