Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. – Psalm 137:7-8
Allow me to let you in a not-so-secret, secret. Pastor Mary is not a fan of writing the Daily Devotional. Not every pastor enjoys every aspect of the calling and this piece does not rank among her favorite parts of the call. This is unfortunate because she is good at it. I enjoy the devotionals she writes, and I also find a slight amount of mischievous joy in the hyper pained expression she has every time I ask her to write one. Some may define this as a form of schadenfreude.
Schadenfreude is a compound German word. Schaden translates as “harm” or “damage” and “freude” means joy. A simple definition of schadenfreude is joy experienced at another’s expense. A more dramatic definition would be rejoicing in someone else’s suffering. It is this deeper definition that is directly prohibited in Proverbs 24:17-18, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” And despite the admonishment, this is exactly what the Psalmist does in 137.
The Psalmist is remembering the pain the people of Jerusalem felt when the Babylonian empire destroyed the city. As Jerusalem fell, their neighbor, the Edomites rejoiced. It should be noted that the people of Edom were descendants of Esau. The tension between Edom and Judah was rooted in the tension between Esau and Jacob. The Psalmist is crying out to God and relishing in the image of another kingdom one day destroying Babylon (just as Babylon destroyed Jerusalem). This is classic schadenfreude and it shows up in several places in the Bible. You hear it in Moses’ prayerful song after the pursuing Egyptian army is drowned. You hear it in the prophecy of Micah. And you hear it in the Psalms.
Does this mean that schadenfreude is sanctioned by our scriptures? I don’t think so. I do think we see injustice in the world and that frustrates us. I think our longing for righteousness is healthy. I think the pursuit of just, whole, and right relationships is a worthwhile way to invest our energy (negative or positive). But the Psalmist doesn’t seem to be channeling his hurt, he (she) is just pouring out anger to God in prayer. And I think that’s OK, too. I love that the Bible includes schadenfreude in prayers. It reminds us that the scriptures are human and can reflect our experience. It reminds us that God is big enough to handle our emotions and we don’t need to hide them from God. It reminds us to bring our whole selves to God because only when we bring our full self can we be fully healed by the light of grace.