Bully: noun. One who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.
Do you remember your childhood bully?
Mine was the boy next door. He seemed ever ready to meet my defiant ideas with pushing and the occasional kick. We didn’t agree on much. I was independent and vocal, though small and quite skinny. He thought he was in charge and believed his height and more developed frame secured that position. When I dared to challenge his ill-conceived notions, he responded with rage, thinking he could subdue me with physical displays of superiority. I was glad when his family moved out of state, but it took me quite some time to understand why our interactions were so volatile and how to address the more clandestine forms of bullying that have sought to sift me during my lifetime.
The seemingly natural response of humans to bullying is a desire for justice, a restoration that balances power between parties. Today, all people live with the reality of the effects of sins, both inherited and committed. Humanity is on a never-ending quest to make right what we make wrong.
Maybe you didn’t have a bully. Perhaps you were the bully. We don’t often like to think of ourselves in this role, but we may fit the description on occasion.
Have you ever actively avoided someone who just didn’t fit in? What about laughing at that highly inappropriate joke? Perhaps you were embarrassed by someone and punished them with stares or silence. Maybe you take the opportunities to subtly redirect those you don’t care for to other spaces so you don’t have to sacrifice your comfort.
We imagine bullies to be large, aggressive figures who cause major disruptions. In reality, our unjust microaggressions can create an acerbic tone of exclusivity that corrodes the very fabric of what we were created for—relationship. Some of the most successful bullies are everyday Christians who forget that at any time Christ may visit them as the person they want to be around the least. It’s likely that you’ve been a bully.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matt. 25:40).
Jesus came to this world to restore the connection between us and God that was interrupted by sin. God makes every effort to connect with us, but we make Him feel unwelcome with the destructive patterns we employ to avoid confronting fear and pain. Emotional, mental, and psychological damage or entrenched hypocrisy leave us blind,* preventing individuals from being able to see who Christ is and the benefits of accepting His love.
When we don’t trust God enough to receive His love, it becomes difficult to offer love to others, especially others who don’t fit in with our human plans. This cycle of shutting out and shutting off love—God, that is (1 John 4:8, 16)—encourages us to place ourselves ahead of others and ahead of Him. Instead of pouring out our gratitude at the feet of Jesus, we find ourselves brandishing the terrible sword of bullying from the top down in the name of Scripture and holiness, as shown in Jesus’ encounter with one woman’s righteous accusers (John 8:1-11).
This is antithetical to Christ’s example of humility. He gave up a heavenly throne for us to have the option to join Him. Instead, in return, He was bullied to death. But the reconciliation He offers to be children of God for all eternity shows its compelling worth as we willingly extend ourselves to others and “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13). Giving preference to another over ourselves is a reflection of the love of Christ (see Rom. 12:10); but it also gives us freedom from the sin of worshipping the false god of self. This is humility.
Humility: noun. Freedom from pride or arrogance.
Humility helps mend many fractured interpersonal relationships by finding common ground. Sharing and understanding that which makes meaning for everyone provides a way of validating the contributions of all.
Though uncomfortable at first, open communication, authenticity, and relational intimacy demand that we confront the reality of a deep-seated truth—we are not always right. By facing the fact that I’ve been a bully, I give myself the option to choose humility now: humility enables me to stand free from pride or arrogance before others by embracing, accepting, loving, and acknowledging their worth, and that Jesus’ blood has paid for our common right to humanity and a heavenly inheritance.
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).
In our unadorned spirituality we can experience God’s complete acceptance. He is always ready and waiting to forgive us no matter how many times we seek forgiveness. So why not admit that we stand in need?
Significantly, forgiveness has been understood to mean abandoning any hope of improving your past. We cannot change who we have been. But according to Acts 5:31, we can accept God’s gift of repentance and forgiveness for when we have gone wrong, and cooperate with the Holy Spirit to change our behavior to resemble Christ’s more closely. The scales of justice are balanced when we accept the weight of our guilt and give it to God. In exchange, He will give us a new way forward (Isa. 43:19). His new mercies every morning assure us that His love for us is constant, not measured by our past sins. His grace shows the path forward. It is the right and just path. And what does it require? Humility: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
* See Isa. 59:9, 10; Matt. 15:14; 23:16; Rev. 3:17.
Kryselle Craig is a doctoral candidate in Marriage and Family Therapy Studies.