Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.



September 2011



Pulling the Noxious Weeds of Bitterness

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Some attitudes of the heart are so devastating that the Bible goes on record to sound warnings that only a fool would ignore. One such warning concerns the sin of bitterness.  The writer of Hebrews makes this arresting statement, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.” (Heb. 12:15)

Bitterness is a settled anger that refuses to let go of an offense suffered. Such a mindset makes forgiveness and reconciliation unattainable because the offense is nursed and kept warm. With a refusal to forgive, living in peace and harmony with God and others becomes mission impossible.

These noxious weeds of bitterness spring up from the wounds of life, and usually come unannounced: the parent who abused; the teacher who slighted; the business partner who bailed and defrauded; the spouse who betrayed.  Such examples provide fertile ground for bitterness to flourish.

Left unattended, bitterness eats like an acid upon a person’s soul. So tenacious is this root that a bitter person becomes a prisoner of their own making.  They exist in a cell of anger, discouragement, depression, and deception.

Often bitterness champions excuses and justification for the smoldering rage. I was deeply moved some years ago to read the honest confession of one woman who caught her husband in marital unfaithfulness.

“He swore it would never happen again. He begged me to forgive him, but I could not—I would not. I was so bitter and so incapable of swallowing my pride that I could think of nothing but revenge. I was going to make him pay and pay dearly. I’d have my pound of flesh. I filed for divorce, even though my children begged me not to. Even after the divorce, my husband tried for two years to win me back. I refused to have anything to do with him.  All I wanted was to make him pay.  Finally, he gave up and married a lovely young widow with a couple of small children. He began rebuilding his life—without me. I see them occasionally, and he looks so happy. They all do. And here I am—a lonely, miserable woman who allowed her selfish pride and foolish stubbornness to ruin her life.”

Adultery is wrong, and revenge is too.  But without forgiveness, bitterness is all that is left.

What is our hope to live free of the noxious weeds of bitterness?

God’s grace is our hope. We are told in Hebrews, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God.” We must allow God’s gracious scalpel to cut out bitterness and for His love to cauterize our hearts.  The way He works that out is through the power of what Jesus Christ has accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection.

The New Testament continually points us to the One who spoke bitter-free words from the wooden beams of His cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) God’s gracious counsel to us is to, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger….be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

To know Him is to be free indeed!

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