"...and God saw that it was good."
-Genesis 1:4 and 1:9 and 1:12 and 1:18 and 1:21 and 1:25
Every few years I teach through the beginning of Genesis with our church. I think many times we miss the point of this origin story, reducing it to a scientific prooftext that doesn't really lead us to encounter a God full of creative goodness and relationship.
The story that begins us is remarkably different from the origin stories of other cultures. Instead of the world being created as a result of a cosmic battle between the gods, our story says that world is created simply by the power of God's good word.
For the God of love, words create worlds. And the world God creates is deeply, wonderfully, fully, good. No other ancient origin story was like that. It was radical. Still is.
So I've been thinking a lot about about the power of words, and about partnering to create cultures of goodness.
My friend J.R. Briggs recently taught me about a word that he has become familiar with. It's called "freudenfreude."
Now, you may have heard the word "schadenfreude" before. It's a German word that refers to the not-so-great human tendency to delight in the misery of other people. This is when folks are happy to see that guy get "what was coming to him." It's that deeply disturbing character flaw in my children that makes them laugh hysterically every time I stub my toe and roll on the ground in agony for 5 minutes. That's messed up, guys.
And yet, we all know that feeling. And it's not always so humorous. It can stem from jealousy, competition, or the desire for people to be put in their place. Even in its most innocent forms, "schadenfreude" is often rooted in this thought: I'm glad that's not me!
But there's an opposite word out there too. Social scientists use the word “freudenfreude,” (from the German word for joy) to describe the bliss that we feel when good things happen to someone else, even if it has no benefit to us. It's that moment when we see something wonderful happen to someone, and we are just grateful that such goodness exists. It's linked to wanting the best for others. And that means that it's linked to Jesus' call to love our neighbors, and to God's vision of creating cultures marked by goodness.
What if we tried to be more intentional with our words and thoughts in this way? How would it change our lives to see good things happening to and through people, and tell them how wonderful we think it is? What if our natural inclination was to notice what is delightful about someone instead of what we don't like? And even beyond that.... what if our character became so Christlike that we just genuinely got happy when others experience good fortune? Can you imagine how much that would impact our communities? Our churches would be noticeable places of goodness and shared joy. People could come in and experience a refuge from the competitive and comparative environments around them, realizing that we truly want each other to flourish, and we delight in it.
God has given us abundant life. And there is no shortage of it. There is grace enough for everyone, without reservation. Therefore, we can leave behind the need to protect our "piece of the pie." We can leave behind our need to see mean people "get their due." We can leave behind the jealousy that threatens to steal our God-enabled joy and contentment.
Instead, we can long for goodness and freedom for each person, even the people we don't like or agree with! And we can participate in helping each other experience the goodness that flows from God's good world and God's good word.
We can be people who practice freudenfreude, thinking "I'm glad it's them!" for all the right reasons.
Take a look today. Where can you notice someone around you and delight in God's goodness toward them?
Jesus, shape my identity so deeply that I effortlessly delight in goodness for others.