When I was in elementary school – fourth grade, to be exact – I was bullied by a kid named Chris. Chris singled me out early in the year, choosing to call me names other than the one my parents had chosen for me: Burrito and It.
The fact that I can still remember Chris’ face and the names he called me hints at just how deeply I was wounded by his childish and unrelenting teasing. People would tell me – especially well-meaning adults – that boys only tease girls this way because they like you…
Really? I didn’t believe it then. Still don’t.
In high school a bully named Clyde chose me from a pool of classmates. His stares violated my personal space for months – usually followed by whispers to his friends, their stares joining his, and then laughter or inappropriate comments. Or both. He so rattled my self-confidence that I actually sought help from the school counselor to make it stop (which is a big deal in high school – seeing the counselor meant that you were either in trouble or wimpy). I don’t remember it helping – in fact, I think it made things worse. After nearly failing a semester of chemistry with Clyde in the room, one of us had to go. I can still remember how his cruel oogling pierced my fragile self-image. Obviously – scars remain.
Joseph knew what it was like to be bullied – he had endured it all of his life. It probably didn’t help that he was Daddy’s favorite, sporting a colorful testimony of his father’s affection that day as he joined his older brothers in the fields. Joseph was dropped in a deep hole and sold as a slave to travelers by those who ought to have been looking out for him instead. Betrayed by those closest to him, Joseph began a life-journey that he did not choose and that he did not want.
Fast-forward to the scene described in Genesis 50 – Joseph, reunited with the family bullies, has just buried his father. Afraid that their now-powerful and influential little brother may be ready for payback, the clan begs Joseph not to retaliate. In a decidedly poignant foreshadowing of God’s redemptive plan, Joseph responds to his brothers with these words:
“It is true that you planned to do something bad to me. But really, God was planning good things. God’s plan was to use me to save the lives of many people. And that is what happened.” Genesis 50:20 (ERV)
Joseph had learned what our Savior Jesus knew as He hung, dying – a victim of brutality – bullying unto death. Jesus’ words, as recorded in Luke 23:34, are a glimpse into the truth Joseph spoke years before:
“Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
They think this will shut me up. It won’t.
They think they can get rid of me forever. They can’t.
They think they are doing this to me. They aren’t.
Let’s be clear – there is a bully at work here – but the enemy of Christ, of Joseph, even the enemy of me isn’t Chris or Clyde or jealous siblings or military powers or church leaders. These folks don’t know what they’re doing! Mistaking the power they wield as their own, these bullies think they are causing harm and inflicting pain.
The bully – the enemy of God – has been rallying troops of broken, hurting, insecure people since the Story began. Jesus knew, Joseph discovered, and I’m slowly beginning to understand that while bullies participate in the work of the enemy, they aren’t him. My battles aren’t against people any more than Jesus was put to death by the power of some nails and a couple of pieces of wood. The person calling me names and reaching out toward me with ill intent is a piece of clay, just like me. Only, I choose to be shaped by the hands of the Potter rather than worked over by a craftsman whose commitment to his workmanship ends when it’s usefulness does, too.
No one Wants What They’ve Got when it’s a bully who’s dishing it out.
Joseph didn’t. I surely didn’t. Jesus didn’t, either. He even asked God to let Him pass on sipping from that cup.
But in the hands of the Potter and the Author of our faith, backwards is the new forwards! God is planning good things, and evil intent can be appropriated and used to shape a vessel that holds Living Water in quantities generous enough to quench the thirst of the whole world. Or fill the tummies of an entire famine-inflicted nation.
So – Want What You’ve Got, bullies and all, and wait for it…
Because no matter how things look today, God’s intentions are very, very good.
Daily Questions: Who are the bullies in your life today? Are you down in the trenches – or down in the dumps – struggling with an enemy you can see with your eyes? Think again. The world thought that the enemies of Jesus got the better of Him on the cross, but the real bully was waiting for Him on the other side. The resurrection proves that Jesus fought that battle and won! Choose today to want the eternal security you’ve got in Christ; stop giving so much power (and credit) to the bullies in your life! They really don’t know what they’re doing!