Awareness has been raised. The hashtag campaign is in full force. Celebrities and stars have enlisted in the fight. Bullying, in many ways, has become one of the key issues of our day. And for good reason. Bullying poses a real threat to young people all across our country. It has brought about trauma and tragedy. It is an issue that really must be addressed. However, can the pandemic of bullying be solved through celebrity shout outs and hashtags? Although all these things might raise awareness, the ultimate answer to this question is ‘no.’ The primary reason for this is that the anti-bullying message becomes convoluted and confusing when it comes from a culture of bullying. Consider the following.
1. Hypocrisy in pop culture. Consider some of the titles of some of the most popular television shows currently: Pretty Little Liars, Scandal, Revenge, The Bachelor/Bachelorett, The Bad Girls Club, just to name a few. These shows are insanely popular, especially among young ladies. This leads to a ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ type of scenario that young people see right through, for the most part.
2. Actions speak louder than words. Hollywood itself models elitism and bad behavior more than any place on the planet. Most stars strut around with a do-whatever-I-want attitude, looking down on others and frequently even belittling anyone and everyone in their path. This type of attitude can be clearly followed through news outlets like TMZ that celebrate this behavior as much as reporting on it. Hollywood really serves as a How To manual for bullying more than a group of people serious about seeing it eradicated.
3. Misplaced focus. For years our culture has promoted self-esteem as one of its highest sought virtues. What culture has failed to realize is that this promotion has not instilled confidence in the hearts of its young people, but rather self-centeredness. When the chief goal in life is self-fulfillment and personal happiness, other people not only present the greatest obstacle to that, but also the most useful tool for self-promotion, which serves by-in-large as the greatest end game of bullying.
4. Demonization over thoughtful discourse. Our culture has become inundated with lack of thought. Instead, in order to get our point across and win a debate, we bully. This is true in politics as much as anywhere else. Instead of portraying true, truth-seeking, congenial dialogue for young eyes to consider, they see grown ups throwing temper tantrums and demonizing each other. The only engagement they see consists of ugly caricatures and the vilification of one’s opponent. Our young people, as a result, learn to simply squash any opposition that may arise to their own ideas or differences they have with others.
5. The devaluing of life. Our abortion culture has led to the demeaning of life altogether. As a result, we regard life only when that life proves itself useful to us. When it does not, it simply can be cast aside and treated like trash. Personal happiness has become our culture’s greatest goal. When this is the case, people become tools of usefulness that can be trampled, manipulated and abused in order to justify that end. People that are different have no inherent value, and the only way they can be useful is through degradation for one’s own purpose of self-promotion. What else would we expect of a culture that has championed Darwinian evolution, which includes the idea of ‘survival of the fittest?’ Our young people are learning that their purpose is theirs to define, and they have taken that message to heart.
Hashtags aren’t going to solve the problem of bullying anymore than they will save kidnapped Christian schoolgirls from the hands of evil terrorists.
Jesus and his gospel offer the only true solution to bullying. The very essence of bullying, as with all sinful actions, can be found in the heart, not in the action itself. Calling people to somehow stand strong against bullying is like telling someone with addiction to simply stand strong and stop being addicted. The symptom will not truly be treated until a person addresses the root of the issue, or the disease itself. The Scriptures declare that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Prov 17:9). Bullying is not something we attain. Bullying is in our very DNA. Because of sin’s effects on the whole of creation, we were born into sin and are naturally bent toward sin. One of the greatest effects of sin on our hearts includes selfishness. We are naturally prone to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and others as useful to our own means.
Jesus, however, was born of a virgin, meaning that he was not born into sin as we all were. After living a sinless life, fully honoring the Father and fulfilling the Law on our behalf, he willingly and sufficiently took our sin upon himself on the cross. There God poured out his hatred and wrath upon Jesus as he bore our sin upon himself, thus fulfilling the legal demands that sin holds on our life, which is death and eternal separation from the blessed presence of our Creator. When Jesus rose again it proved that the payment Jesus offered for our sin completely satisfied that legal demand, making a way for sinners like me to be reconciled with my Creator and restored in my relationship with him. The gospel declares that this same rescue is available to anyone who would repent of their sin and trust in Jesus as their substitute and Lord.
The power of the gospel can be found in its ability to radically and supernaturally change sinful humans. Once we embrace Jesus and rest in all he accomplished on our behalf, he places his Spirit within us, enabling us to experience true outward change as he transforms the root of all of our sinful behavior, our hearts. Only he can bring about that kind of change at the very root of our being. If something more powerful than our sinful nature does not truly deal with our sinfulness, then there can be no lasting change in our outward actions. After all, as Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Whatever is in our hearts will make its way out.
How does the gospel offer the only viable cure for the evil of bullying?
1. The Gospel helps us understand who we are. We are created in the image of God, our Creator. That is what gives us our value, dignity and meaning. We are not left to create or pursue those things on our own. We are precious in his sight, created uniquely and with great care. Significance and purpose can be found in knowing him, not in competition and rivalry with others. We attain deeper understanding of our created identity by pursuing and knowing Jesus, not by looking at and comparing ourselves to others.
2. The Gospel helps us understand who others are. Not only have we been created in the image of God, but so has everyone else around us. Therefore, we must view every person we come into contact with as such. The gospel allows us to see that they are an eternal being, not a temporary tool. They are precious and unique, which does not make them somehow less than me just because they are different than me. They were created to know and worship God, not to vie for my attention or serve my means. They are my neighbor, and my chief responsibility is to love them, serve them, encourage them, and regard them as more important than myself. I am not to label others and see people in categories. Sin divides; love overcomes. I do not get to define their value; rather, God has assigned them their dignity and worth. When I strip them of those things and devalue their image, I profane the One in whose image they have been created.
3. The Gospel commands and enables us to love our ‘neighbor.’ As Jesus makes clear in his parable of the Good Samaritan Neighbor, the gospel does not allow us the ability to define who our neighbor is and who it is not. Instead, it compels us and enables us to love and serve all people…even our enemies. Whereas sin has brought division (us seeing each other according to race, gender, socio-economic status, popularity, looks, etc.), the gospel reconciles and unifies. Scripture clearly shows the heart of God even and especially toward ‘the least of these,’ or those who find themselves on the margins of society. This group often endures the pain of bullying the most. God commands his children, however, that although these have been outcast and chided by society, they are filled with dignity because they are created in his image and those for whom Christ died to save. There are no such distinctions in the Gospel, and one day upon Jesus’ return, God’s Kingdom will be greatly diverse, filled with all sorts of people who have only one thing in common: grace.
4. The Gospel causes us to see others through the lens of eternal reality. C. S. Lewis once said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” He said this out of an eternal understanding. Every single person will spend eternity somewhere. Those who have rested in what Christ has accomplished on their behalf, trusting him for salvation, will spend eternity in his presence in his eternal Kingdom. Those outside of Christ will experience an eternal punishment in a place called Hell, having no substitute savior to spare them that horror. That reality, which can only truly be understood with the help of God’s Spirit, will radically shape the way we treat others. If brothers and sisters in Christ, we understand that we will spend eternity with them, compelling us to bear with them, love them, show them grace, and edify them. If those outside of Christ, we will treat them out of dire compassion, seeking to point them to Christ and ultimately to salvation in him. There exists no room for bullying or slander when looking at others through the lens of the gospel.
5. The Gospel causes us to see and understand the disease, instead of aimlessly dealing with symptoms. This is the essence of sin; yet, it is also the essence of gospel change. We must carefully define sin. Sin is not so much the bad things we do, like bullying. Sin is instead the reality of our hearts as fallen humanity. We are born with sinful hearts, causing us to be bent toward sin. Our bad behavior, like bullying, simply exist as manifestations of sin. Therefore, if we try under our own strength to ‘fix’ our bad behavior, the greater disease remains. We can call people to stand against bullying with all of our strength, but it neither offers a cure for the disease at the root of the behavior, nor provides them the ability or strength to truly change. Only the gospel can both cure the essence of the problem, as well as sustain lasting change through the empowerment of the Spirit’s abiding presence.
We can follow the world’s advice to “be nice” to one another, but being nice only provides makeup to temporarily cover the true ugliness of our sin-sick hearts. I can be nice to someone, yet continue to harbor hatred for them within. I can be nice to someone’s face, yet continue to slander them when their back is turned. Eventually ‘nice’ wears off because it is not the fruit of lasting change. I find it interesting that there are exactly zero commands in the Bible for us to be nice. In fact, that word is foreign to Scriptures altogether. Instead, the Scriptures tell us that the fruit of the Spirit includes kindness. Kindness is motivated by the heart. This means that kindness is genuine and authentic because it flows from a posture of a heart toward someone that regards them as more important than one’s self. Kindness is also a fruit of the Spirit, meaning that we are truly incapable of such action without the Spirit’s empowerment. Even despicable people can conjure up nice; kindness, however, flows only from a heart that has been transformed and a mind that has been renewed. Only Jesus and his gospel can accomplish that.