Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mere Mortals

Hear Me, you who know what is right, you people who have taken My instructions to heart: Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals or be terrified by their insults. (Isaiah 51.7; NIV)

Self-Elimination and Zombie Faith

I’ve not yet seen Bully, the documentary prompting a lot of conversation about this crisis among our youth. But in the trailer, one parent says, “Be the difference. Go out and find that one child, that new kid standing over there by himself. Be willing to stand up for him.” And while the urgency of aligning ourselves with—and protecting—children who are abused as outsiders has never been greater, the comment brought to mind how many adults also suffer from bullying.

As creatures we’re no different than other social species; we fall into a pecking order that establishes who among us has the upper hand and who’s expendable. It’s a pack mentality one can arguably explain as part of our DNA—the jungle law that spurs alpha types on our playgrounds to intimidate classmates who don’t fit the accepted mold. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing the call of the wild play out among our children much like it does in nature. With increasing regularity, kids labeled as worthless misfits withdraw into debilitating depression and, in the most extreme cases, eliminate themselves by suicide. Yet we don’t seem capable of outgrowing this phenomenon on our own. We see it in adults everywhere: in families, at work, in politics, in communities, and, most distressingly, in arenas of faith.

The whole point of faith, as I see it, is to correct our penchant for jungle law by transforming our natures to reflect God’s perfect love and acceptance. Faith is designed to defy nature, to reestablish a law of life that defeats fear and death. In Romans 7.5-6 we read, “While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” So how is it, then, that the halls of Christianity are strewn with corpses of people who’ve been bullied as outsiders—precious souls who’ve been convinced that they’re worthless misfits? How can a faith that hangs on the promise of resurrection tolerate a culture that breeds debilitating depression and, in the most tragic cases, encourages self-elimination from the Body of Christ?

And we should be very frank about this. When those who’ve been rejected withdraw from the community of believers, they’re essentially committing faith suicide. Furthermore, while some may not go so far as turning away, to survive a climate governed by exclusion necessitates rejecting “new life in the Spirit.” Like bullied children, they’re held captive by powers that “bear fruit for death.” It’s not enough to call them the walking wounded. They’re viewed and treated—and thus perceive themselves—as the living dead. In being pushed aside and bullied for not fitting the mold, they’re consigned to a life of zombie faith, a hollow belief that yields no life-giving love, joy, and acceptance.

Perfect Gifts

As we ponder the despicable doctrines and practices that foster self-elimination and zombie faith, we listen closely to God’s voice in Isaiah 51.7: “Hear Me, you who know what is right, you people who have taken My instructions to heart: Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals or be terrified by their insults.” In context, God is addressing a bullied nation. His word comes to a people who’ve been overpowered and taken captive by Babylon—the top dog of their age. They’re forced to live as outsiders in a strange land, not by choice as expatriates, but without recourse as exiles. With no end in sight, no doubt many toy with suicidal thinking, while the rest attempt to endure by clinging to zombie faith. Yet God reminds them they know better. How it looks is not how it is. “You know what’s right,” God says. “You’ve taken My instructions to heart.” Knowledge of Who God is and what God expects is given to bolster them against jungle-law bullying. “Remember, bullies are mere mortals,” God says. They’re not to be feared.

In daily life—and, in particular, in the realm of faith—we have to know that. We cannot forget what is right, or lose sight of Who God is and what God expects. Our worthiness isn’t measured by pecking order and primal nature. It’s decreed by our Maker. James 1.17 tells us, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Created in the image of a perfect God, we are perfect gifts of lasting value and the only way we can alter that perfection is by rejecting it—by submitting to bullies who insist we are less than God made us to be. We must be very canny in our awareness that not everyone who reaches prominent positions in our churches has reached Paul’s understanding that the Body of Christ isn’t governed by laws of sin and death. Not everyone who says we’re wrong knows what’s right. Not everyone who preaches has taken God’s instruction to heart. God has opened this amazing opportunity for us to experience new life in the Spirit. We’ve been freed from captivity and fear. How it looks is not how it is. Self-elimination is not an option. Zombie faith is no way to live. We are perfect gifts.

Find Them

As we take this liberating message to heart, we open our hearts to those who’ve not heard it, or struggle to believe it. Within our families, workplaces, and communities—especially our faith communities—we know people who’ve been bullied into rejecting their self-worth. They battle self-eliminating urges of every imaginable type. They’re held captive by lies and libels that promote negative self-images bearing no likeness to their perfect Creator. They are afraid.

Yet, monumental though the forces convened against them may seem, it is in our power to do as the parent in Bully pleads: “Be the difference. Go out and find that one child, that new kid standing over there by himself. Be willing to stand up for him.” Find the believers who opt out of community. Convince them self-elimination is unnecessary. Find the believers who’ve settled for zombie faith. Show them love and speak words that restore their confidence that they too can experience new life in the Spirit. Find the believers who’ve lost sight of who they are because others have told them they’re not who they should be. Assure them that how it looks is not how it is. Find them. Be willing to stand up for them.

A very wise person said, “The things we fear the most have already happened to us.” And therein lies resurrection’s power over fear. It gives birth to newness of promise. It loosens the grip of past defeats and injuries so that we’re free to live as God wants us to. Whether on the playground or in the church, jungle law and the bullying it creates are the work of mere mortals. They’re nothing to fear. We have to believe that message for ourselves. And then we have to pass it along to others.

Bullying isn’t confined to the playground. Nor is it limited to children. It is equally prevalent in adult life, most corrosively in the realm of faith. We have power to change that.

Postscript: Bully

If you’ve not seen the Bully trailer, here it is. And as you view it, I would encourage you to think about adult bullying—Christian bullying—and how it demeans believers.

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