The Bible points out the deadly dangers of becoming bitter and resentful. God also offers us the help we need for overcoming bitterness.
God created us to be emotional, and He also has emotions, though on a much higher level. One of the most challenging areas in our Christian life is understanding and properly controlling our emotions. We have to learn which emotional responses are sin and which are not. Some emotional responses are wrong because of what they do to us and to those we encounter in our daily lives.
One of those emotions is bitterness. Those specializing in human behavior and mental wellness consider it to be one of the most destructive and toxic human emotions. That is mainly because bitterness generally comes from allowing the emotions of anger and hate—and in some cases, fear and jealousy—to linger in our lives over a period of time.
Bitterness has the power to destroy us from within and can negatively impact those around us in many ways.
God knew this would be a significant problem for humanity. That’s why there are over 100 scriptures in the Bible that deal with it in some form and even prescribe ways to overcome it.
Identifying the problem
Bitterness often begins with a hurt (real or perceived) inflicted on us by another person or circumstance. Hurts that breed bitterness can start at a very early age, especially when they are inflicted by a family member. For example, parents’ imperfect discipline or sins can cause hurts that haunt their children for many years.
Bitterness has the power to destroy us from within and can negatively impact those around us in many ways. Sometimes hurts come through failed relationships with others or setting the bar too high in our lives. This can even happen in our relationship with God. Instead of seeking and understanding His way, sometimes we get so focused on our own wants and desires that we feel hurt and believe we are being treated unfairly when God doesn’t give us those things.
What the Bible says about bitterness
Bitterness is the opposite of God’s way of thinking, and it can take us away from God. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (English Standard Version).
Bitterness defiles because it is a sin that can linger in our lives and separate us from God. It removes holiness and peace of mind from our lives.
The Bible tells us to overcome bitterness:
“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, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Bitterness can alter our personality
Studies over the years have described the effects of bitterness on a person’s well-being. They all seem to agree on one profound fact: Bitterness, left unchallenged, can alter a person’s personality over time.
- Cause a person who was once outgoing to turn inward and selfish.
- Lead a person to distrust others more and more until everyone seems untrustworthy. This can lead to depression and anxiety.
- Destroy relationships, including marriages. Often, because of its toxic nature, bitterness takes root in the other person as well.
- Compromise our faith and our belief in God’s plan.
Bitterness can be highly destructive to you, the people around you and your relationship with your Creator. It often leads to sinful behavior, especially when we let it permeate our lives for a long time.
Confronting our own bitterness
Sometimes we are the last to realize we are bitter. But overcoming bitterness begins with seeing the signs and recognizing it in our lives.
Some of the signs of bitterness include:
- Being unhappy and discontented with our lives and achievements.
- Constantly distrusting people.
- Not being able to acknowledge a friend’s success or other people’s achievements—jealously criticizing instead of complimenting.
- Avoiding cheerful or happy people.
How can we overcome bitterness?
Because bitterness is a deep and continual feeling, it takes time to find a way to defeat it. There is no instant cure. But here are four steps to overcome bitterness:
1. Reevaluate yourself and the situation.
This involves not only recognizing the impact bitterness is having on your life, but also evaluating whether your view of a person or situation is even accurate or worth your attention.
2. Take responsibility for your part.
God knows what really happened and who had fault in it. Since we can only control ourselves, try to critically evaluate what part you may have had in the problem.
If you have part of the responsibility, own up to it and ask forgiveness from the other party.
If not, then ask for God’s help, and trust that He will handle the situation. He knows who did right and who did wrong, and He will judge the matter through Christ in the appropriate way according to His timing. We have to put our confidence in Him. Allowing God to be the judge and deal with a situation in His time frame can be one of the greatest ways to overcome bitterness.
Of course, if someone took advantage of you, be sure to avoid putting yourself in the same situation again.
In Matthew 18:22 Jesus said that we must forgive 70 times seven times. This isn’t about math, it’s about developing a forgiving heart. It can take a long journey of continual forgiveness to end bitterness and strife.
4. Don’t go it alone.
Isolation feeds the bitterness, which can not only alter your personality, but also damage your health and your faith in God. Talk to a close friend (someone you know and trust) and, if possible, your pastor.
Most important, pray. Pray to overcome the bitterness and pray to forgive. Understand that it can take a while when the hurt is deep. It’s important to never lose our relationship and connection with God, no matter what.
Bitterness is most certainly a dangerous emotion. God wants us to be aware of it and break free from its grasp.