Gloating is a sly character who nudges us from righteous victory, into celebrating the destruction of someone under the power of sin. Well-written stories lead us to root for the hero and applaud the demise of the villain, especially if the punishment fits the crime. Who doesn’t want Robin Hood to bring down the Sheriff of Nottingham or Luke Skywalker to cut Darth Vader in half with that light sabre? There is a God-given quality in all of us that seeks for balance in the world, for Davids to defeat Goliaths.
I remember an elementary bully who tormented my brother relentlessly. Bruce found creative ways to ruin our neighborhood playground by pushing kids off swings, smearing dog poop on the slide and other nasty stuff. One of his favorite tricks involved sneaking up on kids hanging upside on the monkey bars and pushing their legs off. I’m positive angelic host guarded that playground because there should have been some serious head injuries.
One day, Bruce and a couple of his buddies hung upside down on a parallel bar right over a generous mud puddle, the kind created by busy children in grassy playgrounds and a good thunderstorm. While my friends and I watched from the swing sets, a group of kids Bruce’s age, sick of him bothering their younger siblings, dumped he and his friends on their heads, in the puddle.
Possibly, that part of the plan could be deemed kid justice but then, the perpetrators started wailing on Bruce. They kept beating him until he stopped fighting. Most of the playground cheered and sneered while Bruce and his friends slunk home. I know that kind of scene comes across great in movies, but even to my child eyes, it reeked of revenge. Bruce came from a family of alcoholics, who beat their children frequently, and everyone on the street knew it. Yes, Bruce needed some standing up to and consequences, but he also needed someone to recognize that he was trapped in sin, just like his parents.
The people of Edom hated their brother Israelites due to the theft of Esau’s birthright by Jacob. They felt that Israel didn’t deserve to live in the fertile promised land, while they carved out their existence in the rough mountains. Then, when Israel turned to worshipping other Gods, in the promised land, that truly frosted the Edomite’s cookies. You need to be filled with a good deal of unexpressed anger, hatred and resentment to act the way they did.
First, they blocked the Israelites escape routes from the God-sent judgement of the Assyrian army. Then, they took their revenge a step further and slaughtered all the fleeing Israelites they came found. Finally, the Edomites threw themselves a gloating party, celebrating the demise of Israel, and God heard them.
“You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.” Obad. 12
We can transition from righteous rejoicing to gloating over an enemy’s fall, when we forget two things. First, every perpetrator of evil is themselves a victim of Satan. He’s lied and deceived them to such a point that sin is normalized. Second, we lose sight of God’s desire that no one should perish. This does not mean that we oppose justice and punishment. God’s laws and precepts are perfect and designed to benefit humans, not harm them. His design for justice decrees that lawbreakers must face consequences, sometimes severe ones but never with gloating or boasting.
Justice is rolling out in unprecedented ways across the world right now. Human and drug trafficking kingpins, like El Chapo, and their organizations, are being exposed. Millions of people are awakening to the true nature of the abortion industry. Those are just two of many examples.
What about the injustices we experience personally? Violent crime, sexual abuse, unjust firings or demotions, theft, fraud, even just plain old bullying can tempt us to sin in so many ways. When we are in pain, it becomes easy to want revenge and to rejoice in an unhealthy way when our perpetrator is brought to justice or is brought low by their own life choices. This is a tough, tough place to be and only God can keep our hearts and minds in such a place. He still commands us, in Phillipipians 4:8, to focus our minds on what is true, noble, of good report, pure, lovely admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.
How should mature believers respond righteously when we see wickedness exposed and justice administered? How can we avoid falling into sin ourselves if we or someone we love is the victim of violence or wickedness?
Forgive those who sin against you and yours whether they seek forgiveness or not. This is non-negotiable for your own spiritual health Mark 11:25
Trust God to execute justice rightly, even when it doesn’t seem to be happening. Isaiah 35:4
Pray that the wicked are exposed completely, and that they are unable to hide their deeds any longer. Mark 4:22
Pray for yourself and other victims they they are redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. Don’t make a place for thoughts about revenge or retaliation, as these things are pure poison to the soul. Isaiah 61:7, I Peter 5:10, Psalm 71:20-21
Pray for evil doers to come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Like Bruce, many wicked people are raised in sin and know no other way of life. 2 Peter 3:8-10 Although this will not excuse them from judgement by God, recognize that their path to The Light has been thwarted by darkness at every turn.
Ask God to keep your heart and mouth pure that you do not gloat about lives crushed by their own sinful choices. It’s just too easy to slip into a “Good! They got what’s comin’ to them,” posture when we see lawbreakers brought to account. Psalm 51:10
God seeks righteous, pure hearted people in these last days, people who will pray and stand faithfully for truth. Don’t be placed to the back of the ranks because God catches you dancing on graves.