How to Find Peace Out of Bitterness
Bitterness is a deadly malignancy of the soul. Its poisonous venom destroys both the physical body and the spiritual health of an individual. I once heard it said, “Bitterness is like the acid you have inside that you want to spew on others; but it may well eat you alive before you get the chance.”
Truly, bitterness is one of Satan’s greatest weapons in devouring all kinds of relationships. It seeks out those who have been offended or hurt by another, encouraging them to dwell on the offense until a deep-seated anger and resentment takes root. The Enemy whispers in their ear: You’re right… Look what he did to you… You don’t deserve this… And she calls herself a Christian… and so on, and so on, and so on.
As we see in Hebrews 12:15, what makes this anger and resentment so dangerous is “the root of bitterness” that springs up in the heart. From it, this Scripture warns, trouble is caused and “many become defiled.” In other words, the constant stream of venom spewing from the heart of a bitter person defiles nearly everyone encountered.
Unfortunately, I have seen this poisonous root spew its venom in the lives of numerous women I have counseled over the years at Pure Life Ministries. But bitterness isn’t unique to hurting wives.
Bitterness in the Bible
Consider the account of Cain and Abel for a moment. (Genesis 4:1-16) We see that Abel brought the appropriate offering to God and received His favor, while Cain’s offering was not accepted because it was the wrong way to approach God. As a result, Cain was bitter at his brother. God warned Cain that if he did not deal with his simmering anger, sin was crouching at the door of his heart, desiring to master him. Although God’s desire was for Cain to rule over his anger, sadly, Cain did not heed God’s warning. We see the ultimate fruit of this failure when he rose up and killed his brother Abel.
One can look at this story and wonder, “How could Cain do such a horrible thing?” But I believe there is a simple explanation: Cain’s action stemmed from his bitter heart. Cain was angry, resentful and bitter over his brother’s offering. One can only imagine the thoughts repeatedly churning in his mind as a result of his bitterness. In warning him, God knew Cain’s heart would ultimately lead him to murder Abel if not dealt with in the right way. Bitterness is invariably found in the heart of one who has not dealt with a hurt or offense in God’s prescribed manner.
So what is the biblical way to deal with bitterness? Amy Carmichael has said, “There is only one way of victory over the bitterness and rage that comes naturally to us—to will what God wills brings peace.”
Paul laid out the biblical instruction for dealing with bitterness when he said: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32) It has been my experience in counseling women for almost two decades, that bitterness left unchecked will almost certainly yield the other rotten fruits of “wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and malice” in our relationships with others. The biblical mandate is to forgive others of the offenses that have spawned our bitterness, doing so with the awareness that we also have been forgiven much.
When A Wife Is Overwhelmed By Bitterness
It’s been many years ago now, but I once counseled a lady who is a beautiful example of how to overcome bitterness. This dear woman’s husband had been in sexual sin for many years when she began counseling with Pure Life Ministries. Because she was not dealing with her husband’s offense in a godly manner, this woman became very bitter toward her spouse. She was miserable, both in her marriage and, more generally, over the person she had become. My heart would break for her as she came to my office for counseling. You could see the resentment and lack of joy all over her face as she slumped down in her chair.
She would confess during our counseling sessions that she was nasty to everyone she came in contact with and would never smile at anyone, including me. Yet, I remember as she got involved in our At-Home Program for Wives and began to do The Walk of Repentance Bible study, God began to do a work in her heart.
The Holy Spirit began to convict her of her cutting words toward her husband, of her ungrateful heart in the midst of the trial she was going through, of her grumbling and complaining spirit toward God for her lot in life, and over the great disdain that rose up in her heart every time she even saw her husband—to the point where they had been separated for several years.
As she began to apply God’s Word to her heart, entering into His prescribed remedy for this deadly poison which was, little by little, eating away at her soul, I began to see her countenance change right before my eyes.
This dear lady desperately needed God just as much as her husband did. And gradually that realization dawned upon her.
When A Wife Overcomes Bitterness
As she allowed the living and powerful Word of God, which is sharper than any two-edged sword, to pierce into her soul and spirit and the joints and marrow of her heart, God began to cut this malignant root of bitterness out of it. It became very real to her that, if she were to die, she would have to give an account to God for what she had allowed to fester in her heart. She realized the Lord’s judgment would be without mercy to her, the one who would not show mercy to her husband. (James 2:13)
You see, she came from a sinful past (as we all do!), and God had forgiven her much. Yet, before contacting Pure Life Ministries for help, she had not been willing to give that same mercy to her husband. She was living as the unforgiving servant we read about in Matthew 18:21-35. She basically had her husband by the throat, demanding, “Pay me what you owe!”
She knew God had been merciful to her, and He was justly requiring that she have compassion on her husband, releasing and forgiving him from the debt she felt he owed her. This instruction was God’s prescribed medicine for her soul and brought the healing and deliverance she so desperately needed to eradicate this bitter poison from her heart.
I almost shudder to think about what would have become of her if she had not taken God’s counsel to heart. She was following the same path of bitterness Cain went down; only the Lord knows where her murderous heart was leading her.
You see, this woman had allowed her husband’s sin to steal her joy and her sense of God’s presence in her life. God was able to work in her life, however, because of her willingness to see her own sinful heart. To be sure, it was not easy to keep the focus on her own sin in the midst of so much temptation to keep focusing on her husband’s offenses against her. But even though she still had some ups and downs, she learned to repent daily of her unforgiving attitude and turn to God.
Peace Is Available
What about you beloved? You might be going through something right now, where the sin of bitterness is crouching at the door of your heart. Be assured, God’s desire for you is that you would master it.
Are you willing to take God’s medicine into your soul today and “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you”? (Ephesians 4:32) Are you willing even though your offender doesn’t deserve it?
If not, I solemnly remind you of Jesus’ warning: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But it you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) The choice, of course, is yours; but I pray that you will choose to forgive others just as Christ has forgiven you.
Rose Colon is the former Director of Women’s Counseling at Pure Life Ministries, a position she held from 1996 to 2015. Rose has a Masters of Ministry in Biblical Counseling from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity in Evansville, IN and holds certification from the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC) in Denver, CO.
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