Like a gas leak, bitterness can be barely discernible at first – perhaps there’s the slight whiff of something not quite right – but if you’re not wide awake and alert, it can be fatal. It is dangerous, and a spiritually deadly trap to fall into.
Bitterness is sneaky
Bitterness can creep up on us (or in us) like a cancer that grows undetected… but mercifully, God has given us a surefire method to deal with it.
Like me, I suspect, you may have friends who are full of righteous indignation about one cause or another. There have been times when I was reading various passionate outbursts online that I detected something that seemed vaguely ‘off’. Even though they were believers It didn’t feel clean somehow. I couldn’t understand why at first, because it is quite right to object to injustice and to be a voice for the voiceless. Righteous anger is good, isn’t it? What was it that I was picking up? It took me a while to realise: It was bitterness. A trap I have fallen into myself far too often.
It’s good to care about justice and righteousness, but when we take up a cause with anger that has degenerated into bitterness, we unwittingly become a weapon in the hand of the enemy.
Don’t let the enemy yank your chain
When the Assyrians carted the people of Israel off into exile, they were particularly cruel about it. They put hooks in the lips of the Israelites and then chained them one to another. As you might imagine, they did not have much choice about which direction they would go. They were compelled to follow whoever was yanking that hook.
So it is when we allow the hook of bitterness to take hold in our hearts.
Instead of partnering with God and his cause of righteousness and justice, bitterness opens up a foothold for the enemy, allowing Satan to manipulate us. When we are in bitterness, we are not free – we are beholden to the one holding that hook. Instead of being a clean and sterile scalpel in the hands of the Master Surgeon, we can make a terrible mess. We may be trying to help but falling prey to bitterness can render our efforts useless. Even worse, it can make us a pawn in the enemy’s games.
We have to be clean. We must be holy. Our anger has to be free of sin. This purity requires repentance from sinful anger, which pretty much always requires forgiveness.
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26)
The knock-out antidote to bitterness: Forgiveness.
Bitterness is dissolved completely in the purifying fire of forgiveness. All the unrighteousness in our rage is purged by the power of forgiveness. We often think of forgiveness as something that only applies on a personal level, in our relationships, but let me tell you – it needs to go bigger and wider than that. If you find yourself incensed with frustration at a political party, a movement, a nation, an organisation, a company or a celebrity, it’s time to get on your knees and forgive.
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)
To my surprise, at one point in my life I found myself needing to forgive a certain politician. The thought that anger towards a public figure could be wrong simply hadn’t occurred to me. It took the convicting light of the Holy Spirit to shine in my heart for me to realise how ugly my unsanctified anger was to God. I had grieved the Holy Spirit.
Forgiveness is like the radioactive rays of chemotherapy on the cancer of bitterness. It will kill it all off, and render your heart clean of unholy anger. Then we can ask God to share his own heart concerning the problem that’s bugging us, and we can replace our human anger and judgment with his loving perspective. Far from needing our help and plans to fix the problems in the world, God already has a trick or two up his sleeve. We can take part in his infinitely superior plans if we’re wiling to let go of our bitterness and partner with him.
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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)
Surely God is looking for vessels that are clean as a whistle – holy and pleasing to him – sanctified and ready for use in his perfect purposes.
Photo by Danijela Froki on Unsplash