Pastoral Perspectives

Because We Are God’s Image-Bearers

The recent bullying incident in Shuqun Secondary School (reported in Straits Times on 21 Sept, 2015) serves as a reminder that for some students, going to school can prove to be a harrowing experience. Indeed, if the bully could go on hitting two of his classmates on the head despite the presence of an adjunct teacher and other students in the classroom, one can only imagine the torment that the two victims must have suffered when they are left on their own.

Hopefully, in this case, the bullying has come to an end given that the school has counselled the student involved and he is said to “deeply regret his actions”. Admittedly, the skeptic within me cannot help but wonder whether the school would have gone any further in disciplining this boy if the video of his transgression had not been posted on social media. After all, one of the victims had reported to his teacher about earlier episodes but this only resulted in him being picked upon even more frequently. Indeed, far too often an individual may be reluctant to report what has happened because of the fear of retaliation and a lack of confidence that the administration will take any effective action.

To the credit of the principal, after this incident, he went on to speak to the rest of the students and advised them, how as bystanders, they should step up to stop aggressive behaviour. Understandably, if the problem of bullying is to be addressed, it will require concerted efforts from the larger community. In this case, the whole class must resolve to support one another and not be found condoning bullying by finding safety in numbers and keeping silent or worse, egging on the taunting.

Although the problem of bullying is unlikely to be totally eradicated, I believe that Christians can make a difference wherever we are. Given that bullying is ubiquitous, it means that it is not just educators, parents and students who need to learn about what we can do whenever we come across such incidents. For example, when someone posts derisive remarks or offensive images on social media with the intention of hurting and embarrassing another, we need to resist the temptation of re-posting the comments or pictures. Whenever possible, we should instead document their misdeeds as evidence and report them to the relevant authorities or webmaster. In addition, even if the intended victim may not be the nicest person around, choosing to turn a blind eye while someone is being harassed online is hardly commendable behaviour.

Likewise, there could be bullies at our workplaces or regrettably even within a religious context, where someone of influence or position goes around asserting his will unreasonably and riding roughshod over others. In some situations, things are not always so clear-cut and it could be difficult to determine whether certain actions constitute bullying. Unless there is evidence of sexual harassment, veiled threats or physical abuse, a victim may have few avenue of recourse.

Undoubtedly, we will need much wisdom on how to handle potential fallouts when we decide to stand up for the person who is being bullied. But just as the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-37) had compassion towards a stranger and offered to pay for the expenses incurred for caring for that robbery victim, Christians should be ready to go the extra mile whenever the need arises. Sometimes, the most courageous thing to do is to show concern and offer practical help to the victim whom everyone else is shunning for fear of being implicated. On other occasions, it may require us to pluck up moral courage and blow the whistle on the perpetrator.

If Christians are to be of help, we need to understand that bullying, at its core, is blatant disrespect for God’s creation. Every individual is sovereignly and wonderfully made in God’s image. Thus, whenever we choose to come alongside the victim and stand up against the bully, we can be said to be involved in protecting and restoring this image that others have sought to denigrate.

Interestingly enough, studies have shown that bullies also often suffer from self-image problems. Sometimes, a bully picks on a person because doing so makes him feel better about himself. Or the bully may be experiencing problems at home and his wrongheaded way of coping is to browbeat others or embarrassing them in public.

Regardless of what their motivations are, we need to remember that bullies are also made in God’s image. It is no surprise that sin has a devious way of distorting and tarnishing God’s image-bearers. But thanks be to God, sin and brokenness need not have the last word. Not when God’s people choose to fear God instead of man. Not when by God’s grace, we seek to do justice and to love kindness (Micah 6:8). Not when, we humbly ask God to help us demonstrate love, the kind that covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8), to the glory of His name.

Rev Edwin Wong

October 18, 2015