Wednesday, April 02, 2014


 Serge Bloch

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:29-32

There was an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday about spite. In the article an old Eastern European folk tale is mentioned about someone who will be granted a wish, but his hated neighbour will receive twice what he is given. After thought the response is "take one of my eyes." Now that's spite. The author is a bit more specific in defining spite: "after decades of focusing on such staples of bad behavior as aggressiveness, selfishness, narcissism and greed, scientists have turned their attention to the subtler and often unsettling theme of spite — the urge to punish, hurt, humiliate or harass another, even when one gains no obvious benefit and may well pay a cost." My mother used to admonish us with the expression "don't cut off you nose to spite your face."

Honestly, I seldom think about spite, yet I realize it is all around us. One of the common circumstances for spite to emerge is during a divorce, and clergy often find themselves in the midst of the maelstrom of separations and divorce.. A divorce lawyer friend once told me, rather wearily, that initially he is talking men "off the ledge" of selling everything at a ridiculous discount and moving to South America to spite their partners. I recall the story of the spurned wife of a British aristocrat who cut off one leg and one sleeve of all her husband's tailor-made suits before she left. Don't smile!

Spite in the bible seems to show up in the terms malice and bitterness. We're warned that it is toxic, and encouraged to find another way, the way of forgiveness. This is easier said than done, as most of us discover. The notion of "putting away" the nasty stuff is important, it seems to me. It is a form of "reframing" our circumstances and how we will derive satisfaction following our hurt. While it may be imperfect as a process, it is better than the alternative.

Have there been times in your life when you have been more spiteful than others, wanting the worst for someone else, no matter the cost to yourself? Have you learned how to move past spite and malice and anger? Should we bother trying? Can spite ever be good? The Times piece suggests yes.


roger said...

Oh, absolutely I've been spiteful. When someone's sole focus is on destroying you in any way possible, it is virtually impossible to not react that way. It definitely is toxic, but very hard to avoid.

David Mundy said...

Thanks for being honest Roger. Maybe others didn't want to admit it? We all have our moments and even seasons in our lives where spite takes hold. We can hope that our faith helps us to move on.

Judy Mcknight said...

I am sure we have all seen spiteful, if we have lived long enough (I have, by the way ... lived long enough, that is)- and maybe been spiteful a few times , too - the thing we have to learn is to forgive (or recognize our fault and apologize) and let it go ...hmmmmm, sounds like a sermon series I heard recently,. doesn't it?