Friday, May 23, 2014

For the Bullied

Crowning with Thorns
Dirk van Baburen, 1623

Matthew 27:27-31
"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil." (1 Peter 3:13-17)

For the purposes of this article, "bullying" will be defined as unwarranted aggressive physical or verbal abuse that is meant to make the target feel inferior. Through the detached pseudo-anonymity provided by sites like Facebook and YouTube, we feel able to type horrible things each other with our keyboards we'd never dream of saying with our mouths. But this behavior isn't unique to children. Adults endure it in all sorts of forms: from our spouses, our bosses and coworkers, our neighbors and our friends, and as Christians are becoming an increasingly popular and accepted target for bullies, from people we don't even know. Being bullied is one of the most difficult forms of persecution for anyone to endure, and it's one of the many abuses our Lord endured during His passion that finally ended in His death. 

Christ on the Cross
"For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust." (1 Peter 2:15-18)
Now the hardest part: we are called to endure this abuse in kindness. That doesn't mean that we don't stand up for ourselves, and it doesn't mean that we suffer silence, but all that we do to "silence the ignorance of foolish people," we do out of love for them and for God (Ephesians 4:15). We protect ourselves and those who are weaker than us, but we don't fight violence with violence. For the sake of the other, it's our responsibility to help our brothers and sisters who are continually sinning (Matthew 18:15-17) (and yes, even those who hate us are our neighbors whom we are called to love -- Matthew 5:43). 
In short, we lovingly tell the bully that what they're doing is wrong, we turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), and we tell them and anyone else who might be watching why (1 Peter 3:14).
Bullying is a sin (Mark 12:31). It's a sin against you, and it's a sin against God who loves you, and those who deliberately continue in sin receive no mercy on account of Christ's sacrifice, but only judgement (Hebrews 10:26). It's a fate far worse than the taunting and ridicule we endure—even though that taunting hurts us to our very core—and one we should never, ever wish it on even the most despicable of people (Luke 9:51-56). So, we (or our parents) call the bully out in private and point their sin out to them. If the bully doesn't listen to us, we ask for help from teachers, parents, friends, and other authorities (Matthew 18:15-17). If that still doesn't work and life is being made unbearable, we finally "shake off the dust" and change schools or jobs or whatever we have to in order to remove ourselves from the abuse (Luke 9:1-6).

Our response would look a lot different if our primary goal was to get the bullying to stop, to make the bully feel as bad as they make us feel, or our own personal safety and well-being. It's not. Our primary goal is always to bring all people--no matter who they are or what they've done--to Christ in love.

Way, way, way easier said than done. But do not lose heart. Your fight to endure ridicule and cruelty while remaining kind was ultimately won by Christ on the cross when He uttered the kindest words ever spoken on behalf of any tormentor: "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) Can we do the same? We are not God. All we can do is our best to love those who hate us, and that's all we need to do because Christ died for those who hated Him. And that includes you, me, and the bully.
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit." (1 Peter 3:18)

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