Bullying

Posted on December 2, 2010 · Posted in Culture, Shaping Influences

In the last post we mentioned what the world might be like if there had been no promise of the gospel. But God did give that promise and immediately brought hope to a hopeless situation. As mankind spread throughout the earth from the Garden, as deeply tarnished image-bearers, he never became as bad as he could possibly be. But, apart from those who embraced the redemptive promise given to Adam and Eve, man did become bad—horribly bad. Thus, people made to live in harmony instead lived in strife and tyranny. Unity was replaced with self-centeredness. Among many other terrible sins, bullying was born. Cain, the very first son, killed his brother because he was displeased with him. Later, Moses acts to protect a fellow Hebrew and was mocked with these words: “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” These words of a Hebrew slave describe the actions of a bully. When these actions are combined with a habitual attitude of intimidation and cruelty the resulting product is a bully. Therefore, we can describe a bully as:

one who habitually and cruelly intimidates others and acts to rule over them simply because he wants to and has the power to do so.

A bully assumes his own authority. He is a self-proclaimed judge, jury and executioner. Sometimes, bullies just target one or two people to rule over. Often though, the initial taste of power only leads to a lust for more and more power (Ephesians 4:17-19).  This is where the bully’s habitual side comes from. He lusts after the power of imposing his will upon others.  This craving for power is never satisfied; it only breeds a hunger for imposing more and more of his will upon others. That is how gang leaders, rogue politicians and law enforcement officers, and tyrannical dictators emerge to terrorize others. Their thirst for power knows no bounds. All of the ingredients of a bully are found in the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). So, given the right set of circumstances, anyone can become a bully. All that is needed is the desire to rule someone else for selfish reasons.

Because bullying is a natural expression of the sinful man, the only real protection from becoming a bully is to yield to God’s authority rather than your own. But he natural man cannot and will not yield to God’s authority. So, as our culture focuses more on man and less on God, we can expect sinful behavior in general, and bullying in particular, to be on the rise. We have worshiped the idol of self-esteem and are reaping  bitter fruit. You see, high self-esteem may lead to bullying. Note these comments from Roy Baumeister, a professor in the department of psychology at Florida State University. Dr. Baumeister and several other experts were commissioned by the American Psychological Society to examine the enormous amount of published research on the subject of self-esteem and to assess the benefits of high self-esteem. Here are some of the findings with regard to bullying:

It was widely believed that low self-esteem could be a cause of violence, but in reality violent individuals, groups and nations think very well of themselves. They turn violent toward others who fail to give them the inflated respect they think they deserve. Nor does high self-esteem deter people from becoming bullies, according to most of the studies that have been done; it is simply untrue that beneath the surface of every obnoxious bully is an unhappy, self-hating child in need of sympathy and praise.

You can read the full article here and here.

I recently spoke with leaders of two Christian schools in different parts of the country. Both said that bullying was a huge problem in their schools. Even a casual reading of the news headlines will verify that bullying has become a huge problem. We should not be shocked at the increase of bullying. We should expect it! This activity is the result of following what the flesh wants as opposed to what God wants. If you are a parent, schoolteacher, or church worker, you need to prepare the children you are working with for bullying. If they are not being bullied now, they will be. In the next few posts we will look at biblical responses to bullying. If you have any specific questions please let me know by email or leave a comment in response to this post.

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Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.