“Because the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” 1 Samuel 1:6-7 NIV
How to talk about the hideous pain of bullying? It is one of the worst things a human being can do to another, because it singles out a specific weakness or area of hurt, which it then needles over and over again until the wound grows and festers and becomes unbearable. When we talk about bullies, we usually speak of children taunting one another in the playground, but whilst it certainly happens there and in increasingly terrible ways, we should not for a minute imagine that it is left behind in the schoolyard.
Some of the worst bullies run workplaces, stand for political office, become teachers, seek out seats of power (however small) and attempt to make certain people’s lives a misery. They are nearly always out to get those of whom they are jealous, or whom they secretly admire. This also happens in the dating game, so that the little boy who pulled plaits when a youngster, will negate and bully women he finds attractive. This, as I know you can imagine, leads to some horrible, unbalanced and abusive relationships.
Bullying, like all abuse, is about power. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, knows that her only claim to status is her children, and that it is also Hannah’s one weakness. A careful reading of the text, seeing the word “rival” and how Hannah is so loved by her husband, getting a double portion of sacrifices, and clearly has a close relationship with the Lord (it is not a coincidence that Peninnah’s worst bullying happens whenever Hannah goes to Temple), shows us that there is a nasty jealousy present. Polygamy is such a bad idea (more on that later) and causes deep and dreadful competition. Peninnah buoys herself up and knocks Hannah down, the best way she knows how, by taunting her about the one thing she has that Hannah does not. The bullying is so painful that Hannah can’t even eat.
Power games seem to be less frowned upon in the west than they used to be, at least for adults, but whilst bullying in schools seems to be taken more seriously, it is certainly rife and far more about sexuality and bodies very early on, and this is extremely worrying. Difference is the thing we always pounce on. Any sign of oddness, of wavering, of feminine in the masculine or vice versa, and there is perceived a vulnerability, an uncertainty that can be pounced on with fierce mockery.
Valuing difference, embracing the whole spectrum of humanity, gender, shape, colour, culture, history, intelligence, the way we process the world, is the way forward. Our God is one who clearly loves great ranges of difference. He made us all unique and if we foster and husband that amazing truth, we will be well on the way to talking down the name callers and being an integrated and whole society where everyone is deemed precious.
“Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8
Photo from Pixabay
If you are a victim (of any age) of bullying in the UK, you may find this website helpful: http://www.bullying.co.uk/