Words by Al Blanton | Image by Ryan McGill
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
– Ephesians 4:31-32
Years ago, a woman went through a bitter divorce from her husband. Before the divorce, the woman had been beautiful and full of life, but complications of the separation began to weigh on her emotionally. Her frustration turned into resentment, and resentment turned into bitterness. Over time, the bitterness affected her emotional well-being, and the downward spiral was so intense that she was admitted to a mental hospital, where she eventually passed away.
Negative emotions like stress, anxiety, worry, and fear can often become so penetrating that they begin to affect us physically. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”
Bitterness is one of today’s silent killers. While anger is often easily revealed, bitterness is a negative emotion that is not of the ticker tape variety. With little warning or fanfare, it can creep in and get a foothold in a person’s life. Before long, that foothold can become a stronghold if we are not careful.
The Bible is not silent on bitterness. In fact, tales of bitterness are scattered throughout Scripture. In the book of Genesis, Esau became bitter after Isaac stole his blessing. Later, the writer of Genesis relates that the Egyptians worked the Hebrews “ruthlessly” to the extent that they became bitter. In the book of Ruth, we are introduced to a woman named Naomi, who had become bitter after the loss of her husband and two sons—so bitter that she asked to be referred to not as Naomi, but as “Mara.”
And what does the word “Mara” literally mean? You guessed it! Bitter.
In 2023, we cannot evade bitterness’s fury. Chaos and calamity seem to be coming into our purview at breakneck speed. Many have become bitter toward the world, others, and God for a thousand different reasons—and they lash out accordingly. As bitterness grows, the “fruit” of this destructive emotion becomes self-absorption and cynicism to the point that a spirit of negativity utterly consumes the person, and life tilts on the axis of Self.
These are the effects, but there is more. Bitterness defiles a person spiritually.
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. – Hebrews 12:15
What this means is that bitterness greatly hinders our walk with the Lord. Ultimately, bitterness drives a wedge between human relationships and a person’s relationship with God.
Interestingly, bitterness and spiritual defilement are also linked to sorcery and witchcraft. The Book of Acts offers the story of Simon the Sorcerer, who wowed the people of Samaria with his sorcery and magic arts. Around the same time, a missionary named Philip came into the region and captivated people with another marvel: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many, even Simon the Sorcerer himself, believed and were baptized. But the story does not end there. Simon had enjoyed success in his craft and had obtained a certain level of acclaim, but after he witnessed Peter and John’s ability to call down the Holy Spirit with the laying on of hands, he offered them money so that he, too, could capture that same power. This did not sit particularly well with Peter, who replied, “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” – Acts 8:23
Though a person may appear to have it all together on the outside, an internal climate of bitterness can be quite clandestine. Bitterness can cause an individual to sow his or her discontent into others; this can be accomplished through criticism, gossip, and dubious plots to harm another. One who delights in karma or others’ misfortune is likely wallowing in bitterness and acrimony. To be sure, none of this is from the Lord.
So, what is the antidote?
Spiritual impurity and defilement are conditions that must always be dealt with by spiritual cleansing in the life of the believer. We must become pure. We must clean the inside of our cups.
Listen as Paul describes the need for this dynamic in the life of the disciple:
Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1
No sooner than we try to purify ourselves do we realize the futility of such an endeavor, and that we are incapable of purifying ourselves outside of supernatural means. Purification is accomplished not by grunting, straining, or mysticism, but rather by confession, repentance, and submitting our scourge to the foot of the Cross—and to Jesus himself. “Let us purify ourselves” means that we must take action to experience what God is providing.
Through an abiding relationship with Christ, we deal with bitterness by first asking God to remove it from our life, by believing He will do it, and by thanking Him that whatever we ask for according to His will, we have it (John 15:7). Then we worship Him for holding to his word.
Bitterness that is deeper-rooted may have to be dealt with more than once, especially if the enemy continues to bombard and re-infect the person with negative thoughts, but God will be faithful to remove the root and restore the believer with the fruit of the spirit that is an adequate replacement for its counterfeit.
In the end, harboring any form of negative emotion—whether that be worry, anxiety, fear, resentment, or bitterness—is like an acid that eats away at its container, destroying a person from the inside out.
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” – James 3:14
Instead of clutching onto bitterness to the extent that it has a corrosive, festering impact on ourselves and others, let us ask the Holy Spirit to come in and truly liberate and purify us from this destructive line of thinking. May shoots of gratitude and thankfulness begin to stretch out in our lives in place of the once-bitter root.
And may the blessed vitality of Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace so flow through our branches that it changes us, and thereby changes the world. WL