Hi all, just before the next QnA night I thought I would have a crack at one of the hardest questions that we have ever been asked.
You asked: where is God when I am being bullied?
As usual, perhaps let me begin by answering in as simple a statement as possible and then unpacking it. Simply put, I believe that when we are being bullied God is right there, giving us the courage and strength to endure it, whilst committing it to memory for the day of judgement/vindication.
As usual, I’m not sure how great or satisfying this answer is going to be. But I’ll do my best and at the very least I hope you can engage in the conversation
1 The power of recognising the presence of God.
I have recently noticed how many times in scripture it talks about God’s awareness of, and control over even the really bad stuff. Somehow, knowing the presence of God in even the darkest situation grants one the power to bear it. Just ask David before he was crowned king. Here’s an interesting verse in the Book of Job.
Job 26:6: The underworld is naked in God’s presence. The place of destruction is uncovered
It makes me realise that there is no situation so dark that God does not know exactly what is going on and that he is not able to work in. I will share a personal example later on. The perspective that focusing on God’s presence gives in any given situation is extraordinary. To apply this to a bully-victim situation, the more you think about who God is in the presence of that space you eventually realise that God loves the bully and the victim equally. The cross of Christ proves this.
Thus adopting his perspective allows us to see beyond those two categories and see the other primarily as a broken person in need of love. It is really important however to stress that this does not make bullying ‘ok’ or that we should simply put up with constant, unrelenting bullying. It does however mean that we can claim strength in the moment that not one single secular strategy can give us.
Only the Gospel compels us to view the other person not as they behave but as they hunger, for that is precisely how God views us. I often ask kids, “what is the most powerful thing you can say to a bully?” They’ll of course run through answers like: “tell them stop.” “tell them ‘am telling on you’.” “say nothing, just ignore it.” Then I get to tell them a principle founded only in the gospel of grace: “Nope, here’s what you do, look them right in the eye, soften your voice and say (insert name here) are you ok?”
Most kids burst out laughing, but some, when they’re finished, give it a try. I have had a few come back to me since and say “we’re now best mates as we discovered we’re going through similar stuff.” They don’t realise it, but they relied on God’s presence and his reality. They employed a gospel principal of looking past the label to the need.
2.What Satan would have us think.
This is of course the very thing that Satan is so intent of preventing. So he encourages as many as he can everywhere to join the never ending cycle of ignorance. (Everyone ignoring each other waiting for them to ‘sort their issues out’ before re-engaging with them.) And we wonder why we have so many lonely people. There’s three main ways that Satan get’s people to feel utterly isolated. He get’s them to think that:
- God doesn’t care.
- That we are always the victim and never the bully.
- That we are always the bully and never the victim.
If we think God doesn’t care we effectively delete God from every day considerations. As Dostoevsky effectively said; “if you ‘delete’ God, morality becomes a matter of personal opinion.” Therefore, to fall into the view that God doesn’t care, ends in you becoming the bully.
However, perhaps a more prevalent problem is the issue of adopting a victim mentality. If we slide into this then everything becomes everyone else’s fault. We then become un-correctable. While we’re quoting proverbs; Proverbs 15:12 says “mockers hate to be corrected, so they stay away from the wise.” I genuinely pity the people I have encountered who avoid people that they know will correct them. Little do they know that their efforts to protect themselves are precisely the source of their misery.
Lastly when people accept the label that they are a bully and simply doomed to be one for the rest of their lives, it merely pours ‘oil on the fire’ of their bullying behaviour as they see no compelling reason nor possibility to change. That is why the grace of a victim shown to a bully can be so powerful, it represents a voice calling in the desert to one held captive by self-doubt. On the other hand, to simply ignore a bully ultimately grants them more and more space to concoct worse and worse behaviour.
3. Why Judgement matters.
There is of course an answer. There is of course and end. There is….a reason for us to show grace to the bully. The reason is, God sees, knows and records. Nothing but nothing but NOTHING escapes the eyes of God. Unless you know this, there really is no compelling reason to resist the urge to retaliate.
Forgiveness in the Bible has nothing to do with taking the wrongdoing of others’ lightly. In fact, it is realising that God takes it far, far more seriously than we ever could. Therefore he is the only one who can be trusted with making amends.
The flip-side of judgement is vindication.
The eventual judgement of the evil will result in the vindication of righteousness. For those in Christ, the judgement of God poured out upon him at the cross will result in our (undeserved) vindication when we stand before him. For God cannot and will not judge the same sin twice.
To realise this ‘to our bones’ gives us the resources of gratitude required to enable us to bear up under suffering. Yet it also reminds us that our hands are not completely clean either and that there is no-one righteous, not even one before God. God’s judgements will always confront and confuse our own moral construct at some point for “his thoughts are above our thoughts and his ways are above our ways.”
Nonetheless, to know there is and will be a final judgement, is to know that there will be and end to bullying and all forms of evil behaviour. God is with us in the moment, reminding us “I will deal with is,” if we’re willing to hear him.
4. Confessions of a bully.
I was bullied, relentlessly in primary school. I thought that because I moved to a high school where no one knew me, it would stop. It didn’t. In fact, although I had a few friends, I felt extremely isolated and alone. Although I had grown up in a Christian home through my experience of how other people used me to take their minds off their own hurt and isolation, Satan began to win in me. Somewhere deep down he managed to convince me that God didn’t care.
I realised if that was the case, it wouldn’t matter what I did. So I became what I hated most. One day in year 9, I saw someone picking on one of my friends in my group of mates and I was surprised by how angry I got. I launched myself at him, punching him in the face and head over and over again. Relentlessly. I only stopped when the deputy saw me and took me straight to the office.
As I sat in the waiting chairs outside his office, I was terrified. Not of being in trouble. not of what people would think of me (though that was in the back of my mind.) But of what I had become. I began to sob uncontrollably.
At that moment, the chaplain of the school, a guy named Greg Letch, happened to walk past, just as the deputy stepped out of his office to call me in, He said to the Deputy, “He’s a really sorry young man Mr Connor, I know him he’s not that sort of person.”
Woah. I stepped into the office and there was my ‘victim’ Triston. He had encouraged the Deputy not to suspend me, or put the incident on my behaviour record. I found myself on the receiving end of grace from the person I attacked, a person that as far as I know, did not share my Christian upbringing. I’ve never been so humbled. It was one of the greatest lessons God ever taught me.
I was expecting to be expelled.
I never received so much as a lunchtime detention.
My victim saw me as a person in need of friendship when I saw him as a target. He modelled exactly what I was meant to.
In tears I thanked God.
I, Peter Randell am guilty of bullying.
As one guilty of being a bully let me tell you this. If you feel like a victim, you can by the power of God’s grace, save a bully from themselves. Through faith, you can transfer from being a victim to the rarest of victors, one who won a friend.