Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Proverbs 31, verse 8.
Over the weekend, my wife and I went to see “The Artist.” By the way, if you haven’t seen this movie and you want to see something that’s truly entertaining and extremely well done, go see “The Artist.” We occasionally enjoy Indie movies, and after all the awards it received, we wanted to check it out. It’s a really ‘back to the future’ movie.
Naturally, before the movie there were quite a few previews, and one of the movies in the preview lineup was a documentary called “Bully.” You can guess the subject matter. Apparently, the film follows the stories of a number of kids who are bullied in school and how they deal with it. The website for the movie says that 13 million kids in America are bullied in school every year. To be honest, I’m always suspicious of statistics; I believe they’re usually reported liberally and designed for shock effect. This one, however, is one with which I’m familiar. It doesn’t really matter how many are bullied: it matters that it’s happening.
I’ve mentioned here before that I was bullied as a kid. Eight schools in thirteen years and by the fourth one, I had become an insecure, overly sensitive, and easily picked-on vulnerable boy. By the time I graduated from high school, I had learned to compensate for being scorned, taunted, hit, and threatened by displaying a sometimes over-confident demeanor. Sometimes I wonder how life would have turned out if I had made different choices and stood up for myself earlier. Would some of the choices I’ve made turned out differently if I had become wired differently? I’ll never know and, like the movie’s statistic, perhaps it really doesn’t matter as much as the fact that what is done is done.
It’s in the past and now, in middle age, I admit that even now I think about things that happened. From the vantage of being years-removed, I can analyze it, confront it and accept what I did and what I didn’t do in response. Bullying is as old as Cain and Abel and we know how that one turned out. I believe that’s one reason why today’s verse says what it does in the time that it did. Even 3500 years ago – many centuries after those first two children – there were problems with men bullying other men. I suspect that, way back in ‘the day,’ society expected that learning to adapt to things like bullying was simply a rite of passage; you adapted and overcame or you got crushed. Whoever wrote this proverb understood this and saw how it was in conflict with the harmonious way in which God wanted us to live.
They saw it and saw that it is the duty of every person to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. People who are bullied, people who are impoverished, people who are beaten down, people who are oppressed, people who are outcast, people who are hurting: God wants us to stand beside them because He stands beside us. The writer understood that freedom is a gift from God, that even ‘the destitute’ have rights and that bullies will prey on the vulnerable to oppress and deny them their rights. It is our privilege to speak up for each other, to stand up for each other and stand in-between the oppressed and the oppressor, not to solve the problem but to stop the affliction. Is it our business to stop every fight, oppose every bully, and fight every battle for those who can’t? What does this mean in our schools, or writ larger, in our affairs as a nation? Just how far should we as a nation go to stand up for a tiny nation that can’t defend itself? Would you be willing to do it for a kid in your neighborhood, or one spouse being bullied and abused by another?
You won’t get the answers to such questions from me. They aren’t above my pay grade but they are out of my control. Only God has the answers, and perhaps it’s time we pressed the questions; doing so is also our privilege and our duty, and it’s fully within our pay grade. Standing together, we can inquire of Him, understand His response, and stop the hurting. You and I can stand in-between and allow things to cool down, letting the bullied build up and get their bearings, and letting the bully cool down and find a better center. At just the right time, God inserted Himself into human history to do something like this, standing in-between us and our sins and the spiritual death due to us for them. Satan is a crafty bully, you know. He’s a damned coward, hitting us where we’re vulnerable, bullying us with doubt until he finds an opportune time to beat us down in other ways. God With Us stood in the breach, allowing us time to cool down and find in Him a better way.
The verse for today was written thousands of years ago. May I ask what has changed? For most of planet earth, bullying is still accepted and nations are filled with people who make their way in life by bullying; hello President For Life Vladimir Putin. Or anyone remember when Saddam marched into Kuwait, Hitler into Czechoslovakia, or John Edwards onto the political stage? Anyone listened to some of talk radio lately, or watched “The View”? Neither of those are “The Artist.” They’re more like “Bully,” often times showing what happens when the stronger feed on the weaker and people don’t have an advocate who can speak up for them.