by Pastor Jason Poling
“Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured.” – Hebrews 13:13
There are few things that make me as angry as bullying, whether it be on the playground, in the workplace, in the slave ships, in the abortion clinics, or in the concentration camps. We all universally feel these strong emotions of disgust toward the act of bullying because we have all been made in the image of God, and He absolutely despises the abuse of the weak with a holy hatred.
“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child [essentially, anyone who is weaker and more vulnerable]. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you” (Exodus 23:22-24). You have to have a serious death wish to be a bully.
But what should you do as a parent if your child is being bullied by a kid whose parents have failed to teach them the severe warning contained in these verses? What do you say to your traumatized child?
Let’s get first things first. You don’t stop the bullying by telling your son or daughter to fight back. Yes, that goes against what your grandpappy told you. But old “wisdom,” even from family, isn’t always good advice.
The problem with this advice is manifold. First, Jesus simply doesn’t endorse it. Secondly, you are training up your child to trust in his or her own strength instead of trusting in God. Ironically, this is what bullies often do. Finally, your child may just not be able to fight back anyway.
And that brings me to what you should tell your kids when they are bullied. Jesus knows that, apart from God, every last one of us is a bully. In order to cover over the universal sense of shame all people feel because of sin, failure, and guilt, a bully puts on the appearance of dominant self-confidence and uses it to expose and highlight shame in others. Some excel at this, especially when they are not trained up under the warnings of God’s Word, and so we categorize them as “bullies.” But the truth is, the rest of us are just more subtle in our bullying. Help your child see the clear choice in their suffering: they can either be a bully by fighting back or love a bully by trying to bring them back to God.
Only those who trust in God can stop being a bully and love a bully instead. God-trusters humbly admit their sin and shame and allow Jesus Christ to give them a new identity free from shame. This isn’t about boosting self-esteem – a strategy some parents assume will help their bullied child. Instead, it’s about losing self altogether. It’s about being a beloved son or daughter of God. A cherished child of God has no need to shame others to feel better. Instead, they live to free bullies from shame by pointing them to Jesus.
That’s why Jesus came. He died by the hands of bullies for those same bullies. While bullies mocked at Him and spit on Him as He hung on the cross, He was still able to say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” How was He able to bear this reproach and endure this bullying without fighting back? He had a mission. He knew what His purpose was and that fulfilling it would bring glory to God the Father and joy to Himself and all those who trust in Him (Hebrews 12:2).
Yes, as parents, we still need to represent the protective nature of God to our kids in our efforts to defend them against bullying. So make sure you follow up with the adults in charge where the bullying is taking place. These adults need to be held accountable to their God-given role to represent Him as authorities who defend the weak (Romans 13:4). But this is not the role of our child.
Instead, we need to help our child see that they have a mission from God. They must see that there is a grand purpose in this suffering they are enduring. When they, in the name of Jesus, turn the other cheek, or give more lunch money than the bully demanded, or respond to an insult with a kind word of blessing, or pray for a bully…they will never look more like Jesus to a bullying world.
Trying to help our child have more self-esteem will not give them a satisfying purpose. Trying to get them to look down on the bully will not deploy them on a joy-giving mission. Being an outcast with Christ, so that bullies might be saved, is the only way your child can bring glory to God and find joy in their suffering. And make sure to remind them of this truth: on the Day when Jesus returns, He will put an end to bullying and will bring all His outcasts into a lasting city where they will experience joy in His presence forevermore (Hebrews 13:14; Psalm 16:11).