all met someone like her. She has been a Christian over eleven years. She
attends church regularly, is an officer in the Women's Missionary Society,
works hard in the PTA at the Christian School, and teaches four-year-olds on
Sunday mornings. She knows the Bible, aggressively witnesses to others about
her faith, and is, in general, considered to be extremely spiritual by her
who know her well, however, are confounded by the absence of joy in her life.
Even while going through the motions of Christian activity, she seems to be
harboring within her spirit a deep resentment towards the leadership of the
church, towards other Christian women who seem more at ease than she, and
towards her husband. She has all the right answers and all the wrong attitudes.
Externally, she is a model of Christian behavior. Internally, she is a
spiritual wreck and only the most discerning eye can tell there is something
one day something triggers a response in her that has been dormant for years,
and she completely loses her spiritual facade. She may leave her husband, leave
the church, or embarrass her family in some unexpected way. And the bewildered
crowd is left wondering “WHY?” Eventually she seeks counseling, and the truth
comes out. She has been nursing a bitter spirit for 25 years. Something that
happened as a child set off a chain reaction in her heart that caused her to be
desperately angry at her parents, and through her parents at the God who gave
her those parents. When Christ came into her life, she tried as hard as she
could to “put it behind her” and “press on”, but the harder she tried, the more
angry she became inside.
did all the right things, but all the while in her spirit she was saying “What
right does God have to...” Whenever a traumatic experience came her way, she
fumed inside at a “God of love” who would let that happen. She took up offenses
for others who were suffering and though her tongue said otherwise, her heart
was lashing out at God. Her anger at her earthly father soon was transferred to
her husband, who was bewildered at the inconsistency in her behavior. She had
made life miserable for herself and everyone else she knew.
the sake of this study, we're going to call her “Betty Bitterness”, and we're
going to try to untangle some of the causes and cures of the malignant disease
that was choking her life on the inside, while she was playing the part of
Cathy Christian on the outside.
is part three of our study entitled “How would you like to start over?”, a
brief mini-series designed to begin the new year by taking inventory and
weeding out the gardens of our lives, so that God can multiply the fruit that
is borne in us and through us.
began by looking at that insidious, but deadly disease known as “false guilt”,
a nervous disorder that paralyzes the spirit by refusing to acknowledge God's
forgiveness; and we noted particularly that Satan's most effective tactic seems
to be the act of confusing the Christian between the results of sowing and
reaping on earth with the reality of total freedom and forgiveness in Heaven.
conclusion was that while the results of our sins may go on and on while we are
on planet earth, the guilt for our sins ought to be dissolved completely the
moment we ask God for forgiveness. We asked you to ask yourself, if false guilt
has been weighing you down, “HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO START OVER?”
this lesson we move on to the next issue that plagues so many Christians and
causes their spiritual lives to ride the roller coaster of circumstances,
rather than to live in the realm of constant victory. That issue, of course, is
the curse of a bitter spirit.
Bitterness is not a real person, but neither is she make-believe. She is an
imaginary composite of thousands upon thousands who struggle to live the life,
and walk the walk, while still plagued by a continuous inner struggle that
rejects God's sovereignty and ignores God's love.
person sitting next to you may, at least to some degree, be struggling to be
set free from a root of bitterness that has robbed him of his joy. It may even
be the person sitting to the left of the person sitting on your right. It may
be you! Let's walk through the pages of Scripture and see just what a bitter
spirit is, how it comes into being, and what God would like to do about it.
dictionary defines it:
- “that which is sharp or unpleasant to the taste; that which is discomforting
to the mind, or harsh; that which is difficult or distasteful to admit; that
which exhibits strong animosity or resentment; and finally that which is marked
by anguished resentfulness or rancor.”
bitterness is a characteristic that always reveals itself in unpleasant ways. A
bitter taste is hard to swallow; bitter cold is hard to bear; the bitter truth
is a phrase used to describe a situation when telling the truth is painful;
bitter enemies are those whose very names strike fear in your heart. So when
the Bible speaks of bitterness, or of a bitter spirit, it is speaking of that
which produces a bad taste, an unpleasant reaction; that which is characterized
by resentment or anger.
must be careful to recognize that circumstances themselves do not produce a
bitter spirit. It is our response to those circumstances that turn
life's trials into roots of bitterness. One interesting insight into this truth
is found in the “Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament” under the Hebrew
word for bitter, “marar” and its derivatives. The word is defined this way “to
be bitter, OR to strengthen and become strong”.
author suggests that the reason for this is that the Aramaic root can mean
either, and he gives the example of Exodus 1:14 which reads “They (the
Egyptians) made their lives (the Hebrews) bitter” where a better rendition,
perhaps, would be “they strengthened their lives”. He goes on to say, “The
Egyptians, by imposing hard labor, only toughened the Hebrews”.
other words, the circumstances were designed to produce bitterness and possessed
all of the ingredients to do that. The grace of God, however, intervened, and
the very circumstances that should have created bitterness produced strength.
The author then gives Judges 18:25, Ecclesiastes 7:26, and Ezekiel 3:14 as
bitterness might then be defined as “an inner resentment that follows a
wrong response to unpleasant circumstances.” It is internal anger at what
life has produced. Superficially, it is always aimed at either people or
incidents. We become bitter at our parents, or bitter at our mates, or bitter
at a neighbor, or we become bitter over an accident or a death or an apparent
“injustice”. But a deeper look into the word of God will reveal to us that all
bitterness is, in effect, a deep-seated resentment towards a sovereign God. It
was God who gave us those parents; it was God who “allowed that incident”; it
was God who “caused or allowed that to happen”.
find many people who are torn between serving God and resenting God at the same
time. They may accept His work on the Cross, receive His gift of salvation, and
begin to endeavor to please Him by the way they live. But so often their faith
becomes ritualistic or legalistic, because they are not LOVING God with all
their heart. They are SERVING GOD hoping to work off or work out an angry
resentment towards who HE is or how HE runs His universe.
a bitter spirit is the result of a wrong response to life's storms. The man or
woman who nurses such a spirit lives under a proverbial cloud all of his days,
for every thing that happens is viewed through the lens of life that is blurred
by bitterness. GOD, meanwhile, says “Why live life under a cloud?” Behind that
cloud is the SON, and He it is who will give meaning to that storm.
looked through the Scriptures to see just what kinds of things Satan used to
sow those seeds of resentment that so blossom into weeds of bitterness, and I
found that as always there are some common denominators.
the most common was the “untimely” death of a loved one. I say
“untimely” reservedly, because there is really no such thing as an “untimely”
death to God. But to man, an “untimely” death is that which occurs prematurely
or undeservedly. Jesus' death was “untimely” to the apostles. He was only 33
years old, and of all men, He did not deserve to die, let alone to die the
death of a criminal for crimes He did not commit. Yet, it took place at exactly
the millisecond prescribed by an omniscient God. Stephen's death was “untimely”
to those who observed it, yet it was precisely at the moment God ordained it,
and at exactly the moment God chose for a man named Saul to witness it.
example is found in Ruth, chapter one, where we read a sad tale of a woman's
grief and the bitterness that resulted from that grief. There the story is told
of a woman named Naomi, who in the span of only ten years saw her husband and
both of her sons killed, leaving her widowed and alone. As she returned to
Bethlehem, those she had not seen in years asked the question: “Can this be
Naomi?” She answered them this way:
call me Naomi, Call me Mara (which means “bitter”) because the Almighty has
made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back
empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the almighty has brought
misfortune upon me.”
had viewed the disasters of her life through the lens of circumstance and
determined that God had turned against her; thus she felt she was justified in
literally being named “Bitterness”. The death of those she loved, she surmised,
simply had to have been the result of the affliction of an angry God.
I Samuel chapter 30, we find another occasion for bitterness, as David and his
men returned to Ziklag only to find that the Amalekites had raided the area and
taken all of their wives and children captive.
So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.
David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; EACH
ONE WAS BITTER IN SPIRIT because of his sons and daughters. But David found
strength in the Lord His God.
men were petrified and bitter. They had left home determined to do God's will;
then weren't allowed to fight. And while they were gone, an enemy had come and
taken away their loved ones. All they had that mattered was gone. The soldiers
were so bitter against God they were about to stone God's man. That's one
perspective. But David found strength in the LORD His God. That's
the other perspective. The loss of loved ones. It can lead either to strength
or to bitterness, depending on our response.
second cause of bitterness is physical affliction. The loss of good
health. Job, of course, is our best example. Job lost all of his wealth. He
praised God. Job lost all of His family. He quietly replied “The Lord giveth,
the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord” Then God allowed Satan
to touch Job's body.
crippling disease came upon Job (with GOD's permission, mind you), a disease
that literally rendered him helpless, caused him extreme agony physically, and
made him a social outcast as well. It was at this point, that the furnace of
affliction heated up to the point that God knew some dross would be removed
from Job's life, and in the process he would come to know his God more
before God could remove the dross, it had to surface, and in Job chapter seven,
we read the diary of a really bitter man. The Living Bible paraphrases it:
7:1 How mankind must struggle. A man's life is long and hard, like that of a
How he longs for the day to end. How he grinds on to the end of the week and
And so to me also have been allotted months of frustration, these long and
When I go to bed I think, “Oh, that it were morning” and then I toss till dawn.
My skin is filled with worms and blackness. My flesh breaks open, full of pus.
My life flies by-day after hopeless day.
My life is but a breath, and nothing good is left.
You see me now, but not for long. Soon you'll look upon me as dead.
As a cloud disperses and vanishes, so those who die shall go away forever.
Gone forever from their family and their home, never to be seen again.
the key verse:)
Ah, let me express my anguish. Let me be free to speak out of the bitterness of
I hate my life. Oh, let me alone for these few remaining days.
Job accuses God:)
What is mere man that you should spend your time persecuting him?
Must you be his inquisitor every morning, and test him every moment of the day?
Why won't you let me alone - even long enough to spit?
you say he's bitter?) Then in chapter 23, Job adds this finishing touch:
complaint today is still a bitter one and the punishment far more severe than
my fault deserves. Oh, that I knew where to find God-that I could go to his
throne and talk with him there. I would tell him all about my side of the
you ever addressed God that way?
was a man after God's own heart. God loved Job dearly. And Job loved God
dearly. But when sufficient pressure was applied, what surfaced was the limit
of Job's confidence in the sovereignty of God. Now I believe you could give that
passage in Job 7 to the average counselor and ask hem if there is any hope for
this guy, and you would be told that here's a guy who is paranoid; who is so
suffering from a persecution complex that nothing that ever happened could
change his perspective. He was hopeless. Here was the epitome of a bitter
spirit. But that's not the end of the story, is it? That's why we must never
say there is someone God can't help!
accused God of being unfair, inconsiderate, and unavailable. He implied that
God literally enjoyed sitting on His throne in heaven watching his children
squirm. Job had had all he could handle, so he turned on God. From deep within
Job's spirit there surfaced a spirit of bitterness that defied God to be God
and thus to exercise His prerogative to test Job's life as HE saw fit. Job
handled the tests of losing his loved ones and all of his possessions far
better than most of us would have, but even Job had his limits, and when God
touched his body, a bitter spirit issued forth. Sickness: it can either
be a source of bitterness (as it was to Job) or a source of strength (as it was
third thing that Satan uses to generate bitterness is found in 2 Corinthians
2:7. Let's read it also paraphrased from the Living Bible:
Remember that the man I wrote you about, who caused all the trouble has not
caused sorrow to me as much as to all the rest of you-though I certainly have
my share in it too.
I don't want to be harder on him than I should. He has been punished enough by
your united disapproval.
Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise, he may become so
bitter and discouraged that he won't be able to recover.
Please show him now that you still do love him very much.
Paul is referring to the man in 1 Corinthians 5 who was guilty of a great moral
sin, and the church was to break off fellowship until he repented. Now it would
appear that he had repented, and the church was not sensitive enough to respond
with love and forgiveness. Paul was saying “If you don't stop judging and start
loving, now that he has repented, you'll break his spirit; and instead of
restoration, you will drive a bitter spirit deep within his heart, and he'll
same principle is repeated in Ephesians 6 where fathers are warned not to
provoke their children to wrath by insensitive discipline. Know when to punish,
and when to love, if you don't, the result will be a bitter spirit.
course, these are only three or four of the things that spark the beginnings of
a bitter spirit. Disappointment with how God made you is another, anger
over being rejected is another, a wrong response to failure leads to
bitterness, too. These are all experiences that trigger a chain reaction in the
heart that sends a cancer-like substance into the bloodstream and poisons the
heart. A bitter spirit, in reality, results from any situation in which a
person receives a disappointment, and attributes to God's nature a wrong motive
for what happened.
Bitterness, our imaginary but very real example, got angry as a child at her
father. We don't need to know why. Maybe he beat her. Maybe he rejected her.
Maybe he was partial to her older sister. Maybe he wanted a boy and never let
her grow up to be the woman she wanted to be. Maybe he just ignored her. The
offense is not the issue. The issue is that at some point in Betty's life, she
looked at her Dad, and said to herself, “So that's the best God can do.” “God
says He's my Heavenly Father, and if that's what a Father is, why trust God?”
you, she probably never said it out loud. She probably never even said it to
herself. It was simply a quiet, subconscious decision to reject God's love
based on what she construed to be His past performance. After that, every
relationship she entered into, she entered into expecting to be rejected, so
she unconsciously behaved in such a way as to cause it. And when it happened,
she could say to herself again “See, God doesn't want me to be happy. God
doesn't love me.”
she became a Christian, she confessed her sins to God. She even confessed the
sin of hating her father. She began studying, serving, growing. But there was a
problem. Part of her was acknowledging God's program, while the other part of
her was denying God's love.
was active, but angry. Why? She was living under the cloud of a bitter spirit.
Everything she tried to do, she had to become virtually hypocritical to do,
because deep within her she didn't really believe that a God who gave her THAT
kind of a father could ever become the kind of Father He claimed to be. Her
mind and her body were actively spiritual, but her attitudes and her spirit
denied the reality of a real love relationship with God.
result was the building up in her spirit of a dichotomy, both parts of which
grew side by side until one day an explosion occurred, and she could keep her
anger inside no more. Her husband was shocked. The church was shocked. Her
friends were shocked, but God wasn't shocked. God knew that for years she had
nursed in her heart anger over past experiences that one day had to be reckoned
with. Instead of dealing honestly with that bitterness, she pretended to build
upon that rotten foundation, an edifice of spiritual service. But the
foundation crumbled, and the house went with it.
take another illustration: The story of Sandy Spiritual. She had a
similar childhood. She, too, was abused and neglected, and she, too, developed
a spirit that was antagonistic towards trusting God beyond certain
predetermined limits. She was willing to trust Him for her salvation, but she
could not bring herself to trust Him, for instance, to work through the
authority He placed over her. She went through job after job, and relationship
after relationship until one day she was confronted with the fact that her
whole life was being controlled by the fruits of a bitter spirit. She got alone
with God and made an honest acknowledgment that she possessed a root of
bitterness that was strangling her, and that at the tip of that root was an
unwillingness to believe that God was who He said He was, and that He loved her
the way He said He did.
stayed on her knees before God for hours, until there broke through into her
spirit a freedom she had never known before. She GAVE her bitterness back to
God and relinquished control of her life to Him. Then, she sought counsel from
a Godly counselor who led her into a year long study of the nature of God.
Every day she searched the Word to discover just who this God was she had given
herself to, and every day new insights surfaced that gave Her new confidence in
didn't happen overnight. But gradually, an uncanny peace settled in her heart.
The bitterness was dissolving. She could accept the past, not only as something
she mustn't be angry about, but more than that, as a series of necessary
experiences allowed by a Sovereign God who loved her so much that He designed
each of those tragedies to perfect her life and develop her ministry. Now she
could pour her life into other women who had suffered just as she. 2Cor. l:3
and 4 was becoming a reality. That, of course, is only the beginning. Her life
had been programmed for bitterness, and now she had to stop and meditate on
God's love EACH time an “unpleasant experience” came her way. She had to
retrain her will to respond God's way to trouble.
little diagram may help you understand what I mean:
upper diagram shows what happens to Betty Bitter when something unpleasant
comes her way. It exerts pressure on her life which is designed to purify her
and make her whole. But she rejects the fact that God could demonstrate love
through testing, and she draws up from within her past memories that trigger
her emotions and allow her to become angrier and angrier at a God who would
allow such things to happen. God is not glorified. She is not edified. No one
around her is encouraged.
second diagram shows Sandy Spiritual as the same experience comes into her
life. She stops quickly, recalls what she has learned of the nature of God, and
immediately realizes that GOD IS LOVE. Therefore, this experience is no more
designed to hurt her than the Cross was designed to hurt His own Son.
loves her and this series of circumstances simply is one more link in the web
of love He is weaving about her life. She doesn't understand it, but she says
to God “Thank You”, and she simply begins to praise Him. As she does this,
grace pours into her life and frees her from the entanglement of past
bitterness, and a greater freedom floods her soul. The testing produces
endurance. The endurance generates sensitivity. The sensitivity creates a
ministry. The ministry multiplies God's glory, and the cycle goes on and on and
women are experiencing the same set of circumstances. One has been freed from
the jailhouse of bitterness. The other has chosen to remain a prisoner of her
own anger. To one, the trial produces strength; to the other, the same trial,
make no bones about it; this lesson is serious business. We're not talking
today about overt sins that are easy to detect and easy to relinquish. We're
talking about the heavy stuff, the germ warfare of the spirit that seeps
through the soul unnoticed by the masses, but is eating away, nonetheless, at
the very fiber of the spiritual life.
listen to the lie that says you have to live with it. Ephesians 4:31 clearly
tells us that we are to
and for all get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and
just might translate that verse
rid once and for all of your bitterness. If you don't, it will disclose itself
in the form of uncontrolled behavior, undisciplined anger, an unbridled tongue,
and a basic spirit of vengeance that lashes out at others until it cuts them
would remind you that if God says you must get rid of your bitterness, then it
means God will enable you to do so. 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that God is
not in the business of teasing His children by admonishing them to do what they
cannot do. He will not test them beyond their limits, and He knows what their
would also remind you that we work as a body, and one person's bitterness,
(provided they want help) is a matter of love and concern for everyone they
know. Hebrews 12:15 thus admonishes us “See to it that no one misses the
grace of God and that no bitter spirit grows up (among you) to cause trouble or
defile many.” The problem of bitterness is a problem for the whole body. A
root allowed to go untended spreads throughout the family of God and sows seeds
of destruction wherever it goes.
believe God has a very simple plan for dealing with bitterness. Not quick, mind
you, but simple. The fact that something is simple does not mean it is instant.
It simply means that there is a direct solution to a direct problem.
have in Scripture at least one face to face confrontation between a bitter man
and a loving God. It takes place in Job, chapters 38 through 42. We've looked
at it many times, so we needn't study it in detail, but we must remember the
pattern that emerges. It is essential.
had allowed a bitter spirit to literally block his vision of who God was. He
was angry over the circumstances. He felt unjustly persecuted by a God who
either didn't care or was powerless to help. So Job began defending his own
righteousness, and he surmised if this “God” of his would just come out of
hiding long enough, Rev. Job would plead his cause, God would realize he'd
misread the man and apologize for making his life so miserable. That's
literally what Job was saying.
let Job rant and rave for a spell, and he let him go to three counseling
centers for help, all of which tragically missed the mark. They attempted to
rebuke Job for whatever behavior got him into this mess, rather than
encouraging Job to see who God was. It wasn't Job's behavior that got him into
this mess. God got him into this mess by goading Satan into testing him, so God
could purify his heart. I don't know how much Job paid by the hour for the
counsel he got, but it was overpriced, simplistic, and totally unhelpful.
in chapter 38, God called Job on His spiritual hotline and asked the most
penetrating question Job had ever been asked. He asked; “Who is this that
darkens counsel with words without knowledge?” Who is this whose mouth is
in gear though his brain's out to lunch? would be a modern translation. Stand
up like a man! God instructed Job. It's twenty questions time, and now I'm
asking the questions.
were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
me, if you understand,” God asked
marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
stretched a measuring line across it?
what were its footings set- or who laid its cornerstone- while the morning
stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
you hear what God is saying? He is saying “Job, just who do you think you are?
God?” If you think you know enough to pass judgement on what God has allowed to
happen, then I'll give you some questions any healthy god ought to be able to
answer. If you can't answer those, then maybe you'd better re-evaluate who you
in perhaps what is the most beautiful prose ever written, the Spirit of God
engraves on the tablets of Scripture a dialogue designed for the man or woman
with a bitter spirit. A dialogue, that if memorized, would eventually cleanse
the spirit of that self-righteous anger that holds tiny grudges against a
God is saying ultimately is this: There is one cure and only one cure for
bitterness. It is time spent in the presence of a Holy God. Lots and lots of
time. Worshipping Him for who He is. Studying the Psalms, and the book of Job
for why He is who He is, until the very awe of His presence and the very
magnitude of His love permeates every fiber of your life, and the very thought
of holding a case against God would petrify you.
want to know what happens to bitterness in the prolonged presence of God?
Listen to Job 42:1-6: (NIV)
Then Job replied to the Lord.
“I know that you can do all things. No plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, “Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?” Surely, I
spoke of things I did not understand; things too wonderful for me to know.
I was the one who talked when I should have been listening.)
You said “Listen now, and I will speak. I will question you, and you shall
other words, you said, let's get it straight, which one of us is God. So I
hushed and look what happened.)
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.
looked at God and guess what? He forgot all about Job!
at God's command, Job began to pray for the very ones who had judged him
wrongly (for those who had triggered his bitterness), and the Scripture records
“The Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends.”
his heart had seen his God afresh, he was now equipped to look outside himself
to others. God had done heavy surgery on a heart that had nearly stopped
beating, because a disease called bitterness had been allowed to grow and grow
and grow untouched.
closing, I simply must ask us all a few questions to help us determine
individually how badly we need to deal with this issue of bitterness. The
questions are these:
What is the first word that comes into your mind when someone says “describe
God”? (What is the first thought that comes to mind?) How you
answer that will help you see just how you see the one who sees your heart.
Are you always angry at someone or something?
Is your temper a time bomb just waiting to erupt? Then just who is it you think
you are really angry at?
When you write on a piece of paper the five most traumatic events of your past,
does peace flood your soul over God's amazing grace, or do your teeth still
grind, and does your heart still beat faster as though it were saying, “I don't
want to think about it!”?
When something unpleasant happens to you, what is the very first thought you
have? Anger? or Praise? Do you honestly see trauma as God's
vehicle to triumph? Or are you simply training yourself to tolerate what you
construe to be God's apathy? Think about it.
Have you learned to effectively turn bitterness into love by praying for,
blessing, and doing good for those who have brought hurt and grief into your
life? Or do you simply pray that they will one day get the
punishment they deserve?
Do you honestly believe that God loves you more than anyone you know could ever
love you; more than anyone you know has ever loved anyone who has ever lived?
Do you really believe that God's love is without limits, without end, without
partiality; that if no one else had ever lived but you, Jesus would have gladly
died just for you? If your answers to those questions indicate that a root of
bitterness still lingers in your spirit, may I beg you to start this new year
by doing something about it, by doing what Job did. Make an appointment to
spend a day alone with God and purpose not to leave that place until you have
acknowledged that every trace of that bitterness is sin; until you have
confessed it as such and asked God's forgiveness; and until you have come to
realize that God is not beholden to you nor is He foolish enough to change His
plans to conform to your image of Him, when His goal is to conform your life to
His image instead; until you come to fall to your knees as Job and cry “I
uttered things I did not understand. Now my eyes have seen you. I repent in
dust and ashes.” Then you will have come into the secret place where bitterness
cannot abide! Next, schedule an hour or more a day just to be in His presence
and worship. That is God's long-range cure for lingering bitterness. And ask a
friend or counselor to help you untangle your wrong concepts of God and replace
them with Scriptural concepts. Do not go through another year plagued by the
curse of a bitter spirit.
will rob you of your peace.
will rob you of your joy.
will rob you of your power,
it need not be anymore.
a loving God is reaching out to touch that spirit of bitterness, and with arms
outstretched in mercy, He is asking: “How would you like to start over?”