“Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice,
or the Lord will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from him.”
~Proverbs 24:17-18 (NIV).
This couplet of proverbs is crucial for living with a bent heart—a condition, unfortunately, that we’re all plagued with—hence the need of Jesus. But what most struck me with these proverbs was the dualistic reading—with them and Balthasar Gracian’s daily aphorism titled, “Show no self-satisfaction.”
The truth in the proverbs couplet we know oh so implicitly. When someone has wronged us we secretly delight in their downfall when it comes.
The master, Gracian, purports that our self-satisfaction arises from ignorance mainly; at times this is a ‘happy ignorance,’ though still it does us no good.
“Things depend on many circumstances,” he says, and these cannot often be seen, let alone controlled. And we know very well how fickle life can be. The same set of circumstances on different days brings entirely different and difficult-to-predict outcomes. We’re humbled as much as we triumph. A wisely discharged life holds back on its view regarding the consequences of most things.
When things turn pear-shaped for the person we think deserves ‘some of their own back’ we are best to avoid even thinking badly about them, wanting them punished. This is because thoughts propagate feelings and motivate, invisibly at times, action. God might otherwise turn his wrath (and the circumstances around) on us instead!
To not take up Satan’s offer to gloat in the presence of someone else’s downfall is not only wisdom it’s very much a good allegiance of faith also; it says, ‘I surrender my will to God on this occasion.’
It’s amazing how effective God’s vengeance is. When God exercises his judgment we can rightly pity people—no matter their fault or folly. We should pray that he’ll help us with compassion for those we’d ordinarily dislike or distrust. Compassion is the godly response, always.
It is never for us to judge the heart, but to only fully cooperate with God in the matter.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.