Bullying is more painful than what most people realize. Young people who encounter bullying go through significant emotional pain, and it’s even more dangerous for them because their emotions are still developing. Parents of these children often go through similar pain, and they experience the fear of current and long-term damage to the child’s emotional health. In order to truly understand how a child can continue to mature emotionally in a healthy way during or after the abuse of bullying, we need to understand what the Bible says about it.
A child who confronts the abuse of bullies in a Christlike manner can actually develop healthy emotions that are powerful and liberating in the most amazing and rewarding ways. Through His own sufferings, Jesus did not miss out on the opportunity to provide comfort for bullied children, and He will always be a God who mocks the attacks and strategies of the enemy: “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4).
Rejection, betrayal, pain, mistrust of authority, weakness, feelings of inadequacy, insecurities about God, fear of captivity, a slavery mind-set …
A child who endures the rejection and pain of bullying often goes through overwhelming feelings during the process. Many times they feel betrayed by friends who were too afraid to help them. Sometimes the child doesn’t understand why their parents cannot protect them from the bullies, and that hurts as well. Oftentimes the bullied children feel betrayed by teachers and even school administrators. The child instinctively knows they are innocent, even though their minds are often flooded with thoughts that bullies are abusing them because of some weakness or inadequacy of their own: Why am I the one being bullied today? Is this something I deserve? Why don’t the teachers help me? Is God mad at me? Why would Jesus allow this? Does anyone truly care, or does everyone secretly see me as weak and inadequate, just like the bully does?
The ONLY way to experience relief for anyone hurt by bullying is to fully understand that Jesus also faced bullying. Jesus felt this pain in more terrible and intense ways than any of us will ever be able to imagine. So we can be sure that our Lord confronted and conquered the pain of bullying, allowing it to be nailed to the cross along with Him.
Before we jump into the positive emotions and power that can come by confronting bullying in a Christlike way, we first need to further hone in on various areas of psychological impact that bullying inflicts on its victims when they don’t mentally and emotionally process the abuse in a healthy way.
Emotional Abuse of Bullying
Bullied children suffer emotional abuse. According to merriam-webster.com, abuse as a defined noun can include “language that condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily.” And abuse as a verb can be defined as “to use or treat [a victim] so as to injure or damage [him or her].” In almost every case of bullying, and especially in the case of victimized younger kids, children lack the emotional maturity to understand their role and the effect of this kind of abuse on their behavior. However, keeping in mind the correct perspective of bullying and its effects on the victim, we can see that the darkness behind the abusive action seeks to injure and damage the victim indefinitely by attacking them during one of their most vulnerable seasons in life—while they are still developing emotionally and learning to interpret risks, safety, and security. Let it be clear that bullied children are also victims of abuse and can struggle with this permanently if they don’t experience deliverance and healing. However, once again: “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4).
Children enter the world having been created to be emotionally filled by the love of God, family, friends, teachers (of any kind), school administrators (and leaders of any kind), and others. When love carries a child in this world, God is carrying them. When this same child falls victim to the abuse of bullying, they are emotionally kidnapped by it. Their body no longer tells them about how loved, valued, and treasured they are by Jesus and everyone else around them. Instead the healthy emotions that come from love, security, and trust give way to feelings of fear, rejection, betrayal, loneliness, inadequacy, captivity, and slavery. Bullying is Satan’s attempt to kidnap our children and change their perspective of their identity in Christ. However, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4).
According to merriam-webster.com, slavery is the “submission [of the victim] to a dominating influence [the bully].” Emotional slavery, then, is a form of abuse because any unhealthy method of control is emotionally damaging in nature. Consider this quote from professional therapist Andrea Mathews:
Emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing, or other physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon of choice. (from “When Is It Emotional Abuse?” by Andrea Mathews, LPC, NCC)
A bullied child is taken captive emotionally and enslaved against their will. As they go through their day, they are led around by unhealthy emotions and adrenaline. They no longer live in emotional safety, but the prison cell of the abuser. We can rightfully view victims of bullying as wearing clothes they don’t want to wear. We can also accurately imagine them as seeing a different person when they glance in the mirror at school or at home. It is completely within reason to envision the victim as a child with spiritual ropes around their hands and feet, and a sign above their head that tells lies about who they are: weak, inadequate, a loser, etc. As they walk slower than they usually do, their facial expressions communicate their bondage to others. As well, outsiders can witness the insecurities that come with abuse, and this makes the victim more vulnerable to additional attacks. However, “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4).
What Does Jesus Say about Bullying?
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.
(1 Peter 4:12-13)
Christians too often overlook one particular facet of Jesus’s sufferings. Even more painful than the floggings, punches, and crucifixion He experienced was the emotional pain He endured. As people grow up and mature emotionally, they begin to understand that emotional pain is more difficult to overcome and longer lasting than physical pain. So, in order to fully understand the sufferings of Jesus Christ so that they become more available to us in the form of deliverance and healing, we need to better understand 1 Peter 4:12-13 as listed above.
Bullies Abused Jesus in the Most Terrible Ways Imaginable.
The most painful aspect of Jesus’s journey on earth wasn’t that sinners rejected and tortured Him, but rather that His own people (tribe, community, network) are the ones who betrayed Him. As it says in Zechariah 2:8: “For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘After glory He has sent me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye.’” Jesus had observed the Israelites—the apple of God’s eye—enduring abuse from the enemy for thousands of years before He came to earth. He came to save His people from the emotional abuse and slavery of the enemy. Jesus loved the Israelites with an intense love that raged within Him: “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). This means that Jesus came to earth in the flesh to also rescue His people from bullying!
The Transfer of Power from the Bully to the Victim
The most difficult aspect for the Israelites to understand about Jesus and His ultimate plan to become King was exactly how He planned to rescue them from abuse. Father God had not shared this plan with man or even the angels. No one had a clue as to how Jesus would be transformed from an apparently weak and questionable man—“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)—to the hope of Israel we read about in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; he is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
God hid Jesus’s ultimate purpose and plan from people and angels (both good and bad) until He died and rose from the dead, as explained in Ephesians 3:10: “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” The church of Jesus Christ had no members until men and women began to accept God’s plan of reconciliation and freedom from slavery through His blood. According to this scripture, even the angels in heaven did not understand how Jesus would transform rejection, betrayal, and every kind of abuse into “power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12). It was Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection AFTER He suffered abuse that transferred saving power to Him. The power released to Jesus through His sufferings is the very power we share in today as advocates for victims of abuse (all sinners). “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13).
By way of Jesus all children of God can find purpose behind any suffering they go through. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). It is God’s will and purpose that Christians share in the sufferings of Jesus Christ in various ways so that we are fully equipped with the power of His resurrection in our lives and service to Him. Victims of bullying often share in some of the most difficult forms of His suffering at an early age, and it’s EXTREMELY important to understand that God IS NOT mad and HAS NOT forgotten about the victims of bullying.
Through Jesus, victims of bullying have become “living stones” with Him and have been chosen to share in His sufferings in extraordinary and powerful ways: “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5).
During Jesus’s time of suffering and captivity, people hated Him and punched Him and spit on Him. They said mean things to Jesus and then finished Him off by torture and murder. These people, controlled by such evil, viewed the rejection, persecution, and torture of Jesus as a victory. During Jesus’s time of enduring bullying, it appeared to the bullies and outsiders that the story would end with Jesus as the loser. However, the bullies could not stop God’s plan for Jesus and could not comprehend how precious He was to Father God. The bullies had no idea how God planned to vindicate Jesus and place the bullies themselves under His feet. The truth is that Jesus suffered immensely, with the current victims of bullying already on His mind. He will respond, and the scarred and battered victims will receive a reward and blessing for their suffering with Him—because “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4).
Compassion and Grace for the Bullies
Through this process of understanding grace for the victims of bullying, we must also understand and embrace grace for the bullies. The suffering of Jesus not only covered the victims of bullying, but also the perpetrators. This is EXTREMELY important to understand! The men and women who bullied Jesus were vicious, evil people. Consider: “Pilate said to them, ‘Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Crucify Him!’” (Matthew 27:22). And yet He remained quiet in the face of persecution, as prophesied in Isaiah 53:7: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.”
Jesus Was Quiet.
The reason Jesus stayed quiet is because He viewed His own suffering with a healthy, God-centered perspective. Bullies attack for different reasons, but it always has something to do with oppression and pain in their own lives. Some bullies may have been or are currently being abused at home. Oftentimes bullies are insecure and think they will get respect and approval from their clique if they hurt others. Jealousy can manifest in a child in the form of pain and aggression toward other kids. In EVERY circumstance the bully needs love in their life, and “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Love is actually the only thing that can help a bully overcome acting out with abusive behavior. This is one reason Jesus remained quiet on the cross and never lashed out at His abusers. Another reason is because those who bullied Jesus did not realize the magnitude of what they were doing. Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In this scripture Jesus was forgiving the greatest bullies of all time—the very people who mocked, tortured, and crucified the Son of God. There is NO reason to ever withdraw love from a person. We are called to love people who do not deserve our love, and this is the foundation for the ministry of Jesus Christ.
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:46-48). According to this truth, we cannot ever truly have the fruit of the Spirit if we cannot love sinners who do not deserve our love. And if we do indeed have true love in our hearts, then we are free to give it to whomever we want and there can be no argument against it! “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). The truth is that if a person on this earth is ever set free from their pain and sin, it’s because Jesus Christ has loved them. Whether a person experiences it through their own salvation or from another who chose to cover their sin with love, love is the only power in the world that can heal, deliver, restore, reconcile, and bring about every good thing in anyone’s life.
Jesus has taken the leadership role in forgiving bullies on earth. He bore more physical and emotional pain than any other victim of bullying in history. In His case Jesus endured bullying from people whom He loved more than we can imagine, so the pain of rejection and betrayal went deeper than anyone else’s in history. Jesus knew that the pain of His rejection was so powerful that it would save the entire world: “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15). Jesus knew that when He would rise from the dead and offer forgiveness, it would change the lives of His bullies forever. The bullies who accepted His love were raised from the dead! That is compassion and grace in action, offered even to bullies. And that is the example of Jesus for us to follow!
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Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. www.Lockman.org. NOTE: Author has bolded some words/phrases in Bible quotations for emphasis.