By Chuck Griffin
The little prophetic book of Obadiah contains a description of an emotion so nasty that God promised to destroy those who felt it.
Oddly, as powerful an emotion as it is, we don’t have a word for it in English. The Germans call it schadenfreude. The Greeks call it epichairekakia.
It is the joy we sometimes feel when someone else experiences trouble. Usually, that someone else is a rival or enemy, and we are reminded in Obadiah that we can treat people quite close to us as rivals or enemies.
Obadiah, a prophet we know little about, described in 21 tight verses why God would destroy the Edomites. The Edomites, you may recall, were the descendants of Esau, twin brother of Jacob. Jacob, of course, was a progenitor of the Israelites.
In other words, the Israelites and the Edomites were cousins. They considered themselves the killing kind rather than the kissing kind, however, keeping alive some very old grudges going back to their twin forefathers.
While we don’t know the exact time frame for Obadiah, his prophecy clearly came after the Israelites had suffered terrible defeat and destruction. The Edomites were guilty not so much of committing violence, but of reveling in what they witnessed.
“You should not have gloated over your brother on the day of his misfortune; you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah on the day of their ruin; you should not have boasted on the day of their distress,” God said to the Edomites through Obadiah.
The desire to grin at a rival’s pain is such a common emotion that I’m surprised we don’t have a word for it in English. Perhaps we need one; it’s hard to identify and repent from a sin when you cannot name it. “Malevojoy,” a fusion of “malevolence” and “joy,” might work.
We see such perverse emotion displayed again in the New Testament, as Jesus is hanging on the cross. The chief priests, scribes and elders watch their rival bleeding and dying and mock him, no doubt with grins on their faces.
“And the people stood by watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!'” (Luke 23:35.)
The potential result of their malevojoy seems much different in the New Testament, however. We are told in Luke how Jesus dealt with such people before they so much as spoke, knowing full well the judgment his enemies might face one day. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Even at his death, Jesus felt only love and pity for his rivals.
Dear Lord, forgive us for the nameless sins we commit. Amen.