My husband and I were talking about this earlier today. I know the definition of four-syllable German words I’ve beaten to death might seem like an odd topic to discuss over spaghetti, but it was something I was thinking about in regards to the kingdom of God. I wanted to settle a debate, if only in my own head.
Exactly what constitutes Schadenfreude? I’m not sure it’s always capitalized, but I’ve seen it a lot when talking about revenge and forgiveness.
One question was is it an active or passive term? The idea is that you didn’t cause the misfortune, but you like the results of it. Exactly what does that mean, though?
I’ll admit to having indulged in this a bit. Actually, more than a bit. In some cases, a lot. I know it’s wrong, but sometimes it can’t be helped.
Is it poetic justice? For instance, I had a boyfriend in college who was a Class A jerk. Not all the time, mind you-there were some good things-but generally he’s not someone I’d associate with today and only stayed with because I got sucked into his dirty black hole. To be fair, there were a lot of good things, mostly his family and the way he’d say I was beautiful-I was shy and awkward growing up, so I did *not* hear this very often. I wasn’t always an angel either. He was in the Air Force and, one summer, had to go to ROTC field training-basically officer-training boot camp. Being a total sexist pig, he made some comments that were directed at and heard by a female superior. It was one of those cases where you only hear half of what was said, but apparently it was the wrong half because he was called in front of her and two (male) superiors and had to explain himself. This is probably bad of me, but I was glad he “finally got what was coming to him”…he’d made very sexually-tilted comments to me and about other female cadets and, thus far, had gotten away with it because they weren’t heard by anyone in charge.
I know that “qualifies”-in fact, it’s textbook. But what about pleasure taken at something you could have done, but didn’t? The knowledge that you could have caused a lot of harm to someone who hurt you, but never really would?
A conversation with my dad-a career Navy man-over ten years later told me that I could have really screwed my ex over because his ex-wife-not my mother-caused a lot of trouble for him by telling his superior officers all these lies about things he did to her (cheating and verbal abuse come to mind) for no reason other than to hurt him. She was a civilian, by the way. My ex never cheated, but he did do a lot of other things that I did not realize were actionable at the time-harassing my friends and other potential suitors behind my back, begging off coaching PT the next morning so he could fake a suicide threat that night, turning in one of my English papers as his own etc. Some of it illegal, but all against the rules of his program. I got confirmation from some former cadets and officers I spoke with when doing research for other projects, although that wasn’t what I was looking for. Most importantly, all of it true. If I had known about this and were vindictive enough, I could have effed-up his career big time. Sometimes I wish I had.
Nothing happened with my dad, by the way. His supervisor knew she was nuttier than a Snickers bar and basically ignored her.
I *did* manage to let superior cadets know about things he did or said regarding them, but that was only because I called their attention to it while it was happening. Don’t ask.
My point is, what level of schadenfreude-if any-was acceptable in this situation? Was my being glad he got into trouble for running his mouth? Were the “I could have gotten even” thoughts I had after talking to my dad? Would it have been sinful if I *had* gone to his superiors-I wouldn’t be lying, after all. I’d have been believed, too, since I’d have witnesses. But would my intent be at issue?
When does it become sinful, or does it? The impression I got was anything beyond laughing at Chevy Chase fall on Saturday Night Live or saying, “I told you so” was wading into that territory. Perhaps it’s referring to a spiteful kind of glee, the kind you might have if someone “gets what they deserve”. The kind of smug satisfaction I see in the eyes of some Christians when things like the earthquake in Haiti or the 2004 tsunami happen in places with “pagan” beliefs (voodoo and Islam come to mind)? I know a lot of people are excited about the End Times, where all of God’s children will be saved while the rest of the world suffers. Exactly when and in what order these things happen varies by doctrine, but the idea is that 1/3 of the world’s population will be ravaged by disease while another 1/3 dies in some kind of conflict. As happy as I’m glad for my Savior to come back, I just can’t get past all the suffering. Maybe something’s wrong with me. I don’t know.
I don’t really have an ending for this, so I’ll leave it here. My fingers are tired anyway.