satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.
“The view of the misery of the damned will double the ardour of the love and gratitude of the saints of heaven.”
The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . .Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.
[“The Eternity of Hell Torments” (Sermon), April 1739 & Discourses on Various Important Subjects, 1738]
Thomas Boston, Scottish preacher, 1732
“God shall not pity them but laugh at their calamity. The righteous company in heaven shall rejoice in the execution of God’s judgment, and shall sing while the smoke riseth up for ever.”
Normally, the idea of schadenfreude would be seen as automatically out of bounds for someone who claims Christ but some of the best theologians of the Church throughout history have thought just the opposite and have embraced ideas of what we might call “Biblical Schadenfreude.” To be clear, there have been many of our greatest lights who have spoken that one character trait of the redeemed in heaven will be to delight in the misery of those who occupy hell who fought against Christ during their whole lives on earth.
Peter Lombard, the Master of Sentences
“Therefore the elect shall go forth…to see the torments of the impious, seeing which they will not be grieved, but will be satiated with joy at the sight of the unutterable calamity of the impious .” Sent. Iv 50, ad fin
“…the Blessed will see their friends and relations among the damned as often as they like but without the least of compassion.”
We should say at the outset that schadenfreude is a dangerous emotion only when injustice is celebrated, not when justice is served. In other words people can have a schadenfreude that is both consistent with a Biblical mindset and inconsistent with a Biblical mindset. A Biblical schadenfreude would be to feel pleasure when the wicked who dug their pits for the righteous, finally themselves fell into those pits (Psalm 7:15).
The Scripture drip with this kind of biblical schadenfreude. Read how Israel sings about Pharaoh’s defeat (Exodus 15). Go to the book of Proverbs and see the clear and unmistakable schadenfreude of Woman Wisdom (Proverbs 1:20-33). Go to I Kings 18 and join in Elijah’s schadenfreude as he mocks the bloodied pagan Priests.
This schadenfreude in Scripture reveals again that the Church in the West, as following the PC codes, is attempting to be nicer than God. There is no longer any capacity by Christians to laugh at the overturning of God’s enemies or to delight and cavort when those who attempt to overthrow God’s Kingdom are themselves overthrown. Indeed, the very mention of such an idea turns the stomachs of most modern Christians.
(speaks of the saints as being) “overjoyed in beholding the vengeance of God ,” and their beholding of the smoke of the torment of the wicked as “a passing delectation.”
“The door of mercy will be shut and all bowels of compassion denied, by God, who will laugh at their destruction; by angels and saints, who will rejoice when they see the vengeance’ by their fellow-suffer the devil and the damned rejoicing over their misery.” Catechetical Sermon
John Portmann, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, set forth his own schadenfreude theory several years ago in his book, ‘When Bad Things Happen to Other People.’ Portman offers that we all consider justice a virtue and feel pleasure when we see lawbreakers brought low. We might say that it’s all to the good that Christians experience biblical schadenfreude, because this pleasure reflects our reverence for God’s law and God’s character. We rejoice in the wicked’s misfortune, not in a sadistic manner, but rather because their misfortune vindicates God’s righteousness against their attempts to de-god God and en-god themselves. Thus, according to Portman, there is such a possibility as Biblical schadenfreude and to experience Biblical schadenfreude would be a corollary of justice rendered to the guilty and so God’s law being upheld.
“At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sages philosophers blushing in red-hot fires with their deluded pupils; so many tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers tripping more nimbly from anguish then ever before from applause.”
“What a spectacle. . .when the world. . .and its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? What my derision? Which sight gives me joy? As I see. . .illustrious monarchs. . . groaning in the lowest darkness, Philosophers. . .as fire consumes them! Poets trembling before the judgment-seat of. . .Christ! I shall hear the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; view play-actors. . .in the dissolving flame; behold wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows. . .What inquisitor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favor of seeing and exulting in such things as these? Yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of imagination.” [De Spectaculis, Chapter XXX]
“They who shall enter into [the] joy [of the Lord] shall know what is going on outside in the outer darkness. . .The saints’. . . knowledge, which shall be great, shall keep them acquainted. . .with the eternal sufferings of the lost.” [The City of God, Book 20, Chapter 22, “What is Meant by the Good Going Out to See the Punishment of the Wicked” & Book 22, Chapter 30, “Of the Eternal Felicity of the City of God, and of the Perpetual Sabbath”]
But where does all this biblical schadenfreude come from? Well, I would say that we laugh at the misfortune of the wicked because we laugh with the schadenfreude God of laughter.
1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people murmur in vain. 2 The kings of the earth band themselves, and the Princes are assembled together against the Lord, and against his Christ. 3 Let us break their bands, and cast their cords from us. 4 But he that dwelleth in the heaven shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. 5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure…
The wicked need repent or face God’s laughter and mocking. God laughs at the thought that the created would rise up to plot against the creator and God laughs as he vexes them in sore displeasure. God is a God of schadenfreude mirth and it only stands to reason that His people should be as well.
In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned. . .So that they may be urged the more to praise God. . .The saints in heaven know distinctly all that happens. . .to the damned. [Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, “Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned,” First Article, “Whether the Blessed in Heaven Will See the Sufferings of the Damned. . .”]
During America ‘s “Great Awakening” the popular hymn writer, Isaac Watts (1674-1748), even set Christians’ feet to tapping with this crisp little verse:
What bliss will fill the ransomed souls,
When they in glory dwell,
To see the sinner as he rolls,
In quenchless flames of hell.
St. Anthony Mary Claret
“Once [a soul] is condemned by God, then God’s friends agree in God’s judgment and condemnation. For all eternity they will not have a kind thought for this wretch. Rather they will be satisfied to see him in the flames as a victim of God’s justice. (“The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge . . .” Psalm 57:11) They will abhor him. A mother will look from paradise upon her own condemned son without being moved, as though she had never known him.”–
“The Pains of Hell,” Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, consisting of thirty-five meditations from The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius as explained by St. Anthony Mary Claret. St. Claret’s “explanations” were written in Spanish in the late 1800’s.
It is schadenfreude that the saints will experience in the judgment of the wicked at the great white throne judgment. The saints will and should find satisfaction and pleasure in the wicked’s misfortune because God’s justice is vindicated and their wicked plans to overthrow God are crushed.
Indeed, we might go so far as to say that where there is no schadenfreude where the wicked are caught in their own trap and so destroyed, there we find an example of sub-biblical Christianity.
Catholic Truth Society
What will it be like for a mother in heaven who sees her son burning in hell? She will glorify the justice of God. – Pamphlet from the late 1960s, part of a catechismal teaching [cited in an essay by the English poet, Stevie Smith, “Some Impediments to Christian Commitment”]
“…love and pity for hell’s occupants will not enter our hearts.” J.I. Packer in article “Hell’s Final Enigma” in “Christianity Today Magazine, April 22,2002 .”
This is a hard truth for modern Christians with our Arminian sentimentality. People in the modern Church see this as mean, and yet they do so without pausing to consider that not having a sense of satisfaction and pleasure at the misfortune of the wicked would be to not have a sense of satisfaction and pleasure that God’s name is upheld and esteemed.
Of course we should not enter into schadenfreude to soon. Even now, we should plead with the wicked that they might escape both God’s shadenfreude and ours. Even now, out of passion for God’s glory, and compassion for the rebellious we should command all men everywhere to repent. We should remind the need of men to “Kiss the Son lest He be angry and they perish in the way.”
When questioned whether the Blessed will not be saddened by seeing their nearest and dearest tortured answers, “Not in the least.”
“This display of the divine character will be most entertaining to all who love God, will give them the highest and most ineffable pleasure. Should the fire of this eternal punishment cease, it would in a great measure obscure the light of heaven, and put an end to a great part of the happiness and glory of the blessed.”