Consider this description, this portrait of bitterness provide by Carol McGalliard in the Discipleship Journal, Issue 141, May/June, 2004.
“Long ago someone hurt you. Your shoulders hunch up when you think about it. You set your jaw and get a bad taste in your mouth. When you talk about the hurt, your voice sounds crabby no matter how carefully you choose your words. You hope God will get even with the one who hurt you, but you dream about your own revenge – just in case He doesn’t.”
Strong’s defines bitterness, or the Greek word “pikria” as acridity (especially poison), literally or figuratively. If you are like me, you might not know exactly what “acridity” is so I looked that up too…and it means sharp or biting to the taste or smell; bitterly pungent…exceedingly caustic. That…when I think about bitterness…makes sense and hits home.
So with that in mind, think about some qualities of a bitter person? Someone who endlessly replays a wrong in their mind in detail (and perhaps exaggerated). Someone with selective memory who might focus only on the bad times. Someone full of self-pity or who is self-righteous…thinking they “have a right to be bitter”. Someone who is only has cynical (and sometimes irrational) comments or who is only harsh with others.
The Psalmist gives us a pretty clear picture of bitterness. “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You.” (Psalm 73:21-22; NIV). A brute beast. That is a powerful image and one I am ashamed has described me at times…before my God, my wife, my children and pretty much everyone that has meant something to me.
Bitterness is a dangerous thing and it can destroy a family. As a husband, I am told “do not be bitter toward my wife” (Colossians 3:19) and in general we are to avoid “any root of bitterness springing up” in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness leads to wrath, wrath leads to anger, anger leads to clamor, clamor leads to evil speaking, evil speaking leads to malice. (Ephesians 4:31).
The key to overcoming bitterness…or wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, malice? The key is a deep conviction with reference to the existence and nature of God, a deep confidence in God and faith in God who can be trusted in all circumstance!
God has forgiven you and me in Jesus. It is right that He expect us to grow and to show the same grace and mercy to others. In Him we are safe and free to love. In that safety and freedom, we can cast the burden of bitterness on Him and know that He cares for us and will not forsake us…even when it feels like the people most important and special to us have.
So why bring this to you today? I bring it to you today because I know that bitterness can be a very real trap in our lives laid out by Satan to separate us from those we most care about. I have heard it said “it hurts the most when it’s someone you know” and the hurt can be a number of different things. I have been bitter and I have let that bitterness drive a wedge in my marriage, my relationships with sisters in Christ, with my own sister…with my friends. It has disarmed me of any grace, mercy, love or other spiritual tool and blessing and has in some circumstances created a long road to come back from in terms of reconciling a relationship and truly looking to God for my strength and my peace.
Bitterness is a trap. It can be avoided if we keep focused on our Abba Father. It’s still a very real trap…so be careful where you step.