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When my wife and I walked into the small, darkened auditorium, we saw something that has been almost as unforgettable as the documentary we had come to see. Scattered and spread out among the many empty seats, a few parents sat with children in a manner that, as I recall, looked more like a visit to a doctor’s office than to a Saturday afternoon cinema.

The film, Bully, a 2011 production about the problem of bullying in US schools, was troubling to watch. It followed the lives of five children who experienced ridicule and physical assault at bus stops, in school buses, classrooms, locker rooms, and bathrooms. Two of them eventually took their own lives.

The film’s writer and director, Lee Hirsch, has a personal interest in giving a voice to traumatized children. He says that he was bullied as a child. But he also speaks for heartbroken parents who want to honor the lives of sons and daughters by telling their story in hope of making a difference in the lives of others. Their pain is intercut by interviews with school personnel and community leaders who say they are powerless to change the fact that children can be cruel to “those who are different.”

My guess is that the parents and children in that darkened auditorium around us had their own stories.

Since then, I’ve thought often about a problem that is far more common than many of us want to admit. By definition bullying is aggressive behavior that uses power, coercion, or verbal abuse to humiliate and exploit the weakness of others. As such, it is not a recent problem. Neither is it limited to school children or from the kind of people you’d expect.

Long ago, the Bible documented many different kinds of bullying. Some examples were obvious as when a giant by the name of Goliath used his enormous hulk and bulk to mock the fearful soldiers of Israel (1 Samuel 17). Other instances had more to do with the abuse of power. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel misused their influence to deprive a landowner of his life and property (1 Kings 21).

Other examples of bullying come from even more unlikely places. The prophet Nathan, for instance, tells the story of a wealthy landowner who callously broke the heart of a poor man. According to Nathan, the rich man owned large herds of sheep. The poor man had only one little lamb, a treasured pet that was not only like a member of the poor man’s family but was loved like a daughter. Yet when the rich man needed to provide a meal for a traveler, he didn’t slaughter an animal from his own flocks. Instead the man of great means used the house pet of the poor man to feed his guest (2 Samuel 12).

The irony is that Nathan used the story to confront the same person who had earlier stopped the bully Goliath with a lowly slingshot. Years later, it was King David himself who heartlessly misused his power to take the wife and life of one of his own generals (2 Samuel 11–12).

How could someone that we now remember as “a man after God’s own heart” have become so self-absorbed as to act like the bullying Goliath he had once stopped?

Even though the Bible doesn’t give us a direct answer, it’s not hard to think of possibilities. As king of Israel, David had the wealth and power of a nation at his disposal. He had a reputation for being a heroic spiritual leader, and his victim wasn’t even Jewish. According to the Bible, Bathsheba’s husband was Uriah the Hittite (Exodus 34:11). Who knows if Uriah’s ancestral ties to historic enemies of Israel might have helped David rationalize his adultery and complicity in Uriah’s death on the battlefield.

David, a man after God’s own heart, had become a royal bully. In the season of his scandal, Bathsheba and Uriah seemed to exist for his own use and disposal.

If he continued to pray, it wasn’t because he was still on speaking terms with the heart of his God. It took a prophet’s wisdom and courage to bring him to his senses (2 Samuel 12:7-14).

Only with the coming of a son of David named Jesus, however, do we get the full picture of how contrary bullying is not only to our God, but to our own humanity as well.

Who can begin to explain the implications of what was happening as the King of kings allowed Himself to be bullied, mocked, beaten, spit upon, and then nailed to an executioner’s cross for helpless people as broken, weak, and needy as us?

Father in heaven, it’s taken some of us a long time to learn that real strength is gentle, and that real authority is found in knowing and expressing the spirit of Your Son. Please help us treat others with the same kindness and patience that You have shown us. —Mart DeHaan

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10 Responses to “Bully”

  1. poohpity says:

    I agree Mart, so many adults use bullying and say it is something else. Look in marriages when one partner forces their wills on the others without consideration of the other person needs. Name calling and other verbal abuses when someone disagrees or presents a different point.

    I have always admired people who are gentle even though they may be really strong but do not need to prove it. Jesus is a excellent example by not Lording over people or even pointing to faults. He did not use His Deity to force anyone to desire Him and when people He loved walked away He gave them time to come back on their own. He could have used all the angels in heaven to defend Him but He accepted God’s will and went to the Cross.

    I would like to say that I have never bullied anyone but since I read this article I have been thinking about it and I am sad to say that I have by not having patience when I should and feeling angry with those who may not know any better. Very good article.

  2. sonofrandy says:

    Thanks for posting about this issue. I have yet to see this film. I was bullied as a kid, and so I bullied when I had the chance. It’s a cycle. After Jesus found me, I was able to forgive and understand those who bullied me (and also forgive myself for bullying). I later discovered Krav Maga (Hebrew for “contact combat”). Krav has helped me further understand the nature of bullying and how to avoid it and/or stop it. Bullying operates out of fear. If we only fear God, then there’s no bully that can harm us.

  3. oneg2dblu says:

    Mart… Thank you for leading us into this so timely and needed discussion.
    I do not see bullying as a form of wielding one’s power over others, as being executed upon the weaker subjects as it appears.
    I see this weapon as a weakness in the one who chooses to use it upon others, and has nothing to do with the one’s that were chosen by the bully to be his victims, but only to show they themselves weaker than those they try to attack.

    Story of David and Goliath is a perfect example, it exposes the real underlying story as it supports my point of view.

    The fact that Goliath in all his apparent large size and power as he and others thought he had and was so effectively displaying, had a very obvious weakness to those who are empowered by God and see the unprotected area that becomes exposed and is an easy target once identified.

    It only took one stone, or one morsel of truth properly applied or revealed, to make the giant who was completely unaware of his own undoing, become the actual victim of his own demise.
    A self fulfilling prophesy if you will, of his elevated self corrupted nature, thinking only of himself.
    Goliath fell to his death only because he was exposed to his greatest weakness, apparently thinking he was the more powerful opponent.
    I know that turns your description of bullying on its head and makes the bully the actual victim, not the one’s he chooses to display his false power on, but his hidden tortured self.
    I pray for the bully, not the supposed victims we think we are or see so apparent in our society today.
    The bully is the weaker one, and always will be, when he must face his own truth.
    God who prepares the little ones, like David, the ones who appear to be weaker to the world and seem so ever attractive to the bully who now demands their attention, soon finds the balance of power has turned against those who think they are more mighty in their world’s view, but in God’s view which is always truth, they are the weaker ones.
    If Goliath could have walked away, he would have won the battle! Gary

  4. tcochrun says:

    Thanks for this post Mart.
    Bullying occurs in the “public square” these days. Politicians bully when seeking political advantage at the cost of the common good, or when holding stubbornly to their own view, unwilling to reason. The media is full of bullying. So many of the cable news panels of experts are home to people who bully others by volume, bombast and harangue. It is fun to imagine how Jesus, or Peter, or Paul would relate in the context of today’s media. My sense is that Christ’s love and forbearance would expunge the heat and emotion. Now Paul and Peter might evince extraordinary passion in debating skills. Still, they would not bully.

  5. timothy55 says:

    Bullying is not nice; in fact, it is evil be cause it the bully is putting himself in the position of God making a person think he is worthless. The accounts that end in suicide show the devaluation of a person created in God’s image can go so far that the bullied person feels their life is hopeless and they take their life.

    While we wish we could eliminate bullies, there have always been bullies and there probably always will be bullies, until Christ returns. Still there is something that can be done to help those who are bullied. Why wasn’t David defeated by Goliath’s belittling statements? Why wasn’t Jesus stopped by the Pharisees’ belittling comments? David knew he was a child of God, and had the backing of Almighty God. Jesus knew He was the Son of God and He knew He was truth and God incarnate. I was bullied in elementary school through high school, but I knew I had loving parents, and that I was a child of God. That knowledge that I was loved on earth and in heaven gave me enough confidence to laugh off the bullying, at least later. I do remember crying when a couple of older boys sat on me, to pin me to the ground, but I don’t remember being upset long about it. I knew there was evil in the world, and did not think it was unreasonable that the evil in the world had spilled into my life. Jesus said “In the world you will have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world!”

    I think we need to keep working at stopping bullying, but we also need to build up kids to assure them of our love, and God’s love.

  6. lostandfound3 says:

    i agree with sonofrandy. I too was bullied alot in grammar and in High school. When I went to work in a factory I was the bully to those I saw as weaker than I. Fortunately Jesus found me later in life, and opened the door for me to become a hospital chaplain. In this ministry I have encountered a few of those who I bullied and was able to ask forgiveness. I have met some who bullied me and I only felt kindness toward them. I don’t think they even remembered as I didn’t even need to bring it up. Praise God for His work of changing hardened hearts of stone to softened hearts of love!!

  7. billnix says:

    As a primary school student of British ancestry living in South America I was bullied by some local boys who did not like me because I looked different and they hated all things British. It did not help that I was also smaller than they were, which gave them confidence they could get away with it. Daily physical and verbal assaults in the School Bus were routine and the bus driver, instead of trying to stop the bullying, actually encouraged the bullies. My mom was always surprised at the dirty and torn school uniform when I arrived home each day but I did not tell her about the bullying. Dad was more perceptive and gave me some advice, which while it fixed the problem, was probably not a Christian way of dealing with this sort of situation. Dad explained that bullies were cowards who thought their victims would not strike back and they would change their ways as soon as they understood there was a price to pay if they bullied me. With some trepidation I put Dad’s advise into use the next afternoon and when the bully came over I was quick to punch him in the face and give him a black eye. Of course, he hit me back, so we both got hurt, but the lesson did not go unheeded, the bully realised if he tried to bully me physically or verbally he would also get hurt. The bullying quickly ceased as none of the bullies wanted to get hurt themselves. I adopted a policy of zero tolerance, at the first provocation came instant retaliation. It sort of makes me think about the cold war, when neither Russia or the USA were prepared to attack the other because of the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction.
    In later years I gave my first son the same advise when he suffered from bullying at school, but he was too timid (or loving) to put it into practise and would come home often in tears. Not sure how this works in a Christian context. Jesus said we were to forgive our enemies and pray for them. HE must be right (HE always is), in which case my Dad’s advise was wrong. But when we look at the world, did America forgive Bin Laden for 9/11 and pray for the terrorist? No, they sent an elite force to find him and destroy him. I have to wonder what would Jesus have done in similar circumstances.

  8. frankh says:

    Growing up in the dictatorship of the Trujillo regime in Dominican Republic, bullying was rampant, terrifying, and deadly. When I came to this country and worked up the corporate business ranks, I experienced different types of bullying, not as deadly as in the DR, but the type that could spell financial ruin if you didn’t fall in step with the program.

    My biggest surprise was to find bullying in the church under a presumptuous mantle of leadership that demanded blind and unquestioning obedience, parading shameful hubris in the name of our Lord. I’ve left a number of churches for the narrow-mindness and self-righteous attitudes of so-called “true believers” and hypochritical unctious practitioners of the very gospel that calls for humbleness and forgiveness.

    We, as Christians, have to watch our own reactions and behaviors to make certain we’re not bullies in our dealings with our families, friends, and strangers so that we may be exhibit the Lord’s grace in us under difficult circumstances.

  9. jerry56 says:

    Humbled and praying for wisdom as I spent time with my daughter in a mental health ward this weekend. Years of bullying, lack of acceptance at school, church, youth group. Improper med dosages prescribed, counselors with poor advice, inaccurate mental health evaluations, massive depression, friends committing suicide, friends using alcohol and illegal drugs, teen friends pregnancies, my daughter has been exposed to alot at an early age. She has lost her faith so her parents have to trust God for her. Love your kids, hug them often, pray for them and ask God for a hedge of protection on each child and your home, spend time with each child and hold them in your arms. Love them, Pastor Jerry.

  10. DustyRose says:

    Thank you so very much Brother DeHaan for posting this article. It is such a timely article for the day that we live in. My heart goes out to all children who suffer from bullying, and also to the parents who have lost their precious children to this horrible tragedy. This is another obvious sign that time is drawing nearer to Jesus’s return. The closer the time is for His return there will be more and more incidents of terrible behavior among those who care more for themselves than for others. I tell my children and grandchildren to keep their eyes on Jesus and know that His return is soon and all the bad things that happen to them will one day be a thing of the past. Also, I remind them to try to forgive those who hurt them. When you forgive others it helps to heal your heart as well and helps to free you from any mean-spirited ideas that the other person (or persons) may be trying to say against you. When Jesus returns these kinds of things (things like bullying) will be no more.

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