When an enemy is shown the door what should we do? Proverbs 24: 17 tells us not to gloat over the death of our enemy, as one Professor of Christian Ethics would have us remember [see this]. The Book of Proverbs has an acute psychological sense: gloating is haute cuisine to our lip-smacking appetite for fancying ourselves fit creatures to sit at God’s table. Gloating comes naturally. What comes less naturally and pegs the rheostat of my
b#llsh*t meter cognitive dissonance is the sanctimonious claptrap of those whose response to the gloating is to say, “Christians can’t take pleasure in anyone’s death.”
To such wise I want to offer delicately two pieces of advice. First: Write less. Leave such sentences to those who in this case might say them on good authority, to the families of those whose sons and daughters, moms and dads, were murdered on 9/11, and the ones loved by those men and women who were given their walking papers trying to hunt down the bad guy. Quit pontificating and read the Book of Job. Good theology is reticence and learning to say your prayers. It’s knowing what to say to God or about God and it is knowing when to shut up.
Taming the tongue is tougher than finding a terrorist. We’ll win the war on terror before we win that battle. Do I wish the gloaters would bite their tongues? Yes. But godhelpus I also wish some Christians would know when to shut up and when to keep reading.
That’s the second piece of advice: Read more. The Book of Proverbs doesn’t compose parallel couplets for the sake of our argument, to make it easy for us to quote the first half and conceal or ignore the rest.
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the LORD see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from him.
— Proverbs 24: 17 – 18 [my emphasis]
Why not gloat? Because it’s better to get out of the way so that the God of justice isn’t distracted. The professor quotes the first half of this couplet. By concealing the rest he forces the Bible to say platitudes—what we expect it to say—when what it gives us is higher octane altogether.
The Bible has a disdain for moralistic harangues. It has also, in the Book of Proverbs as elsewhere, a wisdom, and a sense of humor, lost on one Professor of Christian Ethics and much of North American Christianity.