The recent suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer in Buffalo, New York, caught my attention, and rather than just read the news, sympathize for a while, and forget until another bullying death was reported, I knew I needed to teach a way to combat this monster.
Jamey, a high-school freshman, was the object of cyber attacks that went on for a year before he took his life in September 2011. Why did this handsome teenager allow anonymous bullies to shatter his dreams? His death deeply touched me, because for the past four years I have teaching teenagers in our church and can’t imagine losing any one of them. I sympathize not only with Jamey’s parents and friends but also with families around the globe who’ve lost loved ones to this curable killer disease called bullying.
Curable? Yes, I very much mean it.
Our government and public schools have made efforts to tackle this social menace in recent years, but addressing bullying at the physical and psychological levels won’t solve the problem. Bullying is a spiritual issue, and our youths have to be spiritually equipped to fight back.
You cannot fight spiritual battles with physical weapons. The Word of God says, “Of course, we are living in the flesh, but we do not fight in a fleshly way” (2 Corinthians 10:3). Verbal harassment, violence, and death can be outward manifestations of bullying, but bullying itself is deeply rooted in the spiritual.
The attack on Jamey started with words. According to news reports, one anonymous online post read: “JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!” Another said, “I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it:) It would make everyone WAY happier!”
The teen’s friends reported the bullying to school guidance counselors, who took action to stop the attacks. After a while, everyone, including his mother, thought Jamey had grown stronger.
We ignore the power of the spoken word only to our own peril. The Word of God says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Proverbs 18:21). The words thrown at Jamey were targeted words aimed at destroying him. Our Lord said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Bullies are Satan’s agents sent on suicide missions; their verbal and written words are demonically programmed. These words hit Jamey, he processed them in his mind, and he came to the conclusion that his best option was to leave this world to escape his attackers.
There is an alternative: Teens can fight back with superior words. The Word of God says that what a man thinks is what he really is (Proverbs 23:7). Consider these powerful verbal counterattacks:
● “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Psalm 139:14.)
● “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1.)
● “Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue: neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh.” (Job 5:21.)
● “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.” (Isaiah 54:17.)
These are words sufficiently potent to neutralize murderous words of bullies. If a young person tells himself, “I am who God says I am and not the definition of the bullies,” he will defeat his attackers.
In the book of 1Samuel 17, there is a story most children are taught in Sunday school about the young boy David, who was confronted by a killer bully called Goliath. The giant used a familiar weapon: words. These weren’t ordinary words; they had the spiritual potency to kill David.
We read in verses 8-11:
“Goliath stood and shouted at the Israelites, ‘What are you doing there, lined up for battle? I am a Philistine, you slaves of Saul! Choose one of your men to fight me. If he wins and kills me, we will be your slaves; but if I win and kill him, you will be our slaves.’…When Saul and his men heard this, they were terrified.”
You can see the bully at work with words that frighten and dismay. He meant to demoralize the children of Israel into giving themselves up as slaves to the Philistines. Even the king of Israel was afraid. Words have the capacity to torment anyone, irrespective of status; a young person is especially vulnerable. But this young boy David had been schooled in the art of spiritual warfare. He knew God’s words and had never been far from fellowshipping with Him.
In verses 45-47 we read of David’s counterattack:
“Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.’”
David fought back immediately with the Word of God; he didn’t give any time to the words of the enemy. He knew that God was on his side; he knew what God said about him, that he was more than a conqueror; he knew he could do all things through God’s strength in him. He knew God had positioned him as the head and not the tail, meaning he would be above the enemy and not under his foot.
We all know the rest of the story: David ran to the battle lines and killed Goliath, obtained the victory for Israel, and remained alive to fulfill his destiny of becoming king of Israel.
Our children need to know that God loves them, and that suicide is not an escape. We must teach them to recognize the strategies of their unseen enemy—the devil–who is the culprit behind all of our societal tragedies. Let’s seek spiritual solutions to bullying and not just fight it alone with human or physical understanding.
Lanre Sobo is youth pastor of Household of Faith Arlington, a Redeemed Christian Church of God congregation. He and his wife Olukemi have three children.