Last weekend, Bill Maher, the host of Real Time, expressed his delight that a billionaire businessman had died. “Yesterday, David Koch, of the zillionaire Koch brothers, died of prostate cancer. I guess I’m going to have to reevaluate my low opinion of prostate cancer,” he said. After listing a number of reasons why he couldn’t stand Koch, Maher ended his monologue with, “I'm glad he’s dead, and I hope the end was painful.”
I was taken aback by the sheer joy with which Mr. Maher danced on the grave of David Koch, but I’m not surprised. After all, we all—on whatever scale—want to see our opponents suffer. In a 2013 study, researchers from Princeton University found that many people rejoice in others’ misfortune. One of the study’s researchers, Mina Cikara, said “A lack of empathy is not always pathological. It’s a human response, and not everyone experiences this, but a significant portion does.”
Researchers found we are usually happy about others’ misfortune when they are our competitors—whether sports or political or business—or when they have high status—such as celebrities, businesspeople, or politicians.
As a citizen of the United States, Bill Maher has a right to his opinions, and he has a right to share them. Also, because he is as an avowed atheist, he will live by his own set of standards. This means rejoicing in someone else’s painful illness and death is an option for him.
For people who believe in Jesus, however, no matter what country you call home, you are a citizen of God’s kingdom. You are set apart and told: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). You are called to fight against your human response, against your natural lack of empathy.
It means more than just not wishing for someone to have a painful death. Proverbs 24:17 tells us, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.”
When I truly search my heart, I can quickly call to mind people I don’t care for, the people I would enjoy watching stumble. (Oh, I might not say it out loud as Bill Maher did, but I sure would think it.) You probably have some people like that in your life too: the ones you resent, the ex-spouse, your boss, the friend who betrayed you, the doctor who misdiagnosed you. You know, the one who makes it hard for you to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31,32).
God’s research has shown that you can’t do this on your own but that with the Holy Spirit guarding your heart and your mind, you can do all things thanks to Jesus who gives you strength.
So, which “opponent” do you need to pray for today?
Linda Buxa is a writer and editor who really didn't want to take her own words to heart today. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, she did.
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