Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of power or strength among those involved. Typically, it is repeated over time. Bullying can take many forms, from words or threats (either in person, through spreading gossip or electronically), to physical violence. Bullying also happens repeatedly, in many incidents that gradually or quickly affect the self-esteem of the person being bullied.
How did Jesus handle bullying?
Jesus had a short time to convert, teach and train his disciples before he was arrested and killed. He counted on his disciples to continue his teachings and spread the Good News to the rest of the world. Jesus knew that his teachings were radical and different, and he had to prepare his followers to stay the course, even though they would encounter verbal and physical bullying, strong resistance and even death.
So how did Jesus handle bullying?
He gave his disciples a clear set of principles and guidelines to follow. He showed them a bigger vision and taught them to always look to God for everything. And he dispelled the old ways of thinking and demonstrated a new way of living.
Here are the steps that Jesus followed to teach his followers the way to handle opposition, resistance, and yes, bullying:
1. Jesus showed his disciples how much they were loved by God. He reminded them of their value in God’s eyes, and that they should always act from that place of Godliness. When he was first teaching his disciples, he told them:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Men do not light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket. They set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father.” Matthew, 5:13-16.
When you know that God loves you, it is so much easier to “shine your light” in your everyday life. Words and actions that spring forth from knowing God are radically different from those that erupt from a place of lack or doubt.
2. Do not react to aggression or deliberate injury caused by another person. In Biblical times, the rule of behavior was retribution – “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus announced a new rule of “turning the other cheek.” Here is what Jesus said about retaliation:
“You have heard the commandment, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ But what I have to say to you is: offer no resistance to injury. When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other.” Matthew, 5:38-39.
Why would Jesus teach us to not react to someone who is about to injure us? On the surface and in normal human interaction, it does not make sense. When someone is aggressive toward us, our first instinct is to react. Jesus taught that we should not react, but be passive and accept whatever it is they want to do to us.
Jesus knew that for aggressors to continue, they need to have a reaction from their victims. Just as two magnets will not come together unless the opposite ends are facing each other, a bully will not continue if he can’t get a strong reaction out of the weaker person. When the victim refuses to react to the aggressive behavior, the bully will not receive the emotional charge he wants. It may take some time, but soon the bully will lose interest and go find someone else who will give him that emotional charge he craves.
3. True forgiveness means letting go of strong, negative emotions. When you continue to think about an upsetting incident or how you can get to get back at the person who hurt you, you have not forgiven that person. Instead, you are feeding your own emotional needs by blaming the other person for your unhappiness. If your thoughts, words and actions remain centered in the past event, you are still giving energy to that event and you are actually making it stronger.
The basis of this new commandment is the following passage:
“I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew, 16:19
Jesus taught that what we continue to hold onto in this lifetime will be held against us in heaven. A corollary to this teaching is the following:
“If you forgive the faults of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you. If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you.” Matthew, 6:14-15.
Basically, you can’t expect God to do for you what you are not willing to do for others! How can you hope for God’s forgiveness when you still hold grudges against someone else?
Forgiveness also means to let go of any judgment or criticism of the other person or their behavior. When you continue to cast judgment on the person or situation, you are still locked in that past event and giving it your energy and attention.
Jesus put it this way:
“If you want to avoid judgment, stop passing judgment. Your verdict on others will be the verdict passed on you. The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.” Matthew, 7:1-2.
When you can step back from the situation, take a deep breath and turn it gladly over to God’s hands, you release yourself from the emotional stronghold that kept you locked in the past. You can then step forward and trust God to lead you on the best path.
The only way to truly let go of judgment is to turn the entire matter over to God. Your perspective is limited, because you cannot know why the other person behaved the way they did. Only God knows enough about the situation to judge it!
4. Turn the entire situation over to God. This step acknowledges that God made all of us in his image and likeness, even the people who have caused us hurt or pain. By stepping out of the strong emotions and offering the situation to God, you have opened the door for God’s grace to emerge.
Jesus taught that God loves all of his children and knows how to give them what they need. One of the most empowering statements ever taught by Jesus is the following:
“Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. For the one who asks, receives. The one who seeks, finds. And the one who knocks, enters.” Matthew, 7:7-8
When we seek God’s will in a difficult situation, we have just invited God into the situation. And sincere petitions to God are always answered! Jesus knew this truth and expressed it as follows:
“Would one of you hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf, or a poisonous snake when he asks for a fish? If you, with all of your sins, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to anyone who asks him?” Matthew, 7:9-11
Trust in God and watch what happens. Only God knows what each person needs in his heart. And only God knows what healing can occur when you let Him into the relationship you have with the other person. When we let God work his healing, transformation occurs!
Jesus understood people from the inside-out. He could look into the heart of his own tormentors and still forgive them. His ultimate act of forgiveness came while he was dying on the cross. (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”) His example calls us to do the same in every situation.
- Bullies need a strong reaction – like two ends of a magnet – will only be drawn together if positive and negative are facing each other. If your negative reaction is changed, the charge will no longer happen!
- We can’t change the other person’s behavior; we can only change our own reaction. The victim has to step out of their “victim” mentality and realize that there is a larger perspective (i.e., the one that Jesus taught).
- When we seek revenge or hold a grudge, we hurt ourselves much worse than the original incident. We have to “let go and let God” into the situation. To do that, follow these steps:
- Make the decision to let go of your strong reaction and give the other person over to God. Your victim perspective will change into a “Godly” perspective. You know you are loved by God and he will protect you from harm.
- Visualize the other person as a child loved by God, because they are. Do not condemn or judge the other person for their behavior, because you do not know their situation, only God does. So picture that person being held tenderly in God’s hands and let those feelings replace the anger or resentment you felt.
- Thank God for the experience and for being with you every step of the way. God is as close as your next breath, if you want him to be. He will guide your words and actions if you just listen.
You can’t change a bully, but you can change your reaction to him or her. Following these guidelines as gleaned from the way that Jesus handled the bullies he encountered will cast God’s love on the situation. It will also show you how you can heal from the pain of being bullied and still have compassion for the bully.
You might even convert the bully to become a follower of Jesus!