Terminal Bullying and Unconditional Forgiveness
by Patricia Backora
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I’ve often submitted a question to online “Bible experts”. But as of yet none of them has had the gumption to attempt an answer. A question which would have baffled the wisest saints God ever created. Why do they refuse to touch this question with a ten-foot pole? Because there is NO possibility of a happy ending for those affected by the situation I’ve read about countless times.
The question, and it’s a mouthful: How can anyone be expected to forgive an unrepentant bully who has driven a loved one to suicide through prolonged, deliberate, vicious verbal or physical abuse, especially knowing their loved one was unsaved and will suffer eternal torment in hell because the bully drove them there?
Unconditional forgiveness seems to be the hottest (and touchiest) topic of the hour in Christian churches and prayer groups. But I doubt forgiveness of the unrepentant can be unconditional. Especially in situations where the offender has caused extreme injury and was in full possession of his/her faculties when they committed the offense. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for (BECAUSE) they know not what they do.” That little word “for” is the key and it begs a question: “If the vile religious leaders who persecuted and murdered Christ KNEW He was the spotless Son of God, and they killed him just to get rid of the competition, I don’t think God showered UNCONDITIONAL FORGIVENESS on them like candy.
Throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament, God exacts fearful retribution for sin, even acts which don’t seem like a big deal to us today. A man was stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath (Num.15:32-36). God said that the entire congregation was to stone the man to death for picking up sticks! I’m a firm believer in law and order, but it’s hard for me to swallow that one. God enforced the penalty of breaking the Jewish Sabbath on that man, and aren’t you glad we don’t have to live under that same law today? Aside from the fact some of us are very forgetful and might accidentally wipe the table on the Sabbath (Saturday), we’d be committing a capital crime by washing the car on that day!
Even in the New Testament God could get mighty tough when He had to. For just ONE instance of lying to the Holy Ghost, Ananias and Sapphira got struck dead in front of the Apostle Peter (Acts 5:1-11). In Revelation 19 you see Jesus act like the angry lion of Judah and destroy His enemies, rather than the meek Lamb Who submitted to abuse when He offered up Himself for our sins.
Sometimes it’s hard to get your head around the fact that Jesus isn’t just the gentle, tender-hearted Savior Who saved us from hell. He’s the God of the Old Testament too (John 10:30). That means we have to believe Jesus is the same One Who ordered Moses to carry out the stoning penalty on that man who wasn’t even being mean to his neighbor when he was picking up those sticks!
Interestingly enough, Jesus refused to carry out the death penalty upon the woman taken in adultery (John 8:4-11). And there were a few instances even back in the Old Testament when God spared repentant saints the death penalty. Prime example: When David ordered Uriah the Hittite killed and stole his wife. David was forgiven by God, but ONLY after he repented. Even then, David had to reap a sad harvest of sorrow for the rest of his days.
God is merciful, much more so than any of us deserve. Yet He expects repentance before He forgives. Jesus said if you don’t repent you perish (Luke 13:3,5). Only faith in Christ, Who suffered the penalty of our sins, will bring forgiveness from God. We are one spirit with Christ (I Cor.6:17). That desire to see justice done is not satanic, God put it deep inside of us. Justice is a vital facet of God’s nature. Without it this universe would be in complete chaos and the devil would win hands-down. If the Christ in us cannot remit deliberate, vicious sins without repentance, then neither can we. If God didn’t overlook some man picking up sticks on the Sabbath, how can we brush off cruel, pre-calculated, prolonged abuse from those who do it because they fear no retribution? In order to forgive an unrepentant sinner and absolve him of the penalty of his sin you have to be greater than God Who has never forgiven a single one of us without repentance.
We are not to take our own vengeance, nor are we to harbor festering hatred toward any. The best we can do about the unrepentant is to turn them over to God, calmly trusting that He will do what is right and good. Some say all vengeance is a sin. . But the Bible makes it clear that vengeance WILL be taken by God on the unrepentant (Rom.12:19). God is a just Judge, and those who will not let Him be their Savior will have to face Him as their Judge.
When someone is bullied or otherwise abused, modern Christians rush to the defense of the guilty party and the first thing that comes out of their mouths is to tell the traumatized victim: “Hurry! You must forgive that person or God won’t forgive you! Even if the victim’s wounds are still fresh and raw. Even if the offender is glad he made his victim suffer, even if the offender is too wicked to repent. Seems like the comfort of the sinner must always come before justice and restoration of the victim. Even if that victim is dead because someone else’s abuse drove them to take their own life in order to escape it when, overcome by pain and fear, they could see no other way out.
I call any bullying which ends in the death of the victim “terminal bullying”. Whether the victim dies as a deliberate result of physical injuries directly inflicted by the bully or takes his/her own life because the bully chased their victim over the cliff of desperation, it’s the end of the road for that poor tortured individual.
When bullying results in suicide, in the final analysis it’s the bully’s fault the victim dies. One of the tactics used by Plains Indians in buffalo hunting was to chase the buffalo herd over the edge of a cliff so they’d be weakened and easier to kill. The Indians did not even have to touch the buffalo to cause its death through falling. All they had to do was frighten the creatures, who were so overpowered by fear they didn’t know there was a sheer drop just ahead. But the Indians still killed the buffalo because they knew what the consequences of scaring it over the cliff would be. At least the Indians had the excuse of needing the buffalo for food.
But bullies kill just for the fun of it. They put a spirit of fear on their victims. They rip the self-esteem and peace of their victims to shreds. They turn happy, contented kids into frightened deer hiding from the hunter. Bullies KNOW they’re driving their victim so crazy that fear overcomes rational thought. And because the victim looks or acts scared, they’re accused of being “crazy”, by students and sometimes by teachers. All the victim wants is to flee their abuse any way he/she can. Forced by parents and authorities to stay in a torture chamber school, there IS no escape. Faced with the prospect of being severely humiliated or beaten up yet another day while authority figures ignore the problem, the poor bullied kid may see no other way out but death.
At one Bible study the leader asked everyone to name something that had made them mad. I said I remember being mad about being bullied in school, and you guessed it! He asked “Did you forgive them?” I ended up saying I’m no better than God, Who only forgave me after I repented. Furthermore I said the bullied almost drove me to suicide, and what if I’d gone to hell for it? The man looked at me like I was talking Greek. It didn’t register. “No matter what you’ve gotta forgive them.” That begs a question. What if the bullies had driven me all the way to hell and I did try to forgive them, even there? Would God have let me out of hell as a reward?
While you can set the offense on the back burner, turn them over to God and harbor no malice, true forgiveness in the sense of absolving the abuser of the offense is a two-way transaction, contingent upon repentance. Jesus said in Luke 17:3 IF thy brother repent, forgive him. An evil unrepentant bully is a criminal. He is NOT my brother. God is my father and the devil is his daddy. I do not have to forgive him, and some sinners are so evil God may not even lead you to pray for them, knowing they are and hardened in their sins and beyond all hope of salvation (I John 5:16). Even then, only God knows for sure and He judges on a case-by-case basis.
“Rhonda” begins life as a loving, smiling baby, who brings happiness to her friends and family. Oh, she goes through her “terrible two’s” just like most other kids, but before she starts school Rhonda is content with simple pleasures of life. A piece of candy, a hug, drawing pictures for her parents who dote on her. Rhonda feels joy and wonderment in the sight of a new litter of puppies or the sweet singing of the birds. Rhonda enjoys learning and asking questions. Rhonda loves to meet people who come to the house to visit her parents. In short, Rhonda is a very happy little girl who loves life.
Rhonda doesn’t fare too badly in elementary school. But shortly after starting junior high, her dad gets sick and loses his job. Rhonda’s mother cannot work because she has two small children to care for at home, and can’t afford day care. And someone has to nurse Rhonda’s sick dad. So money is very tight. At the vulnerable age of twelve Rhonda must buy most of her clothes at the thrift shop, including her shoes. Rhonda can’t have all the electronic toys and C.D.’s her classmates prize. She can’t go out with them to fun parks unless somebody treats her. One day the pebble gets thrown into the pond.
A rather timid classmate has mentioned to Rhonda that she ought to come to Christ. But Rhonda doesn’t really understand. She’s like green fruit not yet ripe enough to be harvested by a soul winner. Rhonda needs more time to think it over. Right after that encounter, a classmate makes fun of Rhonda’s second-hand winter coat. The bully calls Rhonda a smelly rag bag. Remembering how much her parents had to sacrifice to buy her that second-hand coat, Rhonda doesn’t take the taunt quietly. Before long the circle of bullies zeroing in on Rhonda widens. Rhonda resents it, and the madder she gets, the meaner the bullies get.
Rhonda complains to her parents, who tell her to stand up for herself and quit being a crybaby. Her teachers try to humor her into rising above the abuse. Finally a boy stomps on her toes while a girl grabs Rhonda’s books and throws them across the street. Rhonda rants angrily against any god who would let all this bad stuff happen to her. The student who witnessed to Rhonda pleads with her to just be more patient and understanding toward the bullies, and try to look for good in them, because there’s good in all people, even the worst of them. Rhonda ought to just be meek and turn the other cheek. Her Christian classmate doesn’t want to go out on a limb and say that God is able to fight on Rhonda’s behalf against the devil oppressing her. So Rhonda is advised not to get bent out of shape about the abuse because after she dies a better life will be hers if only she will trust Christ for salvation. The well-meaning churchgoer, who has been raised to believe this, says “God helps those who help themselves”, and “miracles are done away with”. Besides, God is way up there in heaven, so He really can’t do much about making Rhonda’s life any better. So Rhonda isn’t much impressed by what her church friend has to offer. In her most miserable moments she yells at God and swears that she hates Him for letting others hurt her.
One day a boy tells Rhonda that she ought to put herself out of her own misery because she’d always be nothing but poor “Ragbag Rhonda”. So guess what Rhonda does? Rhonda “helps herself” in the only way she knows how. This green fruit never had a chance to ripen so it could be harvested into the Kingdom of God. Rhonda takes that evil scumbag’s advice…and a bottle of pain killers washed down with alcohol. Of course her death makes the news for a day or two and the school cries crocodile tears, pretending to be scandalized that “it could ever happen here”. All the teachers blame Rhonda for being a misfit who should have had a thicker hide. But what gives people the notion that emotional pain is imaginary and unreal? The principal pontificates on the need to “learn lessons from this tragedy so we’ll be able to move on from here”. But any lessons learned will soon be forgotten as Rhonda’s tormentors congratulate themselves for a job well done and go look for someone else to hound to their grave. Mission accomplished.
What is the end result of this sick scenario? Victim or bully, any person who rejects Christ and hates God ends up in hell. If God had been glorified as being a great Deliverer (II Sam.22:2; Psalms 18:2), Rhonda might have lived to accept Christ and find peace with Him, but her probationary period on earth was cut drastically short by evil bullies, and particularly the nasty boy who advised her to commit suicide. Think of it. Rhonda might have met a wonderful Christian man someday and raised a family who grew up to love her. Children who would have given birth to succeeding generations of people who might have brought glory to God’s name and brought joy to His heart. But oh, no, God was robbed of all that by bullies! Bullies who not only killed Rhonda’s body but pushed her poor soul into a deeper hell.
What if Rhonda’s grieving mother later learned what the Bible teaches about salvation and hell? What if she wondered where Rhonda went after that wicked classmate drove her to her own grave? What would she say to well-meaning Christians who told her she was obligated to forgive the unrepentant bullies who denied her child the opportunity to live longer and have more of a chance to accept Christ? If she forgave these evil people, would God reward her by giving her own dead child a second chance to receive Christ? If poor Rhonda, while languishing down below, magnanimously forgave and prayed for her tormentors, would God reward her kindness by taking her soul out of hell?
Tough questions, but they only underscore the urgency for more action to be taken to combat bullying in schools and everywhere else it happens. Bullying is a health and safety violation and might be prosecuted as such by parents of bullied kids. That is IS a health and safety violation is very clear to the bruised, traumatized victim, and it is really evident on school buses, where the driver might be distracted by all the loud noises and commotion made by attacking bullies. Not only is the bullying victim’s health and safety affected, but a wreck could be caused by the driver losing control when he gets hit by the projectile thrown by one of the bullies. The most serious bullying offenders need to be expelled from public schools and workplaces, and banned from riding school buses.
Terminal bullying has everlasting consequences, not just temporary ones. The wonder is that it’s still possible for God to forgive bullies who are like the ones in this hypothetical story. The miracle is that God would allow such people into the very heaven they denied their victims!
God may be merciful but He is not mocked.
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