One of the quirky things about language is that translation isn’t a 1-1 science. What I mean by that is English words don’t always have exact counterparts in other languages. You may have heard the famous example of ‘love’, which in English has a pretty wide range of meanings. We can love pizza, love football, love our friends and love our romantic partner. Same word, very different meanings.
Greek has several different ways to express love, from eros, the physical love, to philos, the love between friends to agape, the unconditional divine love.
I learned German in school, German has this quirky ability to smash words together to make a new word. We do this a little bit in English – think schoolbus – but German does it on a whole different level.
A classic example is the word schadenfreude. It comes from two words schade, bad, and freude, joy. Bad joy.
Schadenfreude is that feeling of joy you get when something bad happens to someone else.
Like when that aggressive driver gets pulled over.
Or that obnoxious co-worker gets written up.
We know it’s bad to feel that way – but it feels good, doesn’t it? To revel, even privately, in someone else getting taken down a peg or two?
There’s a particularly religious version of this impulse that I want to explore today. We see it in the attitude of street preachers who delight in telling passers-by they’re going to hell. Or in the judgment of long-time church folk who seem to relish the punishment they know is in store for sinners.
We shouldn’t want people to go to hell, should we?
I want to get at the root of that attitude today. Here’s the question I want to ask: Is faith primarily something we do for ourselves? Or is faith something we do for the world?