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Thrown under the bus

Sometimes fear of man, not malice, is the source of betrayal


I remember the first time I heard the expression “thrown under the bus.” I wished I had thought it up myself. (You youngsters think the phrase was always around, but idioms, like stars, are born and die regularly. No one ever said “Sorry about that” until Don Adams did in the 1965 sitcom Get Smart).

It painted such a vivid picture of the situation in my mind. See the bus careening down the road. (Could be a truck or train, that’s immaterial.) It’s headed straight at you, and the only way to save yourself is to quickly toss some convenient human bystander in its path to serve as speed bump, thus deflecting the danger.

For example, did Australia and the United States throw France under the bus in the recent submarine snafu? Who knows. Maybe the DNC threw Bernie Sanders under the bus for Hillary in 2016? Again, that is more than I can say. Did President Biden throw an undetermined number of American citizens under the bus when he ham-handedly pulled out of Afghanistan? Um, maybe.

In the lives of ordinary people the stakes are not typically so dramatic as multibillion-dollar military hardware deals. They are smaller human sacrifices, along the lines of: “I would have been here on time but my husband got home late with the car.” Or, “Sorry the potatoes are overdone; I wonder if my husband forgot to turn off the oven.”

The apostle Paul put fear of man to death with the expulsive power of fear of God.

The dictionary says “throwing someone under the bus” means betraying him. This is true, but what the bus idiom image adds is the refinement that something other than malicious and premeditated betrayal is in view. The actor in this case didn’t set out to betray. Indeed, the thought of betraying would probably give him no pleasure in ordinary circumstances. He was simply going about his business when very suddenly he perceived an imminent danger to his interests, and animal instinct coughed up the instant calculation to satisfy the ravenous maw of danger with the red meat of some other acceptable fodder.

The first recorded instance of one human throwing another human under the bus was Adam telling God, when confronted with his sin, that it was Eve’s fault: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). The next instance followed right on its heels: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (v. 13).

We need not think that Adam hated Eve in that moment. One may throw someone under the bus without true malice, as Aslan informed Lucy when the little girl saw in a magic book her best friend Marjorie downplaying their relationship to the nasty Anne Featherstone. As Aslan explained after Lucy called her friend a “two-faced little beast”: “You have misjudged your friend. She is weak, but she loves you. She was afraid of the older girl and said what she does not mean” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).

Fear of man, then, is what makes us throw another under the bus. But we don’t have to live that way. There is an antidote. The Apostle Paul, a flesh-and-blood man just like ourselves, put fear of man to death with the expulsive power of fear of God. While he hoped that the Christians of Corinth would straighten up and fly right, it was not to make himself look good, who had first brought them the gospel, but for their own sakes, because he loved them:

“We pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong” (2 Corinthians 13:7-9).

This is the heart of love for one’s brother. It prefers to look bad that the brother may look good. It throws itself under the bus, which is true love.


Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.

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