Love is Triumphant

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 1 Corinthians 13:6

The Germans call it “Schadenfreude.” You might not know the term, but I think you know the feeling.

What is love like? Self-sacrificial, self-giving agape is the love God shows for us in Jesus Christ, and it is also the love Christians try to show to others as the surest indication that we really do know Jesus Christ and our lives have been changed as a result of having experienced his love ourselves. So let’s run through the list once more:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. . .

(1 Corinthians 13:4-8, niv)

One of love’s characteristic actions is expressed in these words: “Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” Love never delights in evil, but only in what is right and true and good.

Rejoicing At Evil?

But does anyone, apart from a handful of obviously sick individuals, actually rejoice at evil? At first thought, you might not imagine that anyone could. Who could take delight in suffering, in the needless hurt that evil inflicts? And indeed, we do not rejoice when evil happens to us. No one is happy about experiencing pain himself. Nor do many of us take delight when bad things happen to good people. We hear about a natural disaster like an earthquake or a flood that kills thousands in a faraway place and we think, “How terrible!” We read about a fatal accident that destroys a family and we feel a momentary sympathy. We shake our heads that life can be so sad. “That is too bad,” we say to ourselves, before moving on to the sports or television page.

But human nature is a very complicated, sometimes twisted, thing. Sympathy is not the only thing people feel when they hear news of tragedy striking or sorrow befalling others. When a terrorist bomb exploded in Oklahoma City, killing more than 160, including many children, a city, a state, and a nation were stunned, shocked, appalled. But not everyone. There were some who, while they probably did not welcome the thought of the innocent people who died, nevertheless so hated the government that they took a certain satisfaction in this monstrous act against it. The fact is, people do rejoice at evil – when it befalls their enemies. A suicide bomber blows up a bus in Jerusalem, and there is dancing in the streets in Gaza. An apocalyptic cult releases deadly poison gas in a crowded Tokyo train station, and its followers delight in this demonstration of their power.

The Germans call it Schadenfreude. It is a wonderful word for a terrible thing. It means literally “joy in calamity.” Schadenfreude is the perverse pleasure we take in the misfortunes of others, the dark glee we feel when an enemy stumbles and falls, the secret enjoyment we get when the fortunes of someone we dislike take a sudden turn for the worse.

Maybe you are thinking, “I’m not that way. I don’t wish ill of anyone. I try to get along with everybody.” But let’s be honest with ourselves. No, you have probably never wished for somebody’s death or openly celebrated a horrible act of evil, but think about some lesser, everyday examples.

A tree falls on the new car of your unfriendly neighbor, the one he has just been showing off and bragging about to everyone. Aren’t you tempted to laugh? A rich man in your community becomes crippled with an incurable disease. Isn’t there a certain grim satisfaction that he will not be able to fully enjoy the money you never had? Your rival has been bettering you in competition until an injury stops him. Your toughest business competitor experiences a sudden reversal that helps you immensely. A pastor in another church, a man you have secretly envied because he is more successful than you, is disgraced by a sex scandal and forced to resign. What do you feel deep down? Nothing but sorrow?

Schadenfreude is a sly and subtle kind of rejoicing. It is a delicious inward pleasure, made up of self-love, gratified envy, and the enjoyable experience of feeling indignation, disgust and moral superiority all at once. And most of us cannot resist it.

Love and Evil

But Christian love does resist it. Love never rejoices at evil, not even the evil that befalls those who deserve it and tempts us to say, “Good; it serves them right.” If love refuses to take pleasure in anything bad, we might then wonder how it does react. What does agape do when it is faced with evil? Look at this series of practical instructions for Christian loving from another of the apostle Paul’s letters.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection. . . .

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. . . . Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. . . . never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”. . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Romans 12:9-21, nrsv)

Here are three ways in which genuine love responds to evil.

  1. Love hates evil. Genuine love knows and sees the truth about evil. It does not think evil is anything other than what it is. The fact that as Christians we refuse to be glad about even the bad things that happen to bad people does not mean we ignore or excuse those people. Love is not indifferent to wrong, nor does it excuse it. Love hates and rejects all evil because it recognizes exactly how awful it is. Evil is an offense against the goodness and the glory of God. Evil is a terrible thing, an alien intruder in God’s good creation, and we must never think of it as tolerable or acceptable. When people hurt us by doing evil, we cannot pretend it does not matter. Simply saying, “It is all right. I love you anyway,” is hypocrisy, not real love. Genuine love feels evil deeply. It refuses to justify it. It struggles to fulfill the old clich?: to hate sin while still loving the sinner.
  2. Love forgives evil. “Bless those who persecute you,” says the apostle. “Bless and do not curse them.” The only way you can pray for blessing for your enemies instead of cursing them is by learning how to forgive them. Here is another of the things the love song in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us about love – it is not resentful. “[Love] keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5).

    Resentment is the mental practice of record-keeping. Our natural human tendency is to store up all the wrongs and hurts and injuries that others have done to us in our memory, like so many computer files. Then we play them back every so often to enjoy the thrill of indignation that remembering gives us. Perhaps you have things like that filed away in your memory. Someone did you a wrong once that hurt badly. It may have been years ago but you can recall every word, every image of the incident, as if it happened yesterday. Wouldn’t it really be better for you to forgive and forget all those old wrongs?

    When I want to delete a file from the memory of my computer, a picture of a little waste bin filled with crumpled paper appears on the screen. I point to it, click a button, and the bin is miraculously emptied. It would be wonderful if we could get rid of resentment that easily, if we could erase our memories of evil just as simply. But it is not easy. Forgiving is hard, and just as we manage to do it, we discover the waste bin is full again of the same old memories, and we have to empty it out all over. It is only the grace of experiencing God’s forgiveness ourselves in Jesus Christ that gives us the power to offer forgiveness to others. Christ alone can teach us the love that keeps no record of wrongs.

  3. Love overcomes evil. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil . . . never avenge yourselves . . . for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord’. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17-19, 21, nrsv). Love overcomes evil with good. The desire for revenge can be extremely powerful – to repay evil for evil, to want the person who injured us to suffer just as much in return. We often disguise our thirst for revenge as a desire for justice; but deep down, it is mostly a craving to hurt because we have been hurt.

Yet love learns to leave all these things to God. Love realizes that issues of justice belong to him, that ultimately revenge for evil only leads to an ever increasing spiral of more evil, more hatred, more violence, with no end in sight. So love responds to persecution with blessing, to sin with forgiveness. Love allows God to have his way with respect to justice. Love overcomes evil with good.

Can It Happen? It Has!

I can guess what you are thinking. “Do you really expect me to take this seriously? To respond with forgiveness and love and blessing to those who hate me and mistreat me? To forswear revenge against those who have hurt me deeply? That is asking too much. That is not the way things are. Good does not overcome evil. Only greater force overcomes evil.”

And yet I can think of one place where it actually happened. I know of at least one Person who really did respond this way. His enemies arrested him, lied about him, got him sentenced to death on a false charge. Then they mocked him, spat upon him, slapped him, ridiculed him, and finally beat him bloody. At last they took him out to the place of execution, nailed him to a cross between two condemned criminals, and there he died. And as he died he said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus Christ is the Lord of heaven and earth. With one word, he could have destroyed all his enemies. Yet he allowed the evil of the cross to seemingly overcome him. But the truth is that it was there, at the cross of Jesus Christ, that love triumphed and evil was overcome by perfect good. Because of this, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ you too have the power to overcome evil with good. By faith, Christ’s love can fill you, giving you the power to forgive and forget the wrongs done to you, to keep no score of them because you trust God to do the necessary record keeping, to bless those who persecute you, to forgive as Christ has forgiven you, not to rejoice in the wrong but to be joyful only for the good and the right – in short, to love.