Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
I Corinthians 13:6, NRSV
In February 1994, I was waiting to hear if I’d made it into a PhD program. When a letter of acceptance came, it was a relief as much as it was a pleasure. I wasn’t too upset when the rejection letter from another program arrived. Disappointed, but not particularly angry with the school that turned me down. I didn’t give it much thought until I ran into another applicant. After six rejection letters, he had just opened his first acceptance letter.
“When I publish my first book, when I get my first job, when I’m famous, I’m going to write every school that didn’t take me and make them sorry for being so stupid.” The odd thing? He had a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face, looking for all the world like revenge for his rejection was worth celebrating just as much as his acceptance.
I understand the perverse pleasure of justified anger and righteous indignation, the lure of an undeserved slight that makes vengeful thoughts not only acceptable but perhaps even commendable. Especially if the slight was intentional. Rejection letters may not be my reason for spiteful thoughts, but I’ve had them, too. An opportunity to say “I told you so” or “You’ll be sorry,” the chance to spit poison and feel virtuous doing so sets fire to the heart and blood like nothing else.
But that’s the problem: returning pain for pain, insult for insult, harm for harm. Burning down the house because someone scorched a hole in the tablecloth, all the while rejoicing in destroying self and other in a glorious conflagration. In the end, it all ends in bitter ashes and choking smoke. Because rejoicing in wrongdoing – mine or someone else’s – doesn’t sustain the spirit: it kills it. Only acting in love for self and other can do that. A true reason to rejoice!