Intimidation comes at us on a variety of fronts and sometimes in subtle ways. It might come from the political arena or religious groups. Sometimes it is family or work associates. In some cases intimidation can be a good thing but is most it can be destructive and is used to manipulate. “Where can it be good?” you might wonder. During the Cold War era the U.S. and Russia instituted MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction. It was a way of each side intimidating the other side in order to prevent a nuclear attack. The essential idea was that if one side launched an attack the other would retaliate before the nuclear bombs landed and both sides would suffer maximum damage and casualties. So, although there was an going tension in the air there was a fairly solid peace between the super powers.
If a school bully is confronted with the idea that a more powerful foe may intercede on behalf of an intended victim the intimidating bully becomes intimidated him (or her) self. Much of the time, however, intimidation is not good. It is a way for some to hold power over, threaten, or manipulate others into bowing to their will.
“Hands up. Don’t shoot” has become the new mantra for the most recent cause célèbre. It is based on the idea that a nice, innocent, unassuming youth was heartlessly gunned down by an over bearing, racist police officer while the young man had his hands up trying to surrender. Is it true? It doesn’t matter because if someone dare question the narrative they are labeled a racist and intimidated into silence if not guilted into agreement. It makes good politics and enables those in power to retain their power through intimidation and manipulation.
Intimidation is a useful tool in many religious groups. David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen provided a very useful tool in their book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church. (You can look at it or purchase it by clicking on the cover). Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles, Word Faith teachers, and authoritarian leaders within the church use what I call the “God stick.” The threat of a big stick is important especially when the one who is doing the intimidating is not all that scary themselves and God is a really big stick to wield. It is a weapon most often used against any followers who dare to question. They are God’s chosen leader and thinking or God forfend, verbally suggesting otherwise results in threats of God’s retribution against such dubious and obviously rebellious thoughts. “Touch not God’s anointed” we are told. Ron Henzel’s article ”Trapped in the Shadow of God’s Anointed” has been very helpful to many who have been intimidated with this particular stick.
Intimidation is very prevalent in cults and New Religious Movements. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the Bible is only written to a small group of people they call the anointed class. Anyone not in that class cannot understand its contents without the official explanation from Brooklyn. They are taught to avoid independent thinking and not to run ahead of the organization. JWs are instructed shun former JWs (apostates) and to avoid the Internet where they might unwittingly make contact with an apostate. They may, as a result, engage in independent thinking, leave and God will destroy them at Armageddon. The Mormons, Remnant Fellowship, Moonies and many other groups use similar techniques. Only organizationally approved thinking is acceptable and permitted, anything else will be punished.
I find a real difference when I turn to Scripture. When I read Isaiah 1:18 I am encouraged:
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
Why is that? I have come to realize that most who use intimidation are themselves fearful. They are in many ways like the Wizard of Oz. They use bluster and smoke and mirrors but once exposed turn out to be very little fearful people. I will never forget years ago when a couple had left a Gothard affiliate church they were quite afraid. When the woman called me to try to figure out what to do when she runs into the pastor in the grocery store or somewhere else and I told her that as she grows he will begin to look different to her. He will be less terrifying. Several months later she called in amazement as she relayed having run into him at a local store and when he saw her he turned and headed in the opposite direction.
God on the other hand is not fearful or intimidated. He promotes asking questions and gaining understanding. “Let us reason together” is an invitation from the One Who owes us nothing but gives us everything. As Hebrews 4:15 points out:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
God desires our hearts to be His and He extends the invitation:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
So, whether the intimidation is politically motivated, as we have in the issues in Ferguson, MO, or religious or something else, as we spend time with and focus on our Lord Jesus we gain new confidence and need not fear the intimidator. Why is that? Well, I will let the Apostle Paul answer that:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That is because sometimes we cannot really communicate in words as well as we can in pictures or film what we are trying to convey. I think the 1988 film, ”The Bear” is a powerful image of intimidator, intimidated and protector doing their job while the one being intimidated is unaware of his protector.