Facing the Bully

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in a men’s group studying the book “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge. He relates the following story in chapter five, “The Battle for Every Man’s Heart”:

A few years ago now my middle son, Blaine, made the big transition to first grade. That’s a huge step for any child – leaving the comfort and safety of Mom’s side, spending all day at school, being among the “big kids.” But Blaine’s a very outgoing and winsome boy, a born leader, and we knew he’d handle it swimmingly. Every night at the dinner table he regaled us with tales of the day’s adventures. It was fun to recall with him the joys of those early school days – a shiny new lunchbox, brand-new yellow No. 2 pencils, a box of Crayolas with a built-in sharpener, a new desk, and new friends. We heard all about his new teacher, gym class, what they played at recess, how he was emerging as a leader in all the games. But then one night he was silent. “What’s wrong, Tiger?” I asked. He wouldn’t say, wouldn’t even look up. “What happened?” He didn’t want to talk about it. Finally, the story came out – a bully. Some first-grade poser had pushed him down on the playground in front of all his friends. Tears were streaming down his cheeks as he told us the story.

“Blaine, look at me.” He raised his tearful eyes slowly, reluctantly. There was shame written all over his face. “I want you to listen very closely to what I am about to say. The next time that bully pushes you down, here is what I want you to do – are you listening, Blaine?” He nodded, his big wet eyes fixed on mine. “I want you to get up…and I want you to hit him…as hard as you possibly can.” A look of embarrassed delight came over Blaine’s face. Then he smiled.

Good Lord – why did I give him such advice? And why was he delighted with it? Why are some of you delighted with it?, while others are appalled?

Yes, I know that Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. But we have really misused that verse. If you take one passage of Scripture and hold it up while ignoring all others, you will come to absurd conclusions. Paul said, “It is good for a man not to marry” (1 Cor. 7:1). Well then – no man should marry. Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…” (Matt. 19:21). Then why do you still have possessions? Do you see the foolishness of this?

If Jesus intended to teach us, “Never resist a bully,” why does he also tell his disciples, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Buy a sword? “The disciples said, ‘See, Lord, here are two swords.’ That is enough,’ he replied” (Luke 22:36). He arms them. And that little matter of making a whip and using it to clear the temple – that doesn’t seem like turning the other cheek, now, does it?

We do not want to teach boys that bullies should never be resisted, and we do not want to teach bullies that they can get away with it! Yes, Scripture teaches the wise use of strength and the power of forgiveness. But you cannot teach a boy to use his strength by stripping him of it. Jesus was able to retaliate, believe me. But he chose not to. And yet we suggest that a boy who is mocked, shamed before his fellows, stripped of all power and dignity should stay in that beaten place because Jesus wants him there? You will emasculate him for life. From that point on all will be passive and fearful. He will grow up never knowing how to stand his ground, never knowing if he is a man indeed. Oh yes, he will be courteous, sweet even, deferential, minding all his manners. It may look moral, it may look like turning the other cheek, but it is merely weakness. You cannot turn a cheek you do not have. Our churches are full of such men.

At that moment, Blaine’s soul was hanging in the balance. Then the fire came back into his eyes and the shame disappeared. Now, I gave that advice to a boy I could trust who was at the time in first grade. I did not give this advice to a high school boy whose enemy might pull a gun on him. There is wisdom and context. But we must not strip a man of strength and call it sanctification. Yet for many, many men their souls still hang in the balance because no one, no one has ever invited them to be dangerous, to know their own strength, to discover that they have what it takes.

I guess I’d never really looked at that whole “turn the other cheek” passage in that way. I’ve never really believed that Jesus was quite the passive man that he’s often made out to be. You know, the guy in all those Biblical movies that has that meek look on his face all the time, devoid of much emotion or strength, and seemingly floating two feet off the ground and never really engaging anyone in the process. On the other hand, I probably never really pictured him as the angry, driven man who chased the moneychangers out of the temple, either. Regardless, Eldredge makes a great point here.

I’d put it another way…God doesn’t want me, as a Godly man, to be a limp dishrag. Yes, there are times when I should keep my calm, turn the other cheek, etc., following the example of Jesus. However, there’s another part of me that needs to passionately engage, to fight strongly for what I believe in.

One of my favorite sayings is “If you’re offended by nothing, you likely don’t care enough about something to begin with.” Point being, there SHOULD be things that we get riled up about and offended by. Should we be offended by everything? Obviously not, but I think Christians have, for too long, fallen into the trap of thinking that we need to just be nice, fall into line, and keep the peace for the sake of our testimony when there are times, in my opinion, that we need to stand up and fight with the kind of passion that Jesus had when he drove those crooks out of the temple.