We begin angry. We experience hurt and we hold someone responsible. We hold them accountable and make them pay. When asked, “Are you okay, are you angry?” We reply, “No, I’m fine.” But we’re not ok. The relationship remains shallow, and inside we are in turmoil and our thoughts and desires deceive us. Bitterness has found a place to roost.
Bitterness is the result of anger and resentment not finding forgiveness. It is an experience of hurt that turns to beliefs, thoughts, accusations, and vengeance. Bitterness goes beyond anger as the unforgiving person hangs on to what has been done to them. Bitterness is making a decision not to forgive a wrong done. “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” (Ann Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith).
We must never underestimate the hurt and pain we experience in this life. However, the further hurt and destruction caused by unforgiveness leading to bitterness is inestimable. We often think that unforgiveness is a friend protecting us from further hurt, but it is an enemy whose is aim is to destroy through bitterness. Unforgiveness in the midst of pain and hurt leads to a hardness of heart leaving us unable to love God and others. We use bitterness to control situations and protect ourselves. While perched on the roost of bitterness we keep others at a distance, yet we are left cold and exposed.
Bitterness is a root that produces poisonous and bitter fruit (Deuteronomy 29:18). It is a roadblock to receiving God’s grace leading to all kinds of trouble (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness is a deadly thornbush in the desert producing the fruits of anger, wrath, clamour, slander and malice (Ephesians 4:31). Bitterness permits us to stand in the place of judge, jury and executioner in the lives of others. The more we dwell on the wrongs done to us, the injustices we experience, the pain we feel, the losses that have built up, the deeper the root grows and the more poisonous the fruit of our lives. Our hearts become hard and our countenance mirrors their calloused condition. Bitterness leaves us and our others marred by it’s poison living a rotting death.
The only cure for this condition is forgiveness received and given. Bitterness focuses upon the wrongs done to us. Breaking up the hard soil of our bitter hearts begins by looking to the cross of Jesus Christ where we see the wrongs he suffered to give us the forgiveness of our sins and his life. We all have sinned and deserve every wrong in this world. But God in grace suffered wrong in our place in the person of Jesus Christ. He paid our debt forgiving our sin through the cost of his own life to make us free. Forgiving others begins with being forgiven in Christ (Ephesians 4:32).
The bitter soul must trust God for the forgiveness of their wrongs. Bitterness does not go away when people get things right or situations are corrected. Bitterness is a root sin that must be put away in confession and repentance. We look to the cross where our sins were paid for, and we humbly approach God’s throne of grace to receive mercy for our sins of bitterness, resentment, anger, control, slander, gossip, lying, words that hurt or silence that has wounded, and the other deadly fruit that has grown from the root of bitterness. The humble receive God’s grace in Christ as they willingly return to him admitting the wrongs, receiving his cleansing, and trusting him for the grace to love.
In gratitude to God the once bitter heart is ready to put on love for the fruit of forgiveness and restoration to relationships. In Christ, as the beloved of God, we can put away bitterness and it’s fruits, and put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you (Colossians 3:12-13). In gratitude to God we forgive and refuse to rehearse the wrongs that have been done. Remembering the wrongs is not bitterness. We cannot extricate ourselves from remembering, but we can be free from unforgiveness and bitterness doing what we can to restore relationships.
Sometimes our bitterness goes beyond human relationships to our relationship to God. We must never put God in our debt. The idea that a person must forgive God for the hurt they have suffered is to insinuate that God has sinned. God is holy and righteous. His holiness pervades all his sovereign wisdom and goodness. Therefore God cannot sin. We may not understand the pain, hurt, loss and difficulties he allows us to experience in this life, but we cannot charge God with sin (Job 1:21-22). He is in the heavens doing whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3). His purposes, though mysterious, are good (Ruth). We must accept that even the greatest pains we experience are not outside of a most loving God’s sovereign designs for his own children (Romans 8:28-29).
Beware of the poisonous root of bitterness by fleeing to God for forgiveness and the grace to give forgiveness in love.