When is schadenfreude a sin?

If your enemy be hungry, give him food to eat, if he be thirsty, give him to drink;
For live coals you will heap on his head, and the LORD will vindicate you. Prov. 25:21-22

If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.
Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath;
for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Rather, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;

  • for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head*."
    Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good. Rom. 12:18-21

When is it OK to be motivated or encouraged by the thought of a bad emotional state in someone else? Does it matter if you caused it or not, or how it was caused? Is that schadenfreude?

Is schadenfreude (literally: “damage joy,” or pleasure at what is unpleasant for others) ever a good thing? Is it always a bad thing?

I am not sure that this would qualify, but if a person is led to repentence and has a painful time of it, it may be a cause for joy that the person is repenting, even if he has to go through suffering to achieve it.

I have never heard of the term “schadenfreude”.

hummmm …not sure I fully understand.

Schadenfreude is taking pleasure in the suffering of others. If it isn’t a sin, it certainly should be. But make sure you recognize when it is actually taking place. For example if a parent watches a child struggle with some difficult thing. That is not schadenfreude when there is value in what is being struggled with. It should also not be confused with relief that it isn’t you. So if a comet comes out of the sky and destroys the house next door, feeling relief that it did not happen to you doesn’t count.
It is more like if your neighbor is beating his wife, and the sound of her screams gives you pleasure. Or enjoying looking at the charred bodies when you pass an accident on the highway.
Sounds like a sin to me. But then again, I am not one of the sin experts here

Oh well taking pleasure from the suffering of others …like a personal enemy is wrong.

That’s like right from the sermon on the mount. …’ forgive us our trespasses,: as we forgive them that trespass against us…’

That’s like Christianity 101…not easy to do either.

OK…so how is it a motivation to do good to your enemy to realize that “by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head”? It sounds very much as if watching your enemy squirm is part of the recompense of doing them good, even in the New Testament.

It seems to me it is OK to enjoy it when someone is not enjoying what is ultimately for their welfare, provided that what you are enjoying is actually for their welfare. Is there any other time it is harmless to enjoy watching your enemy squirm?

D-R Bible, Haydock Commentary:

Rom 12:18-21

Ver. 18. If it be possible,…have peace with all. That is, if it can be without prejudice to truth or justice, &c. And even when others wrong you, seek not to revenge yourselves, but leave your cause to God. Do good offices even to those that do evil to you. (Witham)

Ver. 19. Give place to wrath. That we do, says St. Chrysostom, when we leave all to God, and endeavour to return good for evil. (Witham)

Ver. 20. Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. This figurative way of speaking is differently expounded. Some say, inasmuch as by this means thou shalt make him liable to greater punishments from God. Others, as St. Jerome and St. Augustine, by coals of fire, understand kindnesses and benefits, which shall touch the heart, and inflame the affections even of thy enemies, which shall make them sorry for what they have done, and become thy friends. (Witham)

Ver. 21. This is the apostle’s conclusion of the foregoing instructions. Be not overcome by the malice of thy enemy, so as to wish to revenge thyself, without leaving all to the just judgment of God; but overcome his malice by thy kindness. This is complied with, when upon occasion of injuries received we always make a return of kindness, and in proportion as the malice of our enemies increases, our spirit of benevolence should also increase. (Estius)

Maybe “coals of fire” may be like “tongues of fire” in the sense of the seeds of understanding upon your enemy. In this sense, the enemy will have the beginnings of the fire of understanding of the wisdom of good Christian practices. It is maybe intellectually sparking thought processes which leads to the ignition of the fire of God’s love in the heart of your enemy. It would be interesting to see if “coals of fire” are used in any other OT symbolism. Again, maybe its a two-edge sword in that if they get it and don’t change, then they are wilfully incorrigible and the coals of fire will kindle the fires of hell. Also, the symbolism of coals of fire invokes the idea of consuming by fire - an all-consuming burning passion - an obsession to find out what motivates a person to return good for evil and, is it a wisdom or lunacy. The idea is that your enemy will be unable to shake the question from his mind because it is an all-consuming question.

The motivation to pray for and feed your enemy is not to heap burning coals upon his head. The passages clearly say that vengence is God’s.

I believe Carolus Martell was correct in citing the Sermon on the Mount.

Fire was often used to symbolize purification. Fire flows from God’s throne in Daniel and Revelation. An angel touched Daniel’s lips with a burning coal and purified his mouth. Etc.


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