Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (1 Cor. 13:6)
I have never enjoyed another’s comeuppance more than when watching the mishaps of Wily Coyote. The Roadrunner was just living life, and Wily was hell-bent on sending the quick little bird into his canine stomach. As a teen, I’d watch the title card for one of Boomerang’s reruns and wonder, “How is that dastardly dog going to get his this time?” I’d laugh after his boulder trap backfired and think, “Serves you right.”
Now, I’m not saying laughing at cartoon shenanigans is bad. They’re hilarious in an innocent way. But the tendency to enjoy the retribution of another illuminates the theme of this post: as humans with an innate sense of right and wrong, we appreciate when justice is served. In fact, at times, we rejoice.
Now, good will always be good, and bad will always be bad. That much is apparent. Jesus says plainly that you cannot take roses from thorn bushes. I’m not here to dispute the difference between right and wrong. But let me introduce an idea that is a little more obscured by our sense of what is “right.” It’s one thing to applaud the law being upheld; however, it is another to enjoy the justice being meted out. But, Love doesn’t take pleasure in the pain of others.
Glibness at wrongdoings comes easy, though. Why else would news outlets pack their programs full of tragedy, vice, and cruelty if not to awaken a sense of outrage? We get a thrill of righteous vindication when we see what’s wrong with the world. “Hey,” we think, “they should get theirs, and we weren’t a part of it.” The offenders get their crimes repaid, and we get to project our own guilt onto them in a grim catharsis.
But what about love? Where does love come in to this?
True love does not rejoice in evil, or even in evil’s wages, because it regrets that there is evil to corrupt even the most unlovable people. True love mourns because even when the moral balance is upheld, the relationship between the offender and the only One who can truly fix them is strained. We mourn over the souls of the victim and the oppressed, but what of the souls of the oppressors?
In a way, our love—when in concert with God’s ways—echoes His nature of being both just and loving. Christians are meant to be “tiny Christs” that protect and uphold the truth, without losing sight that we are incapable of completely achieving righteousness—especially in ourselves. That’s where God’s love comes in.
True love empathizes rather than chants for the offender’s head. It looks at the sentence of thieves, murderers, and abusers, saying, “But for the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain;” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
We get the basics of justice from the laws of God. While some may spurn God and His law, all truth and morality stems from Him. God is the truth we are all reaching toward, and the only truth that fully satisfies our hunger for righteousness; because He is righteousness. At the same time, God mercifully comprehends the shortcoming of our humanity. Let us not forget that God redeemed us from our lack of goodness, before we could even desire goodness.
Like in the cartoon, our sin was hung over us like a precariously perched boulder that should have crushed us as justice would have demanded. Thankfully, rather than allowing us to reap the reward of our own trap, God stepped in to protect us in love and mercy. In return, rather than delighting when others are flattened by their their own misdeeds, God has given us the ability to extend grace in place of condemnation.
Now that’s something worth rejoicing about.