Schadenfreude

June 1, 2020

Scripture Readings

“Oh, how the mighty have fallen!” – David, lamenting Saul. This is one of those phrases that are almost never used the way it was originally meant. When we see a celebrity hauled away in cuffs, or a famous religious leader mired in a sexual scandal, someone sarcastically intones, “Oh, how the mighty have fallen.” It’s a sentiment so common that the Germans coined a word for it. Schadenfreude: shameful joy.

If anybody had a right to feel shameful joy about the death of Saul, it’d be David. Saul tried to kill him with the Israelite army, the Philistine army, and even tried to spear him to a wall.

Despite Saul’s murderous intentions, David spared Saul’s life on multiple occasions as others begged him to strike, saying it must be God’s will that David kills Saul. And it did seem like God was passing him the executioner’s axe. But David wouldn’t do it.

Can I confess something? I want David to kill him too. I want him to kill him in the cave, and I want him to let Abishai kill him in his sleep, but no matter how many times I read it, David never pulls the trigger. Why? Because Saul’s the Lord’s Anointed. That’s the only reason David ever gives. For him, that’s the end of the argument.

So, how do we treat the Lord’s Anointed? Our pastors are anointed much the way Saul was, some oil on the head and a blessing. And while I’ve not yet attempted murder, I confess that pastors have not always been protected from my slander and gossip. I’ve made unguarded comments and some rather pointed criticism of my pastors. Sometimes to their faces, sometimes not.

I’m ashamed of this, but I’m not alone in this. I’ve had the opportunity to write for national and international church leaders, and I can tell you, we North Americans have a reputation for having little to no respect for the Lord’s Anointed. It’s appalling. 

This passage convicts me because I’ve mistreated the Lord’s Anointed, and I’ve sometimes felt shameful joy at their failures. But if I were like David, I couldn’t feel Schadenfreude at the fall of even a corrupt church leader. Instead, I’d cry out, “Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” in genuine despair. 

David’s disastrous and public failures make it easy to wonder why he’s called “a man after God’s own heart,” but this clears it up, doesn’t it? He has unwavering reverence for God’s Anointed, and he grieves the death of his enemies. 

That’s God’s heart. It’s not mine, but I’d like it to be.

Adam Schnell

Beloved playwright of Foothills who loves helping people think about Jesus.