For their rock is not our Rock
as even our enemies concede.
Their vine comes from the vine of Sodom
and from the fields of Gomorrah.
Their grapes are filled with poison
and their clusters with bitterness.
Their wine is the venom of serpents,
The deadly poison of cobras.
Deuteronomy 32:31-33

He who is full loathes honey.
But to the hungry even what is
bitter tastes sweet.
Proverbs 27:7

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil.
Who put darkness for light
And light for darkness.
Who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
Isaiah 5:20

It is interesting that in the dictionary definition of bitterness, there is a series of definitions of the word that seem to build, one on the other, as they do in life. It starts with simply a bitter taste like quinine or wormwood, then proceeds to something that is hard to admit or accept like a bitter lesson. Then it moves on to the meaning of being hard to bear, grievous and distressful as a bitter sorrow.

The fourth dimension of meaning is causing pain, piercing, and stinging and the fifth meaning goes into fierce, cruel, ruthless, relentless, intense antagonism or hostility, as in bitter hatred. The sixth meaning speaks of harsh sarcastic and cutting as in bitter words—acrimonious and caustic.

This brought many pictures to my mind of people who had come to our ministry in a bitter state. It is good for us to see that bitterness is the end result of a chain of emotions because of the pain, the difficulty of accepting or admitting to something so it can be a bitter lesson that can be learned.

In the midst of the pain and the difficult lesson, there is the hard-to-bear, grievous and distressful sorrow and because all of this is killing you, you begin to turn antagonistic and hostile, fierce, cruel and relentless because you are so profoundly angry, sorrowful, pained and fighting against learning the bitter lesson that you finally go into sarcastic, cutting caustic bitter words.

Bitterness is a layered complex set of emotions, many of them fighting inside you while the seemingly inescapable situation turns you into a bitter person, settling down to be sarcastic and cutting to cover the pain of hopelessness. Then, if you decide to stay in this embittered state and do not turn to God to get the truth to uproot these ungodly reactions to pain, there will be a bitter root that will grow up and it will defile many because this bitter root grows out of idolatry and rebellion. (Hebrews 12:14,15).

In some of the accounts of bitterness in the Bible, we see the death of loved ones as the cause of bitterness. Naomi, whose name had meant pleasant or amiable, now wants to be called Mara or bitter because she went out full but her two sons and husband are now dead and she is empty. She said the Lord had make her life bitter and she considered it an affliction, meaning a painful experience sent by God to teach her something.

Job had the same reaction when he lost all his possessions and children in one day! He said, “Even today my complaint is bitter.” (Job 23:1) and “As surely as God lives who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul.”

He also speaks with bitter sarcasm to the three friends because they do not try to encourage him, but continue to suggest he has sinned and must repent. They thought if he did this , he would be all right. They found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him.

These two examples give us good direction as to what to do when we are bitter and feeling all these painful, stinging emotions while God is giving us a chance to learn from it all.

Naomi was feeling great bitterness and even identified with it, but she stayed open to the Lord’s affliction and did not turn to rebellion against God. Job, on the other hand, was blaming God for allowing the wicked to get away with their evil and because of his justifying himself and not God, he was missing the point of his affliction. In fact, in Job 38, Elihu says to Job, “Beware of turning to evil which you seem to prefer to affliction.”

There are great lessons for us in these passages as we see the necessity of discerning when we are being afflicted by God so we can yield to Him and learn. Many people who feel God never brings on any kind of pain should look to Job, chapter 33:

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
Though man may not perceive it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night
when deep sleep falls on men
as they slumber on their beds.
He may speak in their ears
And terrify them with warnings,
to turn man from wrongdoing
and keep him from pride.
To preserve his soul from the pit,
his life from perishing by the sword.
Or a man may be chastened on a bed of pain
with constant distress in his bones,
so that his very being finds food repulsive
and his soul loathes the choicest meal.
His flesh wastes away to nothing
and his bones, once hidden, now stick out.
His soul draws near to the pit,
and his life to the messengers of death.

Oh yes, I personally have been afflicted on a bed of pain twice (about 4-6 months each time) and I now praise God for the great lessons I learned during those times. But if I had believed that God would not bring sickness on some occasions, I would have missed God’s great lessons.

Bitterness can make you sick. It becomes a heavy armor against hope. It certainly makes your countenance fall and sin crouch at your door. Then we begin to darken God’s counsel with words without knowledge. He speaks to us, but our bitter view of life and of God cause us to “darken His counsel “.

To take the light out of it. You see, we have to believe in the truth of God’s goodness and the eternal truth that He never does anything wrong in order to hear His counsel clearly without darkening it by our doubts and fears and sarcasm. Yes, no matter what happens to us, we have to cling to the truth of God’’ goodness and love for us.

So we have seen what bitterness is but how does a person become bitter? As we said at the beginning of this article, bitterness is the end result of a chain of emotions.

The first emotion that starts this chain of bitterness is hurt and shame. The child is mistreated and abused while being given the impression that he or she is shameful as well. This leads to feelings of rejection. “I am not acceptable and people don’t want to have me around. Nobody cares how much I hurt. The feelings of hurt, shame and rejection lead the child to isolate. ‘ I am not fit to be around people.” “I don’t fit in and they don’t like me.”

Depression—There is nothing to look forward to and things are bad and will only get worse.

Bitterness—The person becomes hopeless and, because of the pain, dwells more and more on the wounds of the past. He or she becomes hypersensitive to hurt and goes into angry but internalized reaction to those that hurt them. They begin to have a bitter view of life with many caustic and sarcastic thoughts and words spoken in private about the offender. They settle down in a soured view of life, feel all they can do is to be bitter and sit in the misery and angry but passive state.

Bitter root—If the person stays in bitterness he or she will begin to practice idolatry and miss the grace of God because of clinging to worthless idols. The root grows into the person’s being—their mind, emotions and body and turns into a central root, It can defile many with its contagious poison. The bitterness blocks the way to sweet fellowship with God and keeps the old wounds “infected” because of constant reliving of the offense. They lose their hope, have no joy and no peace. Only, like Job, a constant churning of the stomach.

To gain freedom from bitterness, we need to look at the initial cause of the hurt and shame and begin to uproot the lies that have held you in that hurt and shame. You are not shameful but rather have been hurt and given a false view of yourself as shameful. Ask the Lord to go in and uproot the shame and pour oil of healing on your hurt. This will take a while, but He will bring complete healing as you reject any old ways of wanting to get back at the people who hurt you.

Remember, you are not rejected completely. God is with you and will give you friends as you come out of y our own isolation and self-rejection. Take time every day to play praise music and sing praises to God for His love and care. Tell Him you want to have all bitterness uprooted so you can be filled with joy and have close sweet fellowship with Him.

When you catch yourself going into bitterness, remember to thank and praise God or all His love and mercy and for the future and the hope He has prepared for you. What a great release comes when bitterness is over and you are free!

by Joanne Highley