You never saw it coming. A hurt feeling, an unmet expectation, or a dashed dream and suddenly your entire emotional being is controlled by this sneaky feeling. It doesn’t happen overnight, but you notice it the most when that person or moment is brought to mind. It makes you angry. It makes you frustrated. And before you know it, you realize that it actually makes you bitter.
Bitterness is an emotion (read: sin) that we are often okay with. We disguise it with the language of hurt feelings, frustration, disappointment, or even righteous anger. We say to ourselves: “Bad things have happened to me. I’m not bitter. I’m just sad, hurt, and discouraged.”
But are we?
It’s a fine line, that one between genuine hurt/disappointment and full-fledged bitterness. But if we were truly honest with ourselves, while we don’t really like pinpointing it in our own lives, it’s not too hard to identify it in others. Usually it manifests itself in resentment, disdain, harsh judgment or hatred of a person. The overarching theme of the bitter heart is one that deep down thinks “I deserve better than this.” How do I know this?
My name is Courtney, and I am a bitter person.
Once I realized that so much of my resentment and anger was stemming from a bitter heart I wanted it gone immediately. It’s really ugly once your eyes are opened to it. I mean, who wants to be around a bitter person? I sure don’t. And one of the things about bitterness is that it can be really hard or intimidating to identify in the life of a person who is going through a trial. We tend to excuse their sinful responses because they are hurting or suffering. Why heap more problems on them, right? Wrong! It is exactly in these moments where godly, wise, and compassionate friends can lovingly show the sufferer that while her pain is legitimate and real, she might be allowing it to foster bitterness and resentment, rather than the growth that God intends.
Thankfully, the Bible provides us with a helpful antidote to bitterness.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” –Ephesians 4:31-32
Each of the first responses in verse 31 stem from an unkind, unforgiving heart. And then Paul gives the antidote. The remedy for bitterness and anger is forgiveness, and not just blind forgiveness, but forgiveness in the same manner as our Savior forgave us. Of all people to be angry and frustrated with the ones who offended him, it’s Jesus. If anyone had reason to hold our sin against us, it is Jesus. We can cry “I don’t deserve this” all we want, but Jesus is the one who truly can say it. He forgave us abundantly even when we hated him. The hope for a bitter heart is to look at the Cross. Bitterness is self-focused. And nowhere else are we more distracted from our own selves than by gazing at our Savior on the Cross. He was perfect, and we wronged him more than we will ever be wronged in our life. If he forgave me, the chief of sinners, how much more should I put away bitterness and forgive those who wrong me?
The heart of bitterness in my own life is stemming from a self-righteous attitude that thinks I’m getting something I don’t really deserve. But the Cross tells me the exact opposite. I deserve far worse than I’m getting. I deserve death and eternal punishment for my sin, but it was all poured out on Jesus instead.
Bitterness is an ugly sin. It often takes legitimately hard circumstances and makes them all about me and my feelings. They don’t understand me. They don’t treat me like I want to be treated. I didn’t get the desired outcome I wanted from this circumstance. But in God’s kind mercy he has given us a way of escape through our Savior, Jesus Christ. Bitterness does not have to have the last word in our lives, and for that I am eternally thankful.