"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him." Proverbs 24:17-18
Something about our hearts is revealed in how we react to news of bad things happening to people we don't like.
Maybe it's a co-worker we can't stand, or a neighbor we wish would move away. Or perhaps someone from long ago who wronged us somehow. Whoever it might be, we are tempted to respond to their hardship with satisfaction, vindication, even glee. We've decided that person deserves it. He had it coming, and we are glad to have a front row seat.
Is this the heart God wants us to have? Is this a sign of His Spirit within us?
Your former spouse who left you for someone else has now been left by that person.
Your obnoxious neighbor loses his home to foreclosure.
Your former business partner who cheated you has filed for bankruptcy.
Your dishonest boss is found out and terminated by the company.
The inmate who murdered your loved one is himself murdered in prison.
These are imaginary scenarios for most of us, but they are all too real for more people than we know. In each case, doesn't the offender get what he deserves? We are tempted to say, "Of course!"
May we always be cautious in prescribing what other people deserve. The fact is, there is only one thing every human being deserves, and that is the wrath of God. But by the grace of God, we have the opportunity to be spared that wrath, and instead receive His eternal love.
When will we be called upon to practice mercy toward the undeserving, even if it is only in our thoughts? By the same token, when might I be the one receiving "poetic justice", to the delight of someone who thinks I deserve it?
Looking back at Proverbs 24:17-18, the passage ends with a warning that, if we celebrate the downfall of our enemy, God might turn away His wrath from that enemy. This implies that the calamity befalling our enemy might very well be deserved. The passage is not arguing that offenders should not receive what they deserve. The argument is only that a child of God should not take delight in it when it happens.
It all comes down to knowing your place.
A schoolteacher does not walk into the principal's office and make changes to the staff newsletter.
A worker on a construction site does not make changes to the blueprint.
The clay does not say to the potter, "Don't make me this way."
The child of God does not celebrate when bad things happen to people, even if we believe the person had it coming.