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How Christians can overcome bitterness

Updated on October 15, 2016

When the trials of life challenge us, we may descend into anger, pain, unforgiveness, a desire for revenge and eventually, bitterness. These feelings can make our lives miserable and have a negative impact on the people around us.

We can fight bitterness by applying Christian principles to our lives such as forgiveness, loving others, and giving up a desire for revenge.

There are a number of reasons why we come to this fork in the road of life such as:

  • Being hurt by the words or actions of other people
  • Being given harsh criticism, especially if it is perceived as being unjustified
  • betrayal of a trust, particularly if it is a spouse or close friend
  • Being rejected
  • Being the victim of unfair treatment and injustice
  • Experiencing a loss such as a marriage breakup or the death of a loved one
  • Blaming others or God when our expectations are not met, such as God not answering a prayer the way we expected
  • the old green-eyed monster, jealousy
  • not being recognized for our abilities at work while others are praised and promoted
  • undeserved suffering, like severe health problems or a disability

It is natural for us to react to our hurts with rage, hatred, heartache and a desire for revenge that could potentially grow into bitterness. We can choose to continue to in a state of anger and pain or try to overcome these negative emotions with God`s help.


The damaging effects of bitterness

Bitterness is a choice to stay in a state of pain, anger, jealousy, and unforgiveness. These emotions can stir up conflict with others (Proverbs 10:12). When we are bitter, we are miserable and tend to lash out at others. The people in our lives are miserable too because of our attitude (Hebrews 12:15). Our negative stuff can cause them to be frustrated, angry, and resentful.

Billy Graham describes bitterness as ``anger gone sour.`` Bitterness is an infection whose negative effects that can spread to our families, co-workers and friends. When we give in to bitterness, we are negative, whining and complaining - in other words, no fun to be around. This infection could damage our relationships with others and hinder us as we try to climb the corporate ladder. We could be sabotaging our ability to have fulfilling connections with others and our ability to get ahead in life.

Bitterness can also grow out of a self-pity and a victim mentality. Poor me! I had a dysfunctional childhood, my husband dumped me, my boss is persecuting me. It is not fair!" Pity parties make us focus on what we do not have instead of what we do have. We become whiners and complainers who no one wants to be around.

The Bible tells us to get rid of negative, malicious emotions like anger, slander, fighting and bitterness (Ephesians 4: 31). God gives a number of tools to fight the onset of bitterness.

Overcoming bitterness with forgiveness

Bitterness can be so subtle that we may not be aware it exists. We need to recognize the root of bitterness in our lives before forgiveness can happen.

We can choose to forgive and free ourselves from the pain. With the pain out of the way, we can heal our relationships with others. We can be emotionally healthy and happy.

Letting go of revenge

Forgiveness also means letting go of the desire for revenge and letting God be our avenger (Rom. 12:19). God has promised that He will avenge any wrongs that we experience. We live in an unfair world where innocent people get hurt, unfortunately. We can`t fret about people who seem to get away with stuff (Psalm 37). If we do, we are hurting ourselves under the delusion that we are hurting them.

We need to examine our feelings about others who have deeply offended us to make sure that a root of bitterness has not taken hold. If we we are hoping that something bad will happen to them because they have hurt us, beware. God may chose not to punish people right away.

An example of this is in the life of the prophet Jonah (Jonah 4). Jonah ran from God after God told him to preach the people of Nineveh and ending up spending three days and nights in a big fish. Jonah called out to God and God commanded the fish to spit him out on dry land. Jonah obeyed God and told the people of Nineveh that if they did not repent of their sins, they would be overthrown in forty days.

The Ninevites repented and God relented. Jonah was angry, however. In his heart, he was angry because he expected the city be unrepentant and that God would destroy it. God contronted him about his anger.

Like Jonah, we sometimes do not take vengeance ourselves, but expect God to send lightening bolts on the people who hurt or offend us. We may be angry and pout that they did not get what we feel they had coming to them. When the offenders repent, we may be even more infuriated because they seem to have gotten away with their bad behavior without being punished. These feelings are a desire for revenge which can lead to bitterness.


Overcoming bitterness with love

The Bible instructs us in Ephesians 4:31-32 to: "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."

Overcoming bitterness through mercy

God shows us mercy when we repent, just as He did for the Ninevites. He expects us to extend mercy and forgiveness to others in the same way.

Overcoming bitterness by being vigilant

Bitterness can be conquered by:

  • Being mindful of negative feelings that can lead to bitterness
  • Confessing any bitterness to God and receiving His forgiveness
  • Praying that God will show you the areas in your life that need to be dealt with
  • Studying the Bible to learn how to love others and forgive them
  • Being aware of situations that may trigger feelings of bitterness and being prepared to deal with them, such as praying in advance

© 2013 Carola Finch


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