Christian Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude, German word that comes from two words that literally mean “harm-joy,” is that certain pleasure one feels at the misfortune of others.peanuts-schadenfreude-300x253

Do Christians feel this? Take a little look at FB or nearly any other social media outlet and it is there. Just the other day, I saw Christians reveling that an earthquake damaged some Buddhist monuments. A lot of “LIKES” from Christians. Presumably, they felt that God had intentionally decided to send an earthquake just to damage these structures, and add misery to their lives. Others seem so thrilled whenever anything bad happens to Islamists or political candidates on “the other side.” Right now it seems like so many want to connect disasters with homosexuality. Apparently, some countries are not mistreating homosexuals enough, so God is hitting them with natural disasters— or so the logic of some goes.

Christians are not alone in this. I remember 15 years ago, after the 9/11 attack on the twin towers, there was video of people celebrating in Gaza. A few days later, the revelry died down considerably, as many took time to reflect that this was not a blow against a political institution, but against fathers, mothers, children… fellow human beings. But my concern is not about how other people reconcile schadenfreude, but Christians. So, returning to 9/11, I recall a Christian friend of mine saying to me,

“I know I should feel sorry that so many people died in 9/11. But it happened in New York City, so most of them support abortion. I cannot feel bad what happened to them.”

Perhaps if he pictured them as lost sheep sought by Jesus, created by God in His own image rather than as “pro-choicers,” maybe he could find room for some empathy.

There is, actually, a positive side to schadenfreude. It is REAL and it is HUMAN. We are social beings who naturally create groupings of US versus THEM. We of a nature “love our friends and hate our enemies.” Facing that reality is not so bad, rather than pasting on a fake smile, and embrace the anemic virtue of “tolerance.” Schadenfreude could be said to be human nature.  But as Ruth Sayer (played by Katherine Hepburn) said in the movie The African Queen, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Certainly reveling in schadenfreude is not something for Christians to do. We should “weep with those who weep” rather than “laugh at those who weep.” If we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” and we are to “love our enemies;” presumably we should also desire God’s mercy  for those that we are tempted to be unmerciful to.

Frankly, when it comes to natural disasters, or even human-driven evils, it is questionable that we should presume them as God’s judgments anyway. The doctrines of Common Grace as well as the Fall (“Common ‘Curse'”) suggests that just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust, disasters cannot always be moralized or justified.

Jesus said that we should not judge… or at least not be quick to judge. You may think that Jesus call not to judge would not apply to disasters, but consider this passage.

At that time, some of those present told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2To this He replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? 3No, I tell you. But unless you repent, you too will all perish.   Luke 13:1-3

At the very least, Jesus discouraged judging in favor of introspection. Related to this, consider the broader passage on judging:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.   Matthew 7:1-5

I would suggest that one should not be quick to moralize the misfortunes of others; and even more so if one is not willing to consider one’s own misfortunes as being due to one’s own misdeeds. A better option is to help those in need.

Christian witness is always stronger when seen in terms of a helping hand rather than a pointing finger.


Seeking God’s Wrath?

Do some desire God’s wrathful judgment? It seems like it. Let me give you a case study and then discuss a few possibilities.

Amazing Lightning

Back in 2013, a devastating storm (Typhoon Yolanda— aka, Haiyan) struck the Visayas region of the Philippines, and across to Palawan. Thousands died. Shortly after, the “prophecies” of a Christian “prophet” (I apologize for the quotation marks… but I don’t like to use terms such as this for people who I feel don’t deserve them) were brought up as demonstration that:

  1.  This particular person, named Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj, had apparently predicted the storm as well as the Bohol earthquake, and thus must be a legitimate messenger of God’s revelation.
  2. The typhoon was not simply a meteorological event, but an act of God’s wrath— and there is more to come against the Philippines, and the world in general.

Anyway, a whole industry sprang up here in the Philippines, attempting to promote the prophecy as being true, as well as trying to argue that the other prophecies of this man were also true and will occur.

I did a post before that attempted to come up with a Score for the accuracy of his predictions. You can Click on it Here. I gave him a score of about 35%. Truthfully, that was a bit generous,  since I was giving him positive scores for predicting storms and earthquakes in the Philippines (you can hardly go wrong with that, especially since he gave no timeframe). Two years later, the prophecies appear to be no better than before.

But what I found strange, and still am challenged to accept, was the wild, and yes a bit gullible, acceptance of these prophecies by Filipinos, in particular. That is not to say that I expect Filipino Christians to be less than gullible than, say, American Christians (who certainly have a proven track record to be gullible at times). But since the prophecies were done to say that the Philippines is being uniquely judged by God, and then from there to the world, one might suspect that Filipinos, a great seemingly less deserving of God’s vengeance than many other groups worldwide, might be offended. 

Point of fact, though, was that there were so many who really wanted it to be true. This desire for these prophecies to be true grew to where people were spreading false reports on the Internet of more fulfillment of this prophecy. This was especially seen in reports of fulfillment of a prophecy that a flesh eating disease would spring up in Pangasinan (a province in the Northern Philippines, just down the mountain from where I live) and then spread throughout the world. These false reports grew and grew until finally a major news carrier put out a short report on TV that the disease was, indeed, happening in Pangasinan.

Within minutes of the report, the Internet was swarming with people looking up this event.  I got thousands of hits in one day from people trying to figure out what is going on (I consider myself blessed if I get dozens of hits in one day). The report was false. Even though flesh eating bacteria is a real thing, there was no epidemic in Pangasinan, and it hasn’t spread to the rest of the world. Presumably, the prediction that a disease will spring up in Cebu and turn people black, is likewise erroneous.


I don’t really know— I have more interest in God’s mercy than His judgment myself— but I can try to make a few guesses. Perhaps some are true.

  1.  Evangelicals (and I am lumping most Pentecostals and Charismatics as well into this poorly defined conglomerate) are commonly taught to, almost desperately, desire the return of Christ. I cannot relate to this. I am in Mission work, and there is so much to do that I can hardly see the desire to have even less time to get things done. If your neighbor is not a follower of Christ, do you really desire that Christ come back before he has responded? Really? Some might say that it is simply a desire to be with God… but all of us are only a couple of heartbeats away from being with God… so why desperately seek for others to be before God before they are ready? Regardless, for many, this is taught as a doctrinal truth— “Christ is returning any day, and the sooner the better.” By the way, as an Evangelical, I do believe in the return of Christ, but I would prefer the statement— “Christ is returning any day, and may I be found faithful when He comes for me” regardless if He comes to me in life or in death.
  2. Some Christians are addicted to Signs and Wonders. I believe that God can do and does miracles, and may still at times do them as a sign (particularly, I believe, in places that first gain access to the gospel). However, miracles have always been rare. Even Jesus often did not do miracles. Luke 5 notes that for Jesus on a certain day the power of the Lord was upon Him to heal, suggesting that on some days it was not. That suggestion was reinforced by the extent certain men went to to bring a paralytic man to Jesus on that particular day despite the fact that other days would probably be less difficult. Later in the Gospels, Jesus refused to do any more miraculous signs to convince the skeptics. But some have an addiction to signs and wonders. Some, like Charles Kraft, even try to argue that the challenge to follow Christ should (must?) start with an encounter of God’s power (typically miraculously). Others seem to have no interest in what God normally does (in Nature), or can do through his faithful servants acting according to God’s will to act with faithful compassion. For some, the interest is in miraculous acts. Sadly, this has tended to create an industry of chicanery with a Christian label slapped on. It has also devolved into people going away from praying worshipfully to God asking for His mercy, to people “declaring” to God what He must do and thanking Him that he “already” has done it.
  3. Some are More Comfortable with God’s Judgment than His Mercy. It has become a cliche’ to say that “Christians are mean-spirited, judgmental, hypocrites” But sometimes it is true. It doesn’t take much looking around social media to discover a lot of really man, nasty, judgmental Christians. They may mouth “the Love of Christ” but they find more resonance in a envisioning “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Some of the responses to Typhoon Yolanda from self-styled “prophets of God” was that the typhoon came because of homosexuality in the Philippines. Apparently, if Christians (over 90% of Filipinos would describe themselves as Christian) mistreated LGBTQ folk more, than God would be pleased and not have dumped all that wind and rain on the Philippines. Is that possible? I suppose it is— but I really suspect that pronouncements such as this dig deeper into the psyche of these “prophets” than into the mind of God. Schadenfreude (feeling good about the misfortunes of others) can affect Christians as much as anyone else.
  4. For some, perhaps bad news is better than no news. We live life walking backwards. We can see the past, and the present, but we can’t see the future. Curiously, We can’t change the past, but can only (potentially at least) change the future. Only perceiving the past but only being able to affect the future, not surprisingly, gives us a fair amount of angst. No wonder people spend so much money on books about the future, horoscopes, personal readings from various types of fortunetellers. Christians are not immune from this— books, radio and TV programming, and sermons are filled with end-time prophecies. When I was young, the Antichrist headed the European Common Market, and the Kingdom of the North was the Soviet Union. Since bother of these have gone, these “prophets” of today, change their stories. Today, the mark of the beast is a blacklight tatoo identifer, or perhaps an RFID. Next year? Who knows? Some Christian groups even put apocalyptic language into their names. What does this mean? I am not sure, but I wonder if for some the fear of the unknown is greater than the fear of a bad things ahead. In the movie White Noise, the three mysterious beings in the movie became less scary, to me at least, once we discovered what they really were— even though what they really were was pretty nasty. Of course, many Christians believe in the Rapture (I am holding to a “wait and see” position on that doctrine) so perhaps the bad news becomes interpreted as good news for themselves and a bit of schadenfreude (as I noted before) regarding others.

For me, at least, I would rather focus on hope and God’s mercy. I am not advocating a “pollyanna” denial of hurt and suffering, but there is certainly enough bad things in this world, without hoping and praying for more. I also feel that God has given us enough information to live by without knowing very much about the future.

  • Reason for ultimate hope
  • Warning to endure
  • Call to faithful service— regardless of what happens.

We have no control over God’s wrath since we have no control over God. But we can pray for His mercy— for all.